War of the Worlds was already a science-fiction classic by the time Orson Welles got his hands on it for a radio play in 1938. Thousands of people didn't realize this, however, and were convinced Martian tripods like this one were invading New Jersey.

Illustration by Alvim Correa, courtesy Wikimedia

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  • On October 30, 1938, as a special Halloween event, Orson Welles and his Mercury Theatre broadcast a radio play of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds. The 60-minute presentation of fictional news bulletins suggested that Martians had landed in Grover’s Mill, New Jersey, and were attacking New York City.

    The acting and presentations were so convincing, many listeners believed aliens were actually invading Earth, and panic ensued. At least, that's the story.

    The truth is that the Mercury Theatre broadcast actually had very few listeners; it was not the most popular radio show in its timeslot. Few of its listeners failed to notice the repeated notices of the broadcast being fictional. Most of the remaining, confused listeners thought initially thought the "Martian invasion" was a natural disaster or news of a Nazi attack—neither an unreasonable fear.

    H.G. Wells met Orson Welles a year later, and shared a prank with the director. "Are you sure there was such a panic in America—or wasn't it your Halloween fun?"

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    invader Noun

    organism that enters an area to take control of it.

    police Noun

    local, state, or national government organization for law enforcement.

    reliable Adjective

    dependable or consistent.