THE ” WAR OF THE WORLDS ” MYTH – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I went to a presentation celebrating the 80th anniversary of Orson Welles’ 1938 radio broadcast of H.G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds”. The reason this particular broadcast has lived on in history and is still remembered and talked about today is really quite interesting.

Orson Welles broadcasting “The War of the Worlds”

The radio play starts with a typical program playing music from a live band. This fictional program is then interrupted by a realistic sounding “newscaster” reporting an increasingly destructive invasion by Martians. The Martians wipe out New Jersey and proceed to annihilate Manhattan. They are reported to be landing all over the east coast of the United States. The U.S. army is reported to be vanquished and the audience is told that we have no defenses left.

Rehearsal of War of the Worlds

Newspapers the next day, including the New York Times, headlined a nationwide panic that made this incident the most notorious event in broadcast history. The unprecedented mass hysteria was talked about in newspapers, books, articles and radio and TV shows for the past 80 years.

The day after the broadcast

There were reports of thousands of panicked calls to police and radio stations across the country. There were stories of traffic accidents, near riots and hordes of panicked people in the streets and on the roads, fleeing the Martian invasion. There were even reports of suicides and deaths due to the hysteria caused by the broadcast. It was claimed that the stories continued in the newspapers for two weeks, with over 12,500 articles about the panic.

The day after the broadcast

Today, however, this version of history has now been debunked and fallen out of favor. The current belief is that whatever panic occurred, it was small and not widespread. Most listeners understood this was a dramatization. While some may have been scared by the story, few panicked. Evidence shows that at the time of the event, newspaper reports of the story actually stopped after a day or two, not weeks. The story was not the long-lasting, national headline grabber we believed it to be.

In addition, far fewer people heard the original broadcast than most people believed. This fact makes the magnitude of the reported panic much more implausible. A rating service the night of the broadcast reported only 2% of listeners were even tuned in to The “War of the Worlds.” This was true, in part because Welles was scheduled opposite one of the most popular shows on the air – Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy.

In addition, several important CBS affiliates, including in Boston, didn’t even air Welles’ show. Instead, they aired local commercial programming, which further reduced Welles’ national audience.

History does show, however, that the story grew in magnitude and in detail as time went on. So the 1940 claim that one million people heard the broadcast is grossly exaggerated.

Just as the size of Welles’ audience has been inflated, so have the reports of mass hysteria. There is no documentation of any deaths or even hospital visits, as claimed, due to the shock of the broadcast. In reality, there were almost no contemporaneous news accounts of mobs in the streets or highways jammed with fleeing people. In fact, people later reported walking through the streets of major cities at the time of the broadcast and finding them as empty as usual at that time of night.

There is another piece of evidence used to counter the mass panic scenario. If the terror and chaos had been as bad and as widespread as reported, CBS and Welles would have been severely reprimanded or even punished. But no sanctions were levied and no official rulings or regulations were promulgated by the FCC.

Welles facing the press the day after the broadcast

So why was the mass panic story started and why did it survive for so long?

One credible theory is that newspapers were to blame for the origins of the story. Radio was still a relatively new medium in 1938 – only 18 years old. But already radio was taking advertising dollars and audiences away from the newspaper industry. So the newspapers seized upon this opportunity to trash the radio as an unreliable source of news. A newspaper trade journal at the time wrote: “The nation as a whole continues to face the danger of incomplete, misunderstood news over a medium which had yet to prove …that it is competent to perform the news job.”

You can’t trust the radio! Fake news!

People are now debating why this myth has persisted for so long. One answer is a man named Hadley Cantril. He wrote a scholarly book in 1940 that gave academic credence to the panic. He used numbers and statistics that made his story seem plausible, but which have subsequently come into question.

He had no hard facts to back up any of his assertions. And he is the only legitimate academic source that claims there was a sizeable panic. Yet his writing has kept this version of the story in textbooks, as it still is today.

