Casting Stones

“When Martians Invaded Concrete” is a title Warner Bros. might want to keep in mind if they ever cast Marvin the Martian in a Wyle E. Coyote vs. Roadrunner cartoon. However, that’s not what the news item’s about at all. 

The practically-forgotten town of Concrete, WA was famously panicked by Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds broadcast of 1938. In honor of Halloween, a writer for Seattle Crosscut tracked down and interviewed a surviving witness:

Several calls to the historical society and the senior center, among other places, led to a lot of dead ends – mainly folks too young to remember the show. I can’t remember how, exactly, but I finally was directed to Albert Frank (the Albert in Albert’s Serve-U, I was pleased to learn) who was then 89 years old. He was more than happy to talk with me.

“We were coming home from Everett,” driving back from an errand with a friend, Frank told me. “We hit into Concrete about the time of that lightning and thunderstorm, and people were kinda wandering around and yellin’ and screamin’ and we couldn’t figure out what was going on.”

Then, Frank said, they saw a woman who was obviously in a state of panic. “Here comes this woman out of the house there, yellin’ that the world was comin’ to an end. She was watchin’ Orson Welles’ movie [sic] in the house, it was on radio and it scared her.”

The local paper defended the townfolk for their wild-eyed reaction to the broadcast:

In an editorial following the broadcast (and after several days in the media spotlight), the weekly Concrete Herald said, “Our city is taking a lot of kidding this week because of the radio scare Sunday evening. Nationwide newspaper stories, radio comments, and even a dramatized playlet on the air depicted Concrete’s residents in panic when the combined horror of a realistic radio play and the coincidence of a power failure brought hysteria. If folks in other cities and towns also went wild, the local citizens who had to stand the sudden darkness, too, can’t be blamed for exhibiting alarm.”

The article also quotes a Seattle newspaper editorial that condemned the radio program for its irresponsibility. Interesting how times change. Today cable news broadcasters consider it a day wasted if they can’t spin a story to send people raving into the streets.

 [Thanks to David Klaus for the story.]

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