Hadley Cantril's study was launched immediately after the broadcast to give an account of people's reactions and an answer to the question, Why the panic? Originally published by Princeton University Press in 1940, the book explores the latent anxieties that lead to mass hysteria.
Originally published in 1982.
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The Invasion from Mars
A Study in the Psychology of Panic
By HADLEY CANTRIL
PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESSCopyright © 1940 Princeton University Press
All rights reserved.
AT EIGHT P.M. eastern standard time on the evening of October 30, 1938, Orson Welles with an innocent little group of actors took his place before the microphone in a New York studio of the Columbia Broadcasting System. He carried with him Howard Koch's freely adapted version of H. G. Wells's imaginative novel, War of the Worlds. He also brought to the scene his unusual dramatic talent. With script and talent the actors hoped to entertain their listeners for an hour with an incredible, old-fashioned story appropriate for Hallowe'en.
Much to their surprise the actors learned that the series of news bulletins they had issued describing an invasion from Mars had been believed by thousands of people throughout the country. For a few horrible hours people from Maine to California thought that hideous monsters armed with death rays were destroying all armed resistance sent against them; that there was simply no escape from disaster; that the end of the world was near. Newspapers the following morning spoke of the "tidal wave of terror that swept the nation." It was clear that a panic of national proportions had occurred. The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission called the program "regrettable."
What had these actors said in the brief hour at their disposal? What wild story had they let loose? With the permission of the Mercury Theatre on the Air, the Columbia Broadcasting System, and Mr. H. G. Wells, we are able to print the whole of the radio drama for the first time.
COLUMBIA BROADCASTING SYSTEM
ORSON WELLES AND MERCURY THEATRE
ON THE AIR
SUNDAY, OCTOBER 30, 1938
8:00 to 9:00 p.m.
CUE: (COLUMBIA BROADCASTING SYSTEM)
(... 30 seconds ...)
ANNOUNCER: The Columbia Broadcasting System and its affiliated stations present Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre on the Air in War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells.
ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen: the director of the Mercury Theatre and star of these broadcasts, Orson Welles....
We know now that in the early years of the twentieth century this world was being watched closely by intelligences greater than man's and yet as mortal as his own. We know now that as human beings busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinized and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinize the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. With infinite complacence people went to and fro over the earth about their little affairs, serene in the assurance of their dominion over this small spinning fragment of solar driftwood which by chance or design man has inherited out of the dark mystery of Time and Space. Yet across an immense ethereal gulf, minds that are to our minds as ours are to the beasts in the jungle, intellects vast, cool and unsympathetic regarded this earth with envious eyes and slowly and surely drew their plans against us. In the thirty-ninth year of the twentieth century came the great disillusionment.
It was near the end of October. Business was better. The war scare was over. More men were back at work. Sales were picking up. On this particular evening, October 30, the Crossley service estimated that thirty-two million people were listening in on radios.
... for the next twenty-four hours not much change in temperature. A slight atmospheric disturbance of undetermined origin is reported over Nova Scotia, causing a low pressure area to move down rather rapidly over the northeastern states, bringing a forecast of rain, accompanied by winds of light gale force. Maximum temperature 66; minimum 48. This weather report comes to you from the Government Weather Bureau.
... We now take you to the Meridian Room in the Hotel Park Plaza in downtown New York, where you will be entertained by the music of Ramon Raquello and his orchestra.
(SPANISH THEME SONG ... FADES)
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. From the Meridian Room in the Park Plaza in New York City, we bring you the music of Ramon Raquello and his orchestra. With a touch of the Spanish, Ramon Raquello leads off with "La Cumparsita."
(PIECE STARTS PLAYING)
Ladies and gentlemen, we interrupt our program of dance music to bring you a special bulletin from the Intercontinental Radio News. At twenty minutes before eight, central time, Professor Farrell of the Mount Jennings Observatory, Chicago, Illinois, reports observing several explosions of incandescent gas, occurring at regular intervals on the planet Mars.
The spectroscope indicates the gas to be hydrogen and moving towards the earth with enormous velocity. Professor Pierson of the observatory at Princeton confirms Farrell's observation, and describes the phenomenon as (QUOTE) like a jet of blue flame shot from a gun. (UNQUOTE.) We now return you to the music of Ramon Raquello, playing for you in the Meridian Room of the Park Plaza Hotel, situated in downtown New York.
(MUSIC PLAYS FOR A FEW MOMENTS UNTIL PIECE ENDS.... SOUND OF APPLAUSE)
Now a tune that never loses favor, the ever-popular "Star Dust." Ramon Raquello and his orchestra....
Ladies and gentlemen, following on the news given in our bulletin a moment ago, the Government Meteorological Bureau has requested the large observatories of the country to keep an astronomical watch on any further disturbances occurring on the planet Mars. Due to the unusual nature of this occurrence, we have arranged an interview with the noted astronomer, Professor Pierson, who will give us his views on this event. In a few moments we will take you to the Princeton Observatory at Princeton, New Jersey. We return you until then to the music of Ramon Raquello and his orchestra.
