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This Day in History: The War of the Worlds

On this day in 1938, the nation is terrified by a too-realistic radio dramatization of H.G. Wells’s “The War of the Worlds.” Were Martians invading New Jersey? Some people thought so. Hysteria reigned.

Or did it? Perhaps the “hysteria” was an invention of newspaper editorial boards.

Orson Welles, surrounded by reporters the day after the broadcast.

Either way, producer Orson Welles found himself in a tight spot. “If I’d planned to wreck my career,” Welles said at the time, “I couldn’t have gone about it better.”

Welles was then producing “Mercury Theater on the Air” for CBS. It was a low budget show broadcast from Radio City in New York. Usually, the show entertained its listeners with an adaptation of a literary classic, but Welles wanted something special for Halloween.