A Look Back at A Day in History: October 30

Contributed by Johnny A. Phillips

It was Halloween night seventy-seven years ago, October 30, 1938 when many Americans tuned their radios to hear the most panic-inducing media experience of all times. Orson Welles presented “The War of the Worlds.”

Based upon the 1897 H.G. Wells’ thriller by the same name, it described Martians invading the little community of Grover’s Mill, New Jersey. Although a disclaimer preceded its airing clearly stating that it was a science-fiction program and the contents were completely fictitious, many people’s reactions were akin to a stampeding herd of cattle — uncontrollable terror.
When the newscaster reported “a huge flaming object” had dropped upon the helpless Wilmuth farm or described an alien emerging from the UFO with, “Good heavens! Something’s wiggling out of the shadow like a great grey snake. Now it’s another one and another… It’s as large as a bear and glistens like wet leather… with saliva dripping from its lips…” even normally sober-minded souls began exhibiting mass hysteria. Parents loaded their children into cars and ammunition into firearms. Some even wrapped their heads in wet towels as protection from poisonous, Martian gas.

Though the speculation was that Welles knew beforehand the likelihood he would inspire public terror, he claimed complete innocence. Regardless, the phenomenon is still studied by sociologists and psychologists as the perfect example of mass communication’s power to induce delusional fantasy. Afterwards Dorothy Thompson of the New York Tribune wrote, “Mr. Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre on the Air made one of the most fascinating and important demonstrations of all time. They have proved that a few effective voices, accompanied by sound effects, can convince masses of people, completely fantastic proposition as to create a nation-wide panic.”

Today, as in no other era of history, digital technology allows abusers the capability to create grand, misleading hoaxes. More importantly, the victims are those who are unable to distinguish these deceptions. Their tools of trickery lie not only in the arsenals of espionage agencies of world powers but also of marketers of inferior products, avaricious religious figures and the politically perverse.

One writer asks the pertinent question, What is there about a seventy-seven-year-old science-fiction radio program that fascinates us? Often scholars of a psychoanalytical nature reason that it lays in the subconscious of powerful nations who have gained power by invading others’ territories; that our ultimate anxiety is that we also will eventually be invaded.
However, let me suggest it is a story about ourselves reacting to perilous circumstances. The unexpected is the ultimate fear in all people yet is also a genuine part of every life as well; how we cope with the unexpected is the crucial factor accurately identifying our true character.

Ask yourself, How do I actually manage of the big bumps in life’s road?

Three important characters in “The War of the Worlds” are the narrator, the artilleryman and the cleric. The narrator is the hero who sets out to save others risking while personal harm, even death. The artilleryman, for all his supposed training to defend others, in the end only wants to save himself. And lastly, the cleric is completely unable to cope with the disaster and disintegrates emotionally.

We all would like to think of ourselves as the heroic narrator, but only the truly honest soul can introspectively confess if he or she might actually be one of the others.

As in all human situations, God speaks to us of calamitous times:

“Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God that He may exalt you in the proper time. Cast all your fears upon Him for He cares for you.” (I Peter 5:6-7)

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About Kay Whatley 2307 Articles
Kay Whatley serves as Editor and Reporter with The Grey Area News. Kay is a published author with over 20 years of experience in the publishing industry. Kay Whatley is wife to Frank Whatley, founder of The Grey Area™ newspaper and The Grey Area News online news website.