War of the Worlds. On Oct. 31, 1938, the Daily Intelligencer reported:
Thousands of Calls Sent In By Terrorized Citizens AND FIND IT FICTION
Thousands of persons throughout the nation got hysterical last night as a result of a little skit by Orson Welles, of New York Mercury Theater, over the network of the Columbia Broadcasting System. In presenting H.G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds” young actor-director Orson did a just-too-convincing job of dramatizing a mythical destruction of New Jersey by a flock of monsters from Mars who smashed down into the state in rocket planes and proceeded to wipe out civilization.
Anxiety was nationwide. In Philadelphia the police switchboard registered 1000 calls within an hour after the program. Police in Tulsa, Oklahoma, reported two heart attacks resulting from the dramatization. Los Angeles, Dallas, Kansas City and Omaha reported hundreds of telephone calls. And in San Francisco several offers to volunteer in stopping the Martian invasion came among the hundreds of calls to police. Providence, Rhode Island, reported “weeping and hysterical women swamped the switchboard of the Providence Journal for details of the massacre and destruction at New York and officials of the electric company received scores of calls urging them to turn off all the lights so that the city would be safe from the enemy.” Mass hysteria mounted in some cases so high that dozens of people told police they had seen the invaders.