On the night before Halloween 80 years ago, in 1938, many Americans heard that spaceships from Mars had landed in New Jersey…but they only heard it, if they were listening to CBS. “The Mercury Theatre on the Air,” starring young Wisconsin native Orson Welles, presented a modern version of “The War of the Worlds” by H.G. Wells. Orson played an astronomer from Princeton University. Much of the radio show was done in the style of news bulletins, supposedly interrupting musical programs with on-scene reports of heat rays and poison gas.
Some La Crosse residents were fooled, and there were reports of a local Sunday night church service being interrupted, and busy phone lines. There was no mention of Martians on other channels. NBC had the most popular show at that hour, with ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his friend Charlie McCarthy. At the end of the Martian play, Orson came on and pronounced that it was all a Halloween joke, saying “That grinning, glowing, globular invader of your living room is an inhabitant of the punkin patch.”
October 1938, Yesterday in La Crosse.