There is a more philosophical explanation of the persistence of the mass hysteria myth. In 2000, Northwestern’s Jeffrey Sconce wrote an article called, “Haunted Media”. In it, he suggests that the “War of the Worlds” myth captures our unease with mass media and the internet’s power over us. We all fear, on some level, the media and the internet “…invading and colonizing our consciousness.” The myth is “…a cautionary tale about the power of the media.”

Jeffrey Sconce

Radio opened up a new means of mass communication and shared experiences. Now the internet is doing the same thing. Sconce states that “…today the internet provides us with both the promise of a dynamic communicative future and dystopian fears of a new form of mind control; lost privacy; and attacks from scary, mysterious forces.”

This is particularly true with today’s epidemic of fake news, foreign intervention, and manipulation of the internet and domestic political dirty tricks. We deal with political misinformation being spread to millions of people every day. A national panic may not have occurred because of a radio broadcast in 1938, but it is more likely to occur today because of the abuse of the internet.

DINGY – NOT ALWAYS WHAT YOU EXPECT – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Dingy


I thought I knew this word. It could be a little boat, often a little boat that lives on a bigger boat and is used to back and forth from the shoreline. It can also mean a little bit drab, or perhaps not entirely clean. It also can mean a sort of grubby off-blond hair color … or a faded hair color.

What I did not know is that it’s also a photographic term, meaning grainy and maybe a bit dark. Not shiny, maybe a bit fuzzy.

It is in the same category as grunge or grungy  — which is sort of like a softened version of HDR, but grainier and not as sharp. Also, things that are described as “chalky” frequently are also dingy.

It isn’t the same as “softened” because soft means taking the edge off the picture. Used a lot in photographs, especially of older people who don’t want to see every wrinkle and skin discoloration.

So these two are both dingy pictures. They look a bit antique and the light is subtly striated. Who knew, right? Yet another definition for a term you won’t find in the dictionary.

Q & A – AS LONG AS THE COPS AREN’T ASKING – Marilyn Armstrong

I Love Questions Unless the Cops Are Asking Them

The latest is Melanie over at Sparks From a Combustible Mind, who was nominated for the Sunshine Blogger Award. Congratulations Melanie.

She then wrote, “Anyone who wishes to answer some or all of the questions here, you’re more than welcome!!” And since I am “anyone,” here are Melanie’s questions and my answers.

Note: I’m ALSO anyone! So there!


1. Which season fits your personality best — spring, summer, fall, or winter — and why?

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Fall, usually. This year hasn’t been great but still, definitely my favorite season.

2. If you were to choose a well-known axiom or slogan for your life, what would it be?

The truth is easier to remember than a lie.

3. If you were a color, which would you be and why?

I get hung up on this. Do you mean a color I would wear? or just BE? What color is my aura?

I have no idea if I have an aura, much less its color. I don’t honestly think I can answer this because I like a lot of colors, depending on what they are being used for. Many colors I love, I won’t wear. For sheer color, I think turquoise. That clear bright blue you find mostly from Arizona mines.

4. What’s a skill you learned when you were young that you still use today?

Touch typing. I think it is the only genuinely useful skill I learned in school!

5. What’s the most valuable piece of advice you’ve been given?

“If they ask you to make an instant decision, say NO.” I wish I’d stuck to it more.

6. If you had your own talk show, who would your first three guests be?

Doris Kearns Goodwin, Stephen Colbert,  and Connie Willis. And if I get a fourth, Jim Butcher.

7. If you had one extra hour of free time a day, how would you use it?

Listening. I’m an audiobook junkie.

8. What was the most embarrassing thing you have ever done while on a date?

While trying to cut up the steak, it slid off the plate and onto my white silk blouse. I never wore white silk for any event where eating was involved. And I never ordered a steak with bones.

9. If you were the eighth dwarf, what would your name be?

Sneezy Too. I sneeze a LOT. I can sneeze an entire evening away.

10. Where is the last place you’d be caught dead? Aside from the cemetery, of course!

Mountain climbing.

99 New: Now – REBLOG – Jan Wilburg

I could not have said it better.

Red's Wrap

I have only this to say tonight – after a day of news about people murdered while praying.

