Another terrifying 'war'

Baltimore Glimpses

January 29, 1991|By GILBERT SANDLER

IT IS the night Baltimore goes crazy.

At about 8:20 Sunday evening, Oct. 31, 1938, a 26-year-old man opens his door onto the 3900 block Mount Pleasant Avenue and shouts into the night, "The world is coming to an end!"

At the same time in North Baltimore, a man, alarmed at hearing the same news, calls his daughter in New York. When the telephone line for some reason clicks off, he exclaims, "My God! It's true!" His wife faints. He then shrieks to his neighbors downstairs, "It's come! It's come! It's the end of the world!"

On Fort Avenue in South Baltimore, Lloyd Bevans observes groups of people standing around in small groups, talking quietly. When he asks what the trouble is, he is told, "A Martian invasion is wrecking the world!"

It is all on the radio, Orson Welles' Mercury Theater, which broadcasts in Baltimore on WCAO, a CBS network station.

An announcer speaks gravely: "We interrupt this program to bring you a special bulletin from Intercontinental Radio News. At 20 minutes before 8 Eastern Standard Time, Professor Farrell of the Mt. Jennings Observatory in Chicago reported observing several explosions of incandescent gas occurring on the planet Mars.

"An object was reported moving toward Earth . . . like a jet of blue gas shot from a gun . . ." The professor interrupts himself to explain that he has just been informed that a meteor has landed at Grover's Mill, N.J. "But, no, wait, it's not a meteor! I'm told it's a giant tube of metal!"

An announcer at Grover's Mill, choking with hysteria, explains that the end of the tube is "screwing itself off," and "monsters" are crawling out with death-ray machines. Two hundred spectators, he says, have died instantly, and the governor of New Jersey has declared martial law.

More, railroad service from New York to Philadelphia is reported to be discontinued. Highways to the north, south and west are clogged with traffic. Bells are tolling in New York, warning people to evacuate the city as the Martians approach. . .

It's all over in about an hour, and it becomes clear that people have been listening to nothing more than a radio drama -- though a pretty good one. CBS, realizing the commotion the show has caused in cities across America, peppers the airwaves with assurances that the play has been a spoof. Welles explains in wry apology, "It's Halloween . . ."

Across the city on the morning after, there are war stories to tell.

Elmer Harvey, a 20-year old filling station operator in Woodlawn, recalls, "I was here by myself last night. I turned on the radio and the first thing I heard was this professor talking about a blue streak he saw coming across the sky. The next thing was the Mars men. I was plenty scared. It sounded like the real McCoy to me." He says he closed up the station and went home.

But Clarence Herman, a police officer attached to the Northern District, was at home playing pinochle with some friends. He says, "I heard about it, but when I'm playing pinochle I'm playing pinochle. I don't stop the game.

"Even if the world is coming to an end."


Different medium then, different kind of "war," different "enemy." But somehow I'm reminded of the last couple of weeks in the U.S. Would that we could wake up tomorrow and discover it was all a spoof!

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