(Martin Chilton’s article appeared in the Telegraph, 5/6.)

Don't panic . . .

According to popular myth, thousands of New Yorkers fled their homes in panic, with swarms of terrified citizens crowding the streets in different American cities to catch a glimpse of a “real space battle”. In 1954, Ben Gross, radio editor for the New York Daily News, wrote in his memoir that New York's streets were "nearly deserted" that October night in 1938.

In the Orson Welles broadcast, part of the hoax involved the town of Grover’s Mill, near Princeton in New Jersey, being taken over by aliens. Welles and scriptwriter Howard E Koch (who went on to co-write the film Casablanca) skillfully ratcheted up the tension with fake radio reports from the US infantry and air force. The true extent of the panic seems to have been that a small band of Grover's Mill locals, believing the town's water tower on Grover's Mill Road had been turned into a “giant Martian war machine”, fired guns filled with buckshot in an attack on the water tower. In 1998, residents held a tongue-in-cheek "Martian Ball" to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the incident.


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