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'War of the Worlds' director and narrator, Orson Welles, 1937, from the Library of Congress Van Vechten Collection.

'War of the Worlds' director and narrator, Orson Welles, 1937, from the Library of Congress Van Vechten Collection.


This NOT Just In: 'War Of The Worlds' Touches The Pacific Northwest

Feliks Banel

If you didn't know otherwise, the October 30, 1938 broadcast of "War of the Worlds" sounded a lot like a radio newscast.


Reporter: "Ladies and gentleman, 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."

Fake news of a Martian landing fooled a lot of people on the East Coast, especially around New Jersey, where phony live reports described the alien landing site.

Reporter: "I guess that's it. Yes, I guess that's the thing right in front of me, half buried in a vast pit."

Most of the panic was in little pockets, among distracted or excitable people who somehow missed the opening credits and the disclaimers and were convinced the world was ending.

But the most infamous panic of all didn't happen in the East. And it wasn't just a single person. It was an entire town, and it happened right here in Washington state.

"War of the Worlds" came on at 5:00 p.m. in Concrete, a little town on the Skagit River 60 miles north of Seattle. Around 20 minutes past 5:00 p.m. folks who had their radios tuned to CBS affiliate KIRO heard the unfolding situation take a turn for the worse.

Reporter: "At least 40 people including six state troopers lie dead in a field east of the village of Grover's Mill, their bodies burned and distorted beyond all possible recognition."

Meanwhile as the Martians were laying waste to New Jersey, a thunderstorm was working its way up the Skagit Valley bringing lightning and heavy rain to Concrete.

Reporter: "A bulletin is handed me. Martian cylinders are falling all over the country. One outside of Buffalo. One in Chicago, St. Louis."

Just at that moment, a bolt of lightning hit the power station in Concrete. Lights went dark, radios went silent. The people of Concrete hit the streets.

It was right about this time that Concrete resident Albert Frank came driving into town in the middle of the downpour. A few years ago he recalled the events of that long ago night when the whole town went crazy.

Frank: "We were coming home from Everett. We hit into Concrete about the time that lightning and thunderstorm hit, and, uh, people were kinda wandering around and yellin' and screamin' and we couldn't figure out what was going on."

Reporter: "Now they're lifting their metal hands. This is the end now. Smoke comes out. Black smoke drifting over the city."

Frank: "And, uh, here comes this woman out of the house there, yellin' that the world was comin' to an end."

Reporter: "People in the streets see it now. They're running toward the East River, thousands of them, dropping in like rats."

Frank: "And we tried to stop her and grab her, and finally we got her into the Eagles and she was quite yellin' and screamin' yet."

Fortunately it wasn't too long before the people of Concrete calmed down and figured out they'd been duped. The rain slacked off, lights came back on and folks went back inside for their Sunday dinners. Residents of Concrete hoped it would be the town's little secret.

But word of the big panic in the little town spread. It hit the pages of the New York Times and was featured on the most popular radio news program, "The March of Time."

Little Concrete was on the big map, for a while anyway, courtesy of Orson Welles and a Halloween Eve prank.

Welles: "Starting now, we couldn't soap all your windows and steal all your garden gates by tomorrow night, so we did the best next (sic) thing. We annihilated the world before your very ears and utterly destroyed the CBS."

I'm Feliks Banel for "This NOT Just In."

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