We are ready now to take you to the Princeton Observatory at Princeton where Carl Phillips, our commentator, will interview Professor Richard Pierson, famous astronomer. We take you now to Princeton, New Jersey.
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. This is Carl Phillips, speaking to you from the observatory at Princeton. I am standing in a large semicircular room, pitch black except for an oblong split in the ceiling. Through this opening I can see a sprinkling of stars that cast a kind of frosty glow over the intricate mechanism of the huge telescope. The ticking sound you hear is the vibration of the clockwork. Professor Pierson stands directly above me on a small platform, peering through the giant lens. I ask you to be patient, ladies and gentlemen, during any delay that may arise during our interview. Beside his ceaseless watch of the heavens, Professor Pierson may be interrupted by telephone or other communications. During this period he is in constant touch with the astronomical centers of the world.... Professor, may I begin our questions?
At any time, Mr. Phillips.
Professor, would you please tell our radio audience exactly what you see as you observe the planet Mars through your telescope?
Nothing unusual at the moment, Mr. Phillips. A red disk swimming in a blue sea. Transverse stripes across the disk. Quite distinct now because Mars happens to be at the point nearest the earth ... in opposition, as we call it.
In your opinion, what do these transverse stripes signify, Professor Pierson?
Not canals, I can assure you, Mr. Phillips, although that's the popular conjecture of those who imagine Mars to be inhabited. From a scientific viewpoint the stripes are merely the result of atmospheric conditions peculiar to the planet.
Then you're quite convinced as a scientist that living intelligence as we know it does not exist on Mars?
I should say the chances against it are a thousand to one.
And yet how do you account for these gas eruptions occurring on the surface of the planet at regular intervals?
Mr. Phillips, I cannot account for it.
By the way, Professor, for the benefit of our listeners, how far is Mars from the earth?
Approximately forty million miles.
Well, that seems a safe enough distance.
Just a moment, ladies and gentlemen, someone has just handed Professor Pierson a message. While he reads it, let me remind you that we are speaking to you from the observatory in Princeton, New Jersey, where we are interviewing the world-famous astronomer, Professor Pierson.... One moment, please. Professor Pierson has passed me a message which he has just received.... Professor, may I read the message to the listening audience?
Certainly, Mr. Phillips.
Ladies and gentlemen, I shall read you a wire addressed to Professor Pierson from Dr. Gray of the National History Museum, New York. "9:15 p.m. eastern standard time. Seismograph registered shock of almost earthquake intensity occurring within a radius of twenty miles of Princeton. Please investigate. Signed, Lloyd Gray, Chief of Astronomical Division." ... Professor Pierson, could this occurrence possibly have something to do with the disturbances observed on the planet Mars?
Hardly, Mr. Phillips. This is probably a meteorite of unusual size and its arrival at this particular time is merely a coincidence. However, we shall conduct a search, as soon as daylight permits.
Thank you, Professor. Ladies and gentlemen, for the past ten minutes we've been speaking to you from the observatory at Princeton, bringing you a special interview with Professor Pierson, noted astronomer. This is Carl Phillips speaking. We now return you to our New York studio.
(FADE IN PIANO PLAYING)
Ladies and gentlemen, here is the latest bulletin from the Intercontinental Radio News. Toronto, Canada: Professor Morse of Macmillan University reports observing a total of three explosions on the planet Mars, between the hours of 7:45 p.m. and 9:20 p.m., eastern standard time. This confirms earlier reports received from American observatories. Now, nearer home, comes a special announcement from Trenton, New Jersey. It is reported that at 8:50 p.m. a huge, flaming object, believed to be a meteorite, fell on a farm in the neighborhood of Grovers Mill, New Jersey, twenty-two miles from Trenton. The flash in the sky was visible within a radius of several hundred miles and the noise of the impact was heard as far north as Elizabeth.
We have dispatched a special mobile unit to the scene, and will have our commentator, Mr. Phillips, give you a word description as soon as he can reach there from Princeton. In the meantime, we take you to the Hotel Martinet in Brooklyn, where Bobby Millette and his orchestra are offering a program of dance music.
(SWING BAND FOR 20 SECONDS ... THEN CUT)
We take you now to Grovers Mill, New Jersey.
(CROWD NOISES ... POLICE SIRENS)
Ladies and gentlemen, this is Carl Phillips again, at the Wilmuth farm, Grovers Mill, New Jersey. Professor Pierson and myself made the eleven miles from Princeton in ten minutes. Well, I ... I hardly know where to begin, to paint for you a word picture of the strange scene before my eyes, like something out of a modern Arabian Nights. Well, I just got here. I haven't had a chance to look around yet. I guess that's it. Yes, I guess that's the ... thing, directly in front of me, half buried in a vast pit. Must have struck with terrific force. The ground is covered with splinters of a tree it must have struck on its way down. What I can see of the ... object itself doesn't look very much like a meteor, at least not the meteors I've seen. It looks more like a huge cylinder. It has a diameter of ... what would you say, Professor Pierson?
