In my earlier post about the Orson Welles broadcast “War of the Worlds,” I used an image of Grover’s Mill, New Jersey and neglected to credit the photographer, Kendall Whitehouse. I’d like to remedy that, and also refer you to a larger, stunning set of images that Kendall has taken of that small New Jersey town where Martians first “landed” in the 1938 invasion. They were taken on what seems to have been a somewhat overcast day, which makes these photographs of the town that was “invaded” even more striking and dramatic.
With each passing year, it becomes harder to remember one of the most bizarre days — or should I say evenings? — in American history. And given that this evening is the 75th anniversary of the incident that occurred that evening, I wanted my students in particular to know about it in all its rich detail.
With all of the legends and reports about UFOs and extraterrestrials that we have grown up hearing, it becomes harder and harder to believe that on October 30, 1938, in a small field in New Jersey just outside of Princeton, the United States was invaded by aliens from what was probably the planet Mars.
At first, of course, it was unclear what was happening: what seemed to be a vessel of some kind had landed in a field in the small town of Grovers Mill, and townspeople — who began to crowd around it and attempt to figure out exactly what it was — saw only a smoldering hodgepodge of melted metal. Soon after, however, long, menacing flexible metal tubes of some sort, each of which had some kind of an object attached to its end, began to rise out of the smoking hulk and point the in the direction of the gathered crowd. By then, New Jersey state troopers and soldiers from a nearby military base had arrived.
And then chaos ensued.
The rest of what took place on that amazing night is best read in detail, and I have included a link to a page that I think you will find informative. For now, I will only share that the route toward New York City taken by those aliens, through central New Jersey and over the Watchung mountains just a mile from where I now live, and as well as the mayhem that they caused, is absolutely beyond belief to most of us today.
Over the years, many of my classes have heard the recording of the famous Orson Welles broadcast “War of the Worlds.” The broadcast, and especially the subsequent social research done by Hadley Cantril and his colleagues at Princeton, is a really interesting way to introduce topics in collective behavior, mass media, and social psychology.
If the broadcast interests you, you will get a major kick out of this broadcast from RadioLab, the program produced at WNYC radio in New York City by Jad Abumrad, supported by his colleague Robert Krulwich.
This incredibly entertaining and informative broadcast puts the “War of the Worlds” in the larger context of a series of hoaxes over the 20th century that showed just how persuadable many of us are.