Flocks of nasty monsters from Mars who smashed down into the state of New Jersey and proceeded to "wipe out" civilization until they caught colds and died gave the public a pre-Halloween chill Sunday night.
In Lincoln, 2,000 miles from the scene of destruction, hundreds of people were panicked by the prospect of extinction at the hands of the invading Martian men. The switchboard at police headquarters was jammed with calls from excited Lincolnites who asked, "Is it true?" and "What should we do?"
The monsters were delivered by courtesy of Orson Welles' Mercury theater on a coast to coast program of the Columbia Broadcasting system. The play was "The War of the Worlds," originally written by H. G. Wells, who has a pretty good imagination himself, and done into a radio script by Orson Welles.
The action revolved around what might happen if monsters from Mars boarded flying machines resembling meteors and called upon the earth with malice aforethought. The whole thing was done realistically and in present tense. Before it reached its climax, with the monsters picking up germs and, very satifactorily, dying, late tuner inners were getting pretty upset.
Lincoln newspapers and the radio stations were besieged with calls despite the fact that the braodcast (from 7 to 8 p. m.) was interrupted four times with the announcement: "This is purely a fictional play." A few people were hysterical with anxiety.
A St. Louis, Mo., woman, in a panic as a result of misunderstanding the radio drama, called long distance Sunday night to bid a final goodbye to her daughter in Lincoln.
One woman who called The Journal wept as she talked. Her son had been killed in the World war, and the too realistic radio description had brought her to a state of nervous shock. another woman who could scarcely speak for excitement said she had heard the invaders had taken St. Louis. She wondered in Lincoln was endangered.
Even until 11 o'clock the calls kept coming in. One bewildered gentleman wanted to know if The Journal had heard anything "about a piece of the planet Mars breaking off and coming down and hitting the world." The police, the newspapers and the broadcasting stations did their best to calm the citizenry.
In the east according to the Associated Press the excitement bordered on mass frenzy, and actually resulted in panickly evacuations from sections of the metropolitan area.
Many New Yorkers seized personal effects and raced out of their apartments, some jumping into their automobiles and heading for the wide open spaces.
Samual Tishman, a Riverside Drive resident, declared he and hundreds of others evacutated their homes fearing "the city was being bombed."
He told of going home and receiving a frantic telephone call from a nephew.
"I turned on the radio and heard the broadcast which corroborated what my nephew had said, grabbed my hat and coat and a few personal belongings and ran to the elevator. When I got to the street there were hundreds of people milling around in panic. Most of us ran toward Broadway and it was not until we stopped taxi drivers who had heard the entire braodcast on their radios that we knew what it was all about.
Tishman denounced the program as "the most asinine stunt I ever heard of" and Winkler as "a pretty crumby thing to do."
A woman ran into a church in Indianapolis screaming, "New York destroyed; it's the end of the world. You might as well go home to die. I just heard it over the radio." Services were dismissed immediately.
The switchboard operator at New York police headquarters said his exchange was jammed by people who wanted to know "about the 40 killed by a meteor exploding in Jersey."
James Powers of the Brooklyn police telephone bureau said several had asked if it was safe for them to stay in their homes--near their radios--and one woman asked if she should seek refuge in a subway.
Right in the center of the warfare--with every trunkline on the switchboard lighted--sat L. W. Smith and S. M. Zimmerman of the fire and police dispatchers' office, Trenton, Mercer counter, N. J.
They were answering all kinds of calls, local and long distance, assuring everybody concerned that Trenton was as calm as could be expected. It seems that the first arrivals from Mars had just landed at a hypothetical city called Grovers Mill which sounded to listeners like Groveville, another community in Mercer county.
At Fayetteville, N. C., people with relatives in the section of New Jersey where the mythical visitation had its locale, went to a newspaper office in tears, seeking information.
A message from Providence, R. I. said:
"Weeping and hysterical women swamped the switchboard of the Providence Journal for details of the massacre and destruction at New York and officials of the electric company received scores of calls urging them to turn off all lights so that the city would be safe from the enemy."
Mass hysteria mounted so high in some cases that people told police and newspapers they "saw" the invasion.
The Boston Globe told of one woman who "claimed she could 'see the fire' and said see and many others in her neighborhood were 'getting out of here.'"
Minneapolis and St. Paul police switchboards were deluged with calls from frightened people.
In Atlanta, there was worry in some quarters that "the end of the world" had arrived.
It finally got so bad in New Jersey that the state police put reassuring messages on the state teletype, instructing their officers what it was all about.
And all this despite the fact that the radio play was interrupted four times for the announcement: "This is purely a fictional play."
While the invading Martians were stilll a long way from California, one excited man called the Oakland police telephone operator and shouted:
"My God! where can I volunteer my services? We've got to stop this awful thing!"
The Beatrice Sun said a nearly hysterical woman telephoned a member o fthe editorial staff at his home, and warned him "to listen in--something terrible is happening." Too frightened to give her name, when asked for details she shouted "turn to KFAB, hurry, something awful is happening. It's terrible." The staff member was "disturbed" until he checked other radio stations to discover no general state of alarm existed.