About thirty yards.
About thirty yards.... The metal on the sheath is ... well, I've never seen anything like it. The color is sort of yellowish-white. Curious spectators now are pressing close to the object in spite of the efforts of the police to keep them back. They're getting in front of my line of vision. Would you mind standing on one side, please?
One side, there, one side.
While the policemen are pushing the crowd back, here's Mr. Wilmuth, owner of the farm here. He may have some interesting facts to add.... Mr. Wilmuth, would you please tell the radio audience as much as you remember of this rather unusual visitor that dropped in your backyard? Step closer, please. Ladies and gentlemen, this is Mr. Wilmuth.
I was listenin' to the radio.
Closer and louder, please.
Louder, please, and closer.
Yes, sir—while I was listening to the radio and kinda drowsin', that Professor fellow was talkin' about Mars, so I was half dozin' and half ...
Yes, Mr. Wilmuth. Then what happened?
As I was sayin', I was listenin' to the radio kinda halfways ...
Yes, Mr. Wilmuth, and then you saw something?
Not first off. I heard something.
And what did you hear?
A hissing sound. Like this: ssssssssss ... kinda like a fourt' of July rocket.
Turned my head out the window and would have swore I was to sleep and dreamin'.
I seen a kinda greenish streak and then zingo! Somethin' smacked the ground. Knocked me clear out of my chair!
Well, were you frightened, Mr. Wilmuth?
Well, I—I ain't quite sure. I reckon I—I was kinda riled.
Thank you, Mr. Wilmuth. Thank you.
Want me to tell you some more?
No.... That's quite all right, that's plenty.
Ladies and gentlemen, you've just heard Mr. Wilmuth, owner of the farm where this thing has fallen. I wish I could convey the atmosphere ... the background of this ... fantastic scene. Hundreds of cars are parked in a field in back of us. Police are trying to rope off the roadway leading into the farm. But it's no use. They're breaking right through. Their headlights throw an enormous spot on the pit where the object's half-buried. Some of the more daring souls are venturing near the edge. Their silhouettes stand out against the metal sheen.
(FAINT HUMMING SOUND)
One man wants to touch the thing ... he's having an argument with a policeman. The policeman wins. ... Now, ladies and gentlemen, there's something I haven't mentioned in all this excitement, but it's becoming more distinct. Perhaps you've caught it already on your radio. Listen: (LONG PAUSE) ... Do you hear it? It's a curious humming sound that seems to come from inside the object. I'll move the microphone nearer. Here, (PAUSE) Now we're not more than twenty-five feet away. Can you hear it now? Oh, Professor Pierson!
Yes, Mr. Phillips?
Can you tell us the meaning of that scraping noise inside the thing?
Possibly the unequal cooling of its surface.
Do you still think it's a meteor, Professor?
I don't know what to think. The metal casing is definitely extra-terrestrial ... not found on this earth. Friction with the earth's atmosphere usually tears holes in a meteorite. This thing is smooth and, as you can see, of cylindrical shape.
Just a minute! Something's happening! Ladies and gentlemen, this is terrific! This end of the thing is beginning to flake off! The top is beginning to rotate like a screw! The thing must be hollow!
She's a movin'!
Look, the darn thing's unscrewing!
Keep back, there! Keep back, I tell you.
Maybe there's men in it trying to escape!
It's red hot, they'll burn to a cinder!
Keep back there! Keep those idiots back!
(SUDDENLY THE CLANKING SOUND OF A HUGE PIECE OF FALLING METAL)
Excerpted from The Invasion from Mars by HADLEY CANTRIL. Copyright © 1940 Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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Table of Contents
- FrontMatter, pg. i
- Contents, pg. v
- Preface (1966), pg. vi
- Preface (1940), pg. ix
- I. "Incredible as it may seem" THE BROADCAST (Script by Howard Koch), pg. 1
- II. "It was something terrible" THE NATURE AND EXTENT OF THE PANIC, pg. 47
- III. "It didn't sound like a play" HOW THE STIMULUS WAS EXPERIENCED, pg. 67
- IV. " We'd better do something" DESCRIPTION OF REACTIONS, pg. 87
- V. "I figured" CRITICAL ABILITY, pg. 111
- VI. "I'm so worried" CONDITIONS INHIBITING CRITICAL ABILITY, pg. 127
- VII. "Being in a troublesome world" THE HISTORICAL SETTING, pg. 153
- VIII. "My background" THE INDIVIDUAL CASE, pg. 167
- IX. "Jitters have come to roost" WHY THE PANIC?, pg. 189
- Appendix A. Miscellaneous information, pg. 207
- Appendix B. Interview schedule, pg. 211
- Appendix C. Tables, pg. 221
- Index, pg. 223