Start where you are
Use what you have

Do what you can
–Arthur Ashe

Don’t wait to be asked. Find out where people are needed and go there. Send money to people running for office who believe in equal rights, justice, fairness, and inclusion. Sign up to knock on doors or make phone calls. Go to the march. Make a sign. Hold the sign over your head so people passing in cars will see it.

Do not be afraid. The people who were killed today can’t march, they can’t vote.

We will have to do it for them.

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AUTUMN WHILE IT RAINS – Garry and Marilyn Armstrong

FOTD – October 28, 2018 – October’s End


The giant storm didn’t really hit us. Apparently, it took a bigger whack at Boston and north, but here, it was just rain and a little wind. Nothing fell over. Power stayed on.

The dogs hated it, but otherwise, it went well. The grocery store made a fair bit of money. Locals cleaned the place out, just in case. Around here, they hear words like “nor’easter” and everyone’s mind says, “buried to my lips in snow and ice.”

Even though no snow was predicted, you just can’t be too careful.

A river full of water lilies – Photo: Marilyn Armstrong
Two Maple leaves – Photo: Marilyn Armstrong
Berries at Manchaug – Photo: Marilyn Armstrong
Reflection – Photo: Garry Armstrong
Shiny river – Photo: Garry Armstrong
Westward into the woods – Photo: Garry Armstrong

HOMES – Marilyn Armstrong

RDP Sunday–Home


Be it ever so humble, home is going to really cost you.

Growing up

I never really felt at home at my parent’s house. All I wanted was to be old enough to run. My first marriage was the classic “jailbreak.” He was still living in his parents’ attic. I had a rented room near the college. We both needed to get out of where we were and into something with “legs.”

The was our first house. It cost us $20,300 which is less than the car we drive. We took out an $18,000 mortgage. We lived there for 8 years, but it needed a lot of work. For one thing, its heating system was a converted coal furnace … and a second bathroom had become an issue. We could have remodeled rather than moving, but houses were still inexpensive, so we moved.

Exactly one mile away.

The next house

I loved that house. I used to walk around it during the night and just touch things. It talked to me. Unfortunately, that marriage was on its way out. Five-years later, I was on my way to Jerusalem, Israel.

The home in Baka, Jerusalem

That marriage was troubled before we got married. Had I had any sense at all, I never would have gotten into it … but I was lonely, far from home.  I didn’t speak or read the language.

The marriage had endless problems, but I adored Jerusalem and that old Arab-built house in which we finally settled had magic. It was home … until I left. The troubled marriage only got worse and after 9 years, I went home.

I had no place to stay, so I stayed in the guest room of the first husband.

Roxbury. Great townhouse. Three flights of stairs.

Garry thought we should get married and not long after that, we did. We found a great home in Roxbury. A triplex with enough closets to last a lifetime … and a wonderful kitchen. It was not finished when we bought it, so we had it designed for us. It was a great townhouse. We wanted a yard for the dogs … but if the Big Dig hadn’t driven us away, we might still be there. Really, probably not. We wanted some land. We wanted to live in the country.

Now, and for the past 18 years, this has been our home. It is also undoubtedly our last home.

What made each place a real home and not just a place to sleep?

Fundamentally, it’s where our dogs, cats, books, and art lives. I have lived in homes with many different people — including alone. The art and the dogs and cats always came too. They are a lot of what makes me feel I’m me.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Art, especially, is important. I don’t know how anyone can live in a house with blank walls and empty tables. The “glass and steel” trends of recent years look pretty in a photograph, but how awful to live in a place that’s all sharp edges.

Every place I’ve lived has had art and books everywhere. Dogs and cats and occasionally other critters, too.  Living with Garry has been a pleasure. After a lifetime of living with — or being married to — people I often didn’t really like, it’s great to live with someone I love.

Home is the stage from which we emerge into the larger world. We keep our costumes here. We keep our computers here. It’s the number we give to people who might want to call us — and one of the reasons I much prefer having a “home” telephone number.

This is where I live. Call me. If I don’t answer, leave a message and I’ll get back to you. This is where we live. This is home.