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Central N.J. Town Recalls The Night Martians ‘Landed’ In Radio Play

(Photo by Ed Fischer) Robin Culverwell
Robin Culverwell has been an editor, reporter and anchor for KYW...
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By Robin Culverwell

GROVERS MILL, N.J. (CBS) — It was a spooky pre-Halloween treat for radio listeners that got out of hand.

Seventy-five years ago tonight, a CBS Radio broadcast of the H.G. Wells classic “The War of the Worlds,” produced and directed for radio by Orson Welles, sent Americans into widespread panic.

The 1938 radio play — created as a ballroom dance program interrupted by increasingly urgent news bulletins — told of aliens landing to take over Earth.

In one scene, a “newsman” (actually an actor) arrives at the scene of a meteorite impact in the tiny hamlet of Grovers Mill, NJ, outside Princeton.

“A humped shape is rising out of the pit…  I can make out a small beam of light against a mirror…”

So realistic was the yarn spun that panic-stricken radio listeners fled their homes that night, clogged highways, and flooded police departments with pleas for help.

Bob Sanders, who grew up in Grovers Mill, recalls that night. He’s 81 now and remembers his father assuring the family during the broadcast that it was just a radio drama.

“We all sat there and listened to it, and I guess about halfway through the road filled up with cars,” he tells KYW Newsradio.  Some of the local people put their families in the car and took off before they found out it was a hoax, and others wanted to come see what the Martians looked like!”

Sanders also remembers one neighbor shooting at the town’s water tower, believing it was a spaceship.

(On-scene announcer:)  “Gas tank flames from automobiles spreading everywhere… coming this way now… about 20 yards to my left –“

(Silence)

(Studio announcer:)  Ladies and gentlemen, due to circumstances beyond our control we are ubnable to continue the broadcast from Grovers Mill…”

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