(The following was written by Audrey Fischer for the July/August 2016 Library of Congress Magazine, LCM.)
The story is legendary in the annals of broadcasting history.
On the evening of Sunday, Oct. 30, 1938, a young Orson Welles directed and narrated a radio adaption of H.G. Wells’ novel, “The War of the Worlds” for his radio series “The Mercury Theatre on the Air.”
Published in 1898, Wells’ science-fiction work depicts an alien invasion of southern England by Martians. The radio dramatization told a similar tale in a series of news bulletins and eyewitness accounts that added to the story’s realism. Despite repeated warnings about the fictional nature of the broadcast, some listeners believed that a small town in New Jersey was in the midst of an alien invasion. The legend goes that the misunderstanding led to mass panic.
But just how many people were listening? “The Mercury Theatre” series, which aired over the Columbia Broadcasting System, had recently moved from Mondays to the Sunday night time slot and faced stiff competition from NBC’s Chase and Sanborn Hour featuring ventriloquist Edgar Bergen (and his dummy Charlie McCarthy). A telephone survey of 5,000 households conducted that evening showed that only about 2 percent had tuned into the dramatic reading of “The War of the Worlds” and most were aware that it was fictitious.
Nonetheless, the newspapers had a field day with headlines like the one pictured here from the Oct. 31, 1938, edition of the San Francisco Chronicle. These sensationalized stories popularized the acceptance in the years that followed the 1938 broadcast that a widespread panic had occured. Some media analysts have theorized that the newspaper industry sought to discredit the new kids on the block—radio— as a medium not to be trusted to provide truth to the masses.
For decades at the National Press Club, America got acquainted with the men and women who made history: presidents and premiers, rising stars and old heroes, allies and enemies, establishment figures and revolutionaries – all hoping to explain themselves, over lunch, to the public. “I am not afraid of any questions for one reason: I […]
(The following is a guest blog post by Mark Diminution, chief of the Rare Book and Special Collections Division, and Elizabeth Gettins, Library of Congress digital library specialist.) There are the occasional stories that one hears about a book saving a life due to an informational or even spiritual message, but how many people can claim a […]
King George III of England: wasn’t he the one effectively told by the feisty New World colonists to “Nix the tax, Rex?” When they turned Boston Harbor into the world’s largest teapot, it was to get the attention of a government back home in England headed by George III, a monarch they would eventually disown. […]
Last Monday, the Library of Congress welcomed thousands of visitors into its Main Reading Room for the twice-yearly open house. New this year was an open house a few miles down the road at the Library’s Packard Campus for Audio-Visual Preservation, where the free tour tickets quickly “sold out” on Eventbrite in advance of the […]
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To say I’m not very superstitious is like saying the sky isn’t blue. I can probably attribute it (very lovingly) to my mother. I can recall on a few occasions being halfway down the road when a black cat crossed in front of our car and my mom immediately turned around to go back the […]
The following cross-post is written by Cait Miller and originally appeared on the In the Muse blog. The following post is co-written with Musical Instruments Curator Carol Lynn Ward-Bamford. Early yesterday morning the world learned of the death of Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej, crowned in 1946 and known as the world’s longest-reigning monarch. Born in […]
(The following is a guest post by VHP Reference Specialist Megan Harris, reprinted from the Folklife Today blog.) One look at Irving Greenwald’s diary is all it takes to bring to mind the old adage “good things come in small packages.” This World War I diary, written by Pfc. Irving Greenwald, was donated to the Veterans […]
(The following is an article in the September/October 2016 issue of the Library of Congress Magazine, LCM. The article was written by Fenella France, chief of the Library’s Preservation, Research and Testing Division.) Technological advancements have made it possible for the Library to put several rare maps on long-term display. Preserving and making the Library’s […]