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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

October 30, 1938

Twas the day before Halloween, and all through the streets
Millions of kids are dreaming of treats.
Chocolates, candies, and Strawberry Nibs
Candy corn and Tootsie Rolls, I got first dibs.
Before we go out dressed as trolls and the Mad Hatter
We need the weekly dose of Tuesday Timeline chatter
It's October the thirtieth, ain't that sublime?
Because my friends, we're going back in time...

Okay, my poetry skills aren't exactly the most stellar. But I really wanted to make sure that I opened this latest blog entry on a spooky note, being that tomorrow is Halloween.

And for today's special entry, we're going to take a look back on an event that frightened so many people, they expected the absolute worst.

For now, let's see what else happened on October 30. I imagine that at the end of this list come next year, there will be an entry for this year depicting the “Frankenstorm” of 2012. Again, I imagine that quite a few of you in the Northeastern USA are likely without power right now, but if you are able to see this, know that my thoughts are definitely with you during this time, and I hope that every single one of you stays safe.

Okay, so here is what else has happened on the second last day of October.

758 – Guangzhou is sacked by Arab and Persian pirates

1485 – King Henry VII of England is crowned

1831 – Escaped slave Nat Turner is captured and arrested in Virginia after leading the bloodiest slave rebellion in American history

1864 – The community of Helena, Montana is founded following the discovery of gold in “Last Chance Gulch” by four prospectors

1894 – Domenico Melegatti obtains a patent for a procedure to be applied in producing pandoro industrially

1905 – Czar Nicholas II of Russia grants Russia's first constitution, creating a legislative assembly

1918 – The Ottoman Empire signs an armistice with the Allies, ending the first World War in the Middle East

1920 – The Communist Party of Australia is founded in Sydney, Australia

1922 – Benito Mussolini is sworn in as Prime Minister of Italy

1925 – John Logie Baird creates Britain's first television transmitter

1929 – The Stuttgart Cable Car is constructed in Stuttgart, Germany

1941 – One thousand-five hundred Jews are sent to Belzec extermination camp by the Nazis

1944 – Anne and Margot Frank are deported from Auschwitz to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp

1945 – Jackie Robinson signs a contract for the Brooklyn Dodgers to break the baseball colour barrier

1947 – The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade is founded

1960 – The first successful kidney transplant is performed by Michael Woodruff in Edinburgh, Scotland

1961 – It is decreed that the body of Joseph Stalin be removed from its place of honour inside Lenin's tomb and buried near the Kremlin

1970 – A monsoon strikes Vietnam, killing 293, leaving almost a quarter of a million people homeless and ceases combat during the Vietnam War for a brief time

1972 – Two trains collide in Chicago, killing 45 people

1974 – The “Rumble in the Jungle” boxing match between George Foreman and Muhammad Ali takes place in Zaire

1975 – 15-year-old Martha Moxley is murdered, Michael Skakel, the nephew of Ethel Kennedy is later charged with her murder

1983 – The first democratic elections are held in Argentina after seven years of military rule

1985 – Space Shuttle Challenger lifts off for mission STS-61-A

1987 – The video game console PC Engine is released in Japan (in North America it was released under the name TurboGrafx-16)

2000 – Comedian Steve Allen passes away at the age of 78 in Los Angeles, California

And here are the list of celebrities that were born on today's date. Celebrating birthdays today are Anna Wing, Vince Callahan, Jim Perry, Grace Slick, Henry Winkler, Robert L. Gibson, Timothy B. Schmit (Eagles), Rusty Goffe, Garry McDonald, Harry Hamlin, Charles Martin Smith, Juliet Stevenson, Kevin Pollak, Stefan Dennis, Michael Beach, Kristina Wagner, Gavin Rossdale, Nia Long, Ben Bailey, Jessica Hynes, Jason Adelman, Amanda Swafford, Matthew Morrison, Ivanka Trump, and Eva Marcille.

So, what spooky date will we look back on this week?

October 30, 1938. And yes, I made the logo spooky on purpose.

Because today's tale features a very scary story read aloud by a man who would soon become a Hollywood heavyweight. Although this story was a fictional account, many who only heard parts of the broadcast reportedly panicked, thinking that the world as they knew it would change forever.

Have any of you heard of an author by the name of H.G. Wells? He was born in Bromley, Kent, England in 1866 and died on August 13, 1946 at the age of 79. During his life, he wrote several books which were very well-received and are widely considered to be classics today. Some of these books included “The Time Machine”, “The Invisible Man”, “The Island of Doctor Moreau”, and “The Shape of Things to Come”.

And he also wrote the novel entitled “The War of the Worlds”, which was first printed in the year 1898.

The War of the Worlds” was a depiction of what happened when Martians invaded Earth, and is widely considered to be one of the earliest literary works that depicted a conflict between mankind and extraterrestrial beings. Although the initial genre of the book is classified as being “scientific romance”, people have studied the novel closely and have interpreted it in a variety of ways since. Some people saw it as a social commentary piece on evolutionary theory, while others saw it as a statement regarding British imperialism. Some simply see the piece as a collection of Victorian-era superstitions, fears, and prejudices.

At any rate, the novel has been adapted into several different formats. Comic books, a television series, and a 2005 movie starring Tom Cruise and Dakota Fanning.

And it was also the subject of a particular radio broadcast that aired on Sunday, October 30, 1938.

