Oct. 30, 1938:

As area residents relaxed at home after a long day, they turned on their radios and heard a “special bulletin from the Intercontinental Radio News. At 20 minutes before 8, central time, Professor Farrell of the Mount Jennings Observatory, Chicago, Illinois, reports observing several explosions of incandescent gas, occurring at regular intervals on the planet Mars.” So began Mercury Radio Theatre’s dramatization of the H.G. Wells book, “War of the Worlds.”


Orson Welles, radio and stage actor, whose dramatization, Oct. 30, 1938 of an H. G. Wells novel titled “War of the Worlds” which related the “invasion” of New Jersey by a horde of men from mars was interpreted by listeners as an actual news broadcast of the events supposed to presume the end of the world. Panicked listeners fled into streets to get away from the invaders: radio and police stations were swamped with calls all over the country – the broadcast was nation – wide (CBS) – and in Newark 15 persons were treated for shock after they rushed out of their homes to escape what appeared to be certain doom. Welles is after the broadcast. (AP Photo)

The radio play was broadcast in Scranton and the surrounding areas over WGBI, and listeners were glued to their radios. As the play continued, some listeners believed that the small town of Grover’s Mill, New Jersey, was under attack by the armies of Mars. Listeners began flooding Scranton Police headquarters with phone calls concerned about the attack. Similar scenes played out across the country.
Mercury Theatre was created by Orson Welles, who — along with fellow actors Frank Readick, Kenny Delmar and Ray Collins — performed the live hour-long broadcast. Howard Koch wrote the radio play based on the novel, which debuted in 1897.

Child in costume

Child ready for some Halloween fun in 1938. Times-Tribune Archives

Following a night of calls about alien attacks, Scranton Police had Halloween to deal with. The switchboard at the police department lit up again with residents calling about pranksters knocking down fences, cutting down clotheslines, soaping automobile windows and throwing fruit onto porches. Police also registered four false fire alarms from people pulling call boxes around the city.