Oh, Hai! It’s Soufflé Girl once again but this time I’m on the road. Well, my machine isn’t a dud, all stuck in the mud, so that’s a good thing in my favor. That might have given you a clue, so I’ll tell you straight out: I’m in New Jersey, and I’ve been on the road since four-thirty, and as it’s now eight AM, you do the math on how long I’ve been traveling.
Why am I here? Because no one would have believed in the early years of the 21st century that our world was being watched by intelligences greater than our own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns, they observed and studied, the way a man with a microscope might scrutinize the creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. With infinite complacency, men went to and fro about the globe, confident of our empire over this world. Yet across the gulf of space, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic regarded our planet with envious eyes and slowly, and surely, drew their plans against us . . .
And if you don’t recognize those lines–which are not mine, as if I need to say it–you need to turn in your sci fi geek card if you have one, because you just suffered major alien invasion fail.
I am just south of this somewhat fuzzy-looking, early morning field–said picture taken at seven AM with a mobile phone and a pair of semi-shaky hands. It’s actually a park next to a pond just outside of Princeton Junction, NJ, which is just to the east of Princeton, home of the famous university and professors. It doesn’t look like much, does it? Really, it isn’t.
Because of these guys:
That is the marker set at one end of the field to commemorate that this place is, indeed, Grover’s Mill, NJ, and on October 30, 1938, Orson Wells decided this joint was as good as any to start the alien apocalypse.
For a little background: The Mercury Theater On the Air radio troupe decided that for their Halloween broadcast they’d do a modern-day reenactment of H. G. Wells’ War of the World. Rather than place the story in England, where it took place in the novel, Orson moved the local to the U. S., and had the Martian War Machines first touch down outside Princeton, NJ, so he could play the part of the smarty-pants scientist who comes in, sees them crawl out and start mowing everyone down before heading for New York–sure, Philadelphia is much closer, but even Martians knew no one wants to go to Philly ’cause they’ll get booed. “You only killed two hundred with that heat ray? You suck!” Tough crowd.
During the broadcast it was announced that what people were hearing was a presentation, but if you missed like the first ten minutes of the program and only heard the simulated death and destruction, you might assume you were hearing the real deal. I mean, it’s not like anyone had an Internet where they could get the shit spoiled out of the program, so you had to go on faith that what was playing was legit.
Some people, apparently, thought just that.
Now, there are all sorts of stories about what happened that night. I have stories from my maternal grandparents that people were in a panic that night, though they didn’t know anyone who panicked–it was always some guy who knew a dude who’s wife’s best friend went crazy. There is a well-known story that a woman in Indianapolis ran into a church where services were being held, told people New York City had just been destroyed and it was the end of the world, but if you come from Indiana–as I do–you’ll know that’s also known as “Thursday Night”. Jack Parr was working in radio at the time and he told the story about how people called him and asked what was happening; he told them it was just a radio show, and eventually some of the callers accused him of covering up the invasion.
Since 1938 a bit of investigating has been performed, and it’s safe to say that the majority of the, “People were ready to kill their families!” stories are anecdotal. One of the things that Wells took advantage of was timing the “Martian Invasion” part of his broadcast to start about twelve minutes into the show. Why? A popular show on the NBC Red Network would start a musical number after the opening comedy sketch, and Wells wanted “station flippers” to be confused by what they were hearing, and stay to find out what was going on. That Orson: always the showman. Tell us what Rosebud really meant . . .
Most of what we know about the program today is due, in part, to bad human memory and the media blitz that followed in the weeks after the broadcast. Though the stories dropped off the front pages in a matter of days, over twelve thousand articles were written about the broadcast, and one might say the media played a big part in making a huge star out of Orson Wells. Though a lot of people remember this shot:
Proof positive that someone was so taken in by what they heard that they were gonna start blastin’ those war machines. Except it’s a staged photo: someone from Life Magazine paid the guy to pose for the picture so they’d have something to run in their next issue.
That doesn’t mean that someone didn’t do any shooting . . . behold! The Martian War Machine!
What you are looking at is something that is pretty hard to see these days. It’s an old water tower that was used by the residents of the area in 1938. Legend has it that a few people were out that night trying to figure out what was going on, saw this thing in the woods, and took a few shots in its general direction. The reason I say it’s hard to see normally is because it now sits on private property, and the trees normally block the view of the tower. So, by visiting when the trees are bare, one may see the war machine in all its, um, glory.
There you have it: my visit to the site of the alien invasion landing site, and I’ve lived to tell the tale. There are a couple of other places here in New Jersey I’d like to visit, and I still have one location in Pennsylvania that will take me at least a good seven hours of driving to get there and back, and if I’m going to spend that much time on the road, I may as well head back to Indiana. But these day trips are good for getting out of the apartment, and how many chances will I ever get to see something like this?
We now return you to the regularly scheduled program, already in progress.