by Mack White


Sixty-four years ago this month, six million Americans became unwitting subjects in an experiment in psychological warfare.

It was the night before Halloween, 1938. At 8 p.m. CST, the Mercury Radio on the Air began broadcasting Orson Welles’ radio adaptation of H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. As is now well known, the story was presented as if it were breaking news, with bulletins so realistic that an estimated one million people believed the world was actually under attack by Martians. Of that number, thousands succumbed to outright panic, not waiting to hear Welles’ explanation at the end of the program that it had all been a Halloween prank, but fleeing into the night to escape the alien invaders.

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