Once again, as Halloween is fast approaching, we find “political correctness” attempting to intervene on the centuries old fun holiday of Halloween. While school districts and parents conduct their annual fight over what should or should not be allowed for Halloween fun I will continue to re-live all of the great memories I have of Halloweens past. The trick-or-treating, the costume parties, the jack o’lanterns, good ol’ bobbing for apples, horror flicks, scary stories and Halloween pranks all carried on at home and at school.
I remember this one time when I was taking our kids trick-or-treating from house to house here in Kipling and as we approached Martin and Lois Dundas’ front door we were admiring what a great job they had done with the scarecrow sitting dead-still on the bench near the sidewalk. You can imagine our surprise and terror as the thing sprang to life with a scream when we were only a few feet away! Grant, the Dundas’ oldest son, had decided a little Halloween prank was in order and worked the trick to great success over and over again that night. I cannot remember if we turned and ran, after screaming and screaming, or continued on to the door for the kid’s treats but I do know that the trick’s desired effect was not wasted on us! Yikes!
One of the greatest Halloween pranks of all time was conducted on October 30th, 1938. The War of the Worlds was an episode of the American Radio Drama anthology series The Mercury Theatre on the Air. It was performed as a Halloween episode of the series and aired over the CBS radio network. The episode was an adaptation of H. G. Wells’ novel, The War of the Worlds, and it was directed and narrated by actor and filmmaker Orson Welles.
Keep in mind that in 1938 there was no, or very limited, television, no internet, no instant messaging and radio was the only means of receiving immediate news. Also bear in mind that Hitler and the Nazi’s were stirring up a lot of trouble in Europe and the threat of war had been on the world’s mind, front and centre, for months. So the atmosphere was ripe.
The first two thirds of the sixty minute broadcast were presented as a series of simulated news bulletins, which suggested to many listeners that an actual Martian invasion was in progress. The Mercury Theatre on the Air also ran without commercials adding to the show’s realism. Many people were duped and panicked and there were sensationalist accounts in the press about the supposed panic in response to the broadcast but the precise extent of listener response has been debated ever since.
In the days following the adaptation, however, there was widespread outrage and panic by certain listeners who had believed that the events described in the program were real. The program’s news-bulletin format was described as cruelly deceptive by some newspapers and public figures, leading to an outcry against the perpetrators of the broadcast and the episode secured Orson Welle’s fame.
Many listeners even sued the network for “mental anguish” and “personal injury” but all suits were dismissed, except for a claim for a pair of black men’s shoes (size 9B), by a Massachusetts man, who spent his shoe money trying to escape the Martians. Welles insisted the man be paid.
Although many were panicked and believed in the “invasion” those who would have listened to the broadcast to its conclusion would have heard Welles close out the broadcast with the following disclaimer:
“This is Orson Welles, ladies and gentlemen, out of character to assure you that "The War of The Worlds" has no further significance than as the holiday offering it was intended to be. The Mercury Theatre's own radio version of dressing up in a sheet (or as a scarecrow!!) and jumping out of a bush and saying Boo!
Starting now, we couldn't soap all of your windows and steal all your garden gates by tomorrow night... so we did the next best thing. We annihilated the world before your very ears, and utterly destroyed the C. B. S. You will be relieved, I hope, to learn that we didn't mean it, and that both institutions are still open for business.
So goodbye everybody, and remember please, for the next day or so, the terrible lesson you learned tonight. That grinning, glowing, globular invader of your living room is an inhabitant of the pumpkin patch, and if your doorbell rings and nobody's there, that was no Martian... it's Halloween.”