Seventy-eight years ago at this time, people in Denver and across the country were pretty much freaked out. Not because of Halloween, but because of a famous radio program called “War of the Worlds.”
Orson Welles' radio broadcast, which aired on October 30, 1938, made headlines in papers across the country, on October 31. Welles' radio broadcast described an invasion of monsters from Mars, who crashed down in the United States and wiped out civilization.
Many people across the country didn’t realize it was a fictional story, and started freaking out. In Denver, about 1,000 listeners called the KLZ switchboard excited and weeping, many asking about their family on the East Coast. In an article from the front page of the Rocky Mountain News published the day after the broadcast, one man said his wife had fainted.
An excerpt from the Rocky Mountain coverage:
"Another man phoned The Rocky Mountain News and said, 'What's this I hear about the terrible catastrophe in New York? I hear on the radio that meteors are falling on the city and hundreds have been killed.'
'Has New Jersey really been invaded? Is there really a way?' demanded another listener. 'My God, this is terrible.'
A Denver woman phoned her protest. 'This type of program should be banned from the networks,' she said. 'Think of the anguish it is causing all over the country.'
Another listener asked, 'How many suicides have been reported since that program went on the air?'"
The New York Times wrote a similar story about the mass frenzy that ensued after the broadcast. In their article, they described a "wave of mass hysteria." which seized radio listeners. Many people fled from their homes and people swamped police with emergency calls.
One paragraph in the New York Times described it best:
“The broadcast, which disrupted households, interrupted religious services, created traffic jams and clogged communications systems, was made by Orson Welles, who as the radio character, “The Shadow,” used to give “the creeps” to countless child listeners. This time at least a score of adults required medical treatment for shock and hysteria.”
Get in the Halloween spirit. Take a listen to the full broadcast: