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October 26, 2013

'War of the Worlds' caused little local concern

If there was ever a big boost in the career of actor, director, writer and producer Orson Welles, it came 75 years ago this coming week when radio was a media giant. It was Sunday night, Oct. 30, 1938, when Oneontans and those across the nation tuned in — many of them after the program’s introduction — to the Mercury Theatre play, “The War of the Worlds.”

By missing the play’s introduction, a listener would have missed the fact that he was listening to a fictitious news broadcast describing men from Mars invading northern New Jersey. This mock newscast sent residents from the New York-New Jersey area either scrambling in a frenzy to escape, or to pick up their guns and go fight the outer space enemies.

Radio listeners around Oneonta must have either heard the play’s introduction, or they were listening to the popular and competing Edgar Bergen-Charlie McCarthy show, as a look at The Oneonta Star over the next couple of days showed absolutely no reports of any such panic.

The Oneonta Herald of Nov. 3, 1938, reported, “Relatives of an Oneonta family were among the many New Jersey residents who were startled into leaving their towns on Sunday night … and being led to believe that a major catastrophe had struck the New Jersey area.”

“George S. Andrus of 32 West street received a phone call about 8:30 Sunday from his son, Emmon Andrus, of Campgaw, near Paterson, N.J., saying that he, his wife and their daughter … were leaving at once for Oneonta and asking his father to stay up for them. At 10:15 Mr. Andrus had another call from his son, then in Kingston, who explained that the radio announcement had been the cause for their hasty departure, but that on reaching Kingston they had learned the true nature of the broadcast.”

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