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Greatest Halloween Hoax Ever

Updated on August 9, 2015
"Remember the terrible lesson you learned tonight. That grinning, glowing, globular invader of your living room is an inhabitant of the pumpkin patch, and if your doorbell rings and nobody's there, that was no Martian. . .it's Hallowe'en!"
"Remember the terrible lesson you learned tonight. That grinning, glowing, globular invader of your living room is an inhabitant of the pumpkin patch, and if your doorbell rings and nobody's there, that was no Martian. . .it's Hallowe'en!"

The War of the Worlds, by Orson Welles...

... was performed as a Halloween episode of the American radio drama series Mercury Theatre on the Air, and broadcasted live on October 30, 1938, by the CBS radio network. It was an adaptation of the sciencefiction novel written by H.G. Wells, The War of the Worlds, published in 1898, and directed and narrated by the young dramatist Orson Welles.

Orson Welles' War of the Worlds, 1938 - Full Radio Broadcast

War of the Worlds Cartoon by Les Callan of The Toronto Star (February 1939)
War of the Worlds Cartoon by Les Callan of The Toronto Star (February 1939)

Orson Welles speaks about the "Attack by Mars", 1938

The first half of the 60-minute play was presented as a series of "news bulletins", stating there was an alien invasion from Mars going on. The Mercury Theatre was a "sustaining show", without commercial breaks, which added much to the realism of the play. After an intermission for station identification, it was clearly mentioned The War of the Worlds fiction. Welles' character professor Pierson even described the aftermath of the attacks from Mars, with the Martians falling victim to the pathogenic germs of the planet Earth. And after the show, Orson Welles informed the listeners - in a very informal manner - that the play was a Halloween hoax, a prank, his trick-or-treat way of "dressing up in a sheet, jumping out of a bush and say Boo!".

According to popular mythology, CBS executives insisted on adding this "disclaimer" to the broadcast, as they became aware of the panic it inspired. Much listeners indeed only heard a portion of the show and were misled by the realism of the "news bulletins", and the atmosphere of political tension and anxiety of those days. In no time, people were fleeing their homes, or calling CBS and the police. They didn't hear Orson Welles telling them it was a Halloween hoax. But the fact is, that the prank already was mentioned in a working script of the play.

There were many sensationalist accounts in the press about this panic, but the precise extent has been debated. The Halloween episode of 1938 however, became Orson Well's claim to fame. Within one single month, newspapers published 12,500 articles about The War of the Worlds. It was said that some who panicked, presumed that the Germans, and not the Martians, had invaded the United States. Adolf Hitler indeed had kept America alert; he was constantly ranting over the German radio, adressing to the annual Nazi party congress at Nuremberg, the Munich Crisis, the autonomy of the Sudentenland... and for the first time in history, also an audience over the ocean could tune into the radio every night, and hear his war threats.

Welles and his Mercury Theatre escaped punishment, but were censored. CBS would have promised to never again use the "we interrupt this program" sentence for dramatic effect. On the other hand, the fame of the broadcast led the Campbell Soup Company to sponsor The Mercury Theatre, that was renamed The Campbell Playhouse.

All suits for "personal injury" were dismissed, except for a claim by a man who sold his shoes to escape the Martians; Welles insisted the man would be repaid. In a meeting with H.G. Wells, that was broadcasted on October 28, 1940, Orson Welles suggested that "the apparent panic" may have been only a pretense for having some Halloween fun.

Recently, a War of the Worlds Conspiracy Theory emerged: the radio drama was in reality an experiment in "psychological warfare". In Masters of the Universe: The Secret Birth of theFederal Reserve (1999), Daniel Hopsicker stated that the Rockefeller Foundation financed the broadcast to study the possible effects. Others believe that the American government, being afraid for raising a War of the Worlds Great Panic again, doesn't want to confirm the countless UFO and ET invasions that occurred since 1938.

The New York Times headline - October 31, 1938
The New York Times headline - October 31, 1938

And here is a Comic-Video Radio Adaptation...

... of The War of the Worlds. A tip: you can stop the video and only look at the art too!

The War of the Worlds / Comic-Video-Radio Adaptation, Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Part Five

Part Six


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    • The Lost Dutchman profile imageAUTHOR

      Patrick Bernauw 

      6 years ago from Flanders (Belgium)

      Hey, That Grrl... Great you've found me here too! (and snipped & scooped this one!)

    • That Grrl profile image

      Laura Brown 

      6 years ago from Barrie, Ontario, Canada

      Added this post to my curated content feeds on and, for Halloween.


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