In 1938, radio programming was still the number one form of entertainment for people living in North America. Whether they were listening to murder mysteries, the world news, or episodes of the brand new serial “The Guiding Light”, people would sit and listen to the radio for hours as they went about their household chores.

One of the most popular radio shows that aired in 1938 was “The Chase and Sanborn Hour”. It aired every Sunday night at eight o'clock and starred famous ventriloquist Edgar Bergen (father of Candice) and his dummy, Charlie McCarthy.

Unfortunately for the producers of rival radio program “Mercury Theatre on the Air”, which aired opposite “The Chase and Sanborn Hour”, their program was walloped in the ratings. And this frustrated the 22-year-old dramatist who headed each edition of the “Mercury Theatre on the Air”.

Perhaps you might know this fellow. His name was Orson Welles.

That's right. Orson Welles. Future star of “Citizen Kane”, “Treasure Island”, and the voice of Unicron in the 1986 Transformers movie.

In 1938, Orson Welles was more than determined to dethrone Edgar Bergen as the star of Sunday night radio, and brainstormed various ways to make his show stand out from the rest.

With Halloween night the day after the scheduled airing of his show, Welles debated on how he could make his show extra special for that day. He then had the idea to take H.G. Wells' “War of the Worlds” and adapt it into a theatrical play for radio audiences. It was a big gamble for Welles to take. It was a delicate practice to perform a play on the radio as in a lot of cases, they did not translate very well to the audience. After all, radio plays could only be heard and not seen, and in a lot of cases, the plays were subject to time constraints (at most, radio shows ran for an hour in length, including commercial breaks.

So, Orson Welles had a lot of work to do in order to make his October 30 deadline. He worked with one of the writers of the program, Howard Koch, rewrote the entire story of “The War of the Worlds”, with Welles doing quite a few revisions to the script in order to meet the show length. The setting was also changed from Victorian England to present day New England.

So, on October 30, 1938 at 8:00 pm, the “Mercury Theatre on the Air” kicked off its Halloween broadcast with the following announcement. “The Columbia Broadcasting System and its affiliated stations present Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre on the Air in The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells. From there, Orson Welles went on the air and introduced the play with an introductory paragraph explaining that the world had been watched by intelligences greater than man's.

After the intro, the show segwayed into a weather report and music before being interrupted by a special news bulletin which announced that a Chicago-based professor had begun seeing explosions taking place on Mars. The music returned briefly before another news report came on featuring another interview with another professor. During the interview, the professor was handed a note explaining that a huge shock of almost earthquake intensity occurred near Princeton, New Jersey. It is believed by the professor that the vibration was caused by a meteorite hitting the earth's surface.

And at 8:50 that night, yet another news bulletin is broadcast...this time alerting that another meteorite had struck the planet near Grovers Mill, New Jersey. “Carl Phillips” soon begins reporting live from the scene where he discovers that the meteorite is really a thirty-yard wide metal cylinder, and upon further examination makes the following report.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the most terrifying thing I have ever witnessed. . . . Wait a minute! Someone's crawling. Someone or . . . something. I can see peering out of that black hole two luminous disks . . . are they eyes? It might be a face. It might be . . . good heavens, something's wriggling out of the shadow like a gray snake. Now it's another one, and another one, and another one. They look like tentacles to me. There, I can see the thing's body. It's large as a bear and it glistens like wet leather. But that face, it . . . ladies and gentlemen, it's indescribable. I can hardly force myself to keep looking at it, it's so awful. The eyes are black and gleam like a serpent. The mouth is kind of V-shaped with saliva dripping from its rimless lips that seem to quiver and pulsate. A humped shape is rising out of the pit. I can make out a small beam of light against a mirror. What's that? There's a jet of flame springing from the mirror, and it leaps right at the advancing men. It strikes them head on! Good Lord, they're turning into flame!
Now the whole field's caught fire. The woods . . . the barns . . . the gas tanks of automobiles . . it's spreading everywhere. It's coming this way. About twenty yards to my right...

The broadcast then goes silent for a few minutes before resuming with this frightening revelation, courtesy of an announcer.

Ladies and gentlemen, I have just been handed a message that came in from Grovers Mill by telephone. Just one moment please. At least forty people, including six state troopers, lie dead in a field east of the village of Grovers Mill, their bodies burned and distorted beyond all possible recognition.

A pretty morbid end to the whole night, wouldn't you think? And it gets worse. By the end of the broadcast, thousands of people are given the news that the Martians have invaded the earth, and that New York City was already being evacuated.

Now, as you all know by now, aliens did not invade the planet seventy-four years ago. But because many people relied on the radio to report on the outside world, people took the broadcast seriously (especially if they were tuning into the show already in progress), and were actually worried that the aliens were going to take over the world.

Reportedly, millions of people all over the United States reacted to the news in a variety of ways. Thousands of listeners called radio stations all over the country to get more information, and many people allegedly packed up suitcases prepared to flee their homes if necessary. Now, the claims of this actually happening have been questioned, and some don't actually believe that it really happened. But take a look at this headline from the New York Times dated Monday, October 31, 1938, and make your own call.

Whatever the case, the incident was reported as a hoax just hours later, and many people were very angry at Orson Welles. Many even speculated that Welles had plotted the whole radio broadcast as a publicity stunt. Whatever the case, that one radio broadcast was the beginning of a lucrative career for Orson Welles, which lasted until his death in October 1985.

And to think that it all began the day before Halloween in 1938.

Happy October 30th, everyone, and for those of you who are surviving Sandy, we're all pulling for you.

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