Discover more from The Retrologist by Rolando Pujol
A visit to Grovers Mills, New Jersey, site of Orson Welles' 'War of the Worlds' invasion
On Oct. 30, 1938, at 8 p.m. Eastern, Orson Welles and his Mercury Theatre broadcast the infamous “War of the Worlds” radio drama on the CBS network, reporting that aliens had invaded Grovers Mill, New Jersey.
The menace grew throughout the broadcast as live music from “Ramon Raquello and His Orchestra” was interrupted by increasingly ominous news bulletins that chronicled a frightening alien invasion that spread well beyond the community outside Princeton, a smoke-choked reporter delivering vivid dispatches of the horror until he takes his dying breath.
The next day, headlines told of mass hysteria across the nation after listeners mistook the radio play for breaking-news coverage of a Martian attack.
Welles was besieged by reporters and the headlines blared of a national hysteria. A 1975 TV movie told the story, titled “The Night that Panicked America,” further cementing the saga in the national consciousness.
But in recent years, some scholars have concluded that reports of mass hysteria were greatly exaggerated.
But, you know, that conclusion is just no fun! The myth is larger than life, and has been heartily embraced by this rural community.
I visited in the summer of 2020, paying homage at the mill from which the community takes its name [Map] as well as the nearby Van Nest Park with a monument to the broadcast, erected in 1988, to mark the 50th anniversary. [Map]
The park also features a historical exhibit curated by a local Boy Scout for his Eagle project.
There’s even a coffee shop nearby that pays tribute to the story, though I could not go inside because of COVID-19 restrictions at the time. [Map]
At the wonderful American Treasure Tour in Oaks, Pennsylvania, there’s an alien statue honoring the little green men who visited New Jersey, and I’ve included that picture in my gallery.
Tonight, I listened to the broadcast again. You can, too, below. It’s an experience you simply owe yourself, especially on the night of the 84th anniversary, a welcome diversion from today’s real horrors.
The Retrologist by Rolando Pujol is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.