With Halloween upon us, we look to the maybe not-as-friendly-as-we-thought skies for a good spooking.
On October 30, 1938 – Halloween Eve – Orson Welles punk’d an entire nation with his “War of the Worlds” radio spoof.
It remains to this day the most famous radio broadcast ever – even more famous than President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Day of Infamy” speech after the bombing of Pearl Harbor that drew the United States formally into World War II.
Why did “War of the Worlds” scare so many people?
Consider it the original fake news of the electronic media age. Listeners to the show – which feigned a real-time attack by Martians on New Jersey – couldn’t simply go station surfing to get other accounts of the attack. It was an installment of Welles’ weekly “Mercury Theatre on the Air” series on CBS radio, one of the nation’s biggest networks at the time. So the listeners stayed with it, many believing the attack was real and in real time, with more than a few panicking as you might expect.
(In fact, those least worried about being invaded by Martians that night were the folks in New Jersey, who could look out the front window and see there wasn’t a single Martian on the block.)
According to Smithsonian Magazine, Welles awoke Halloween morning to find himself the talk of America. The media then needed to reassure the nation that the show was, indeed, fake. But what a fake!
What’s real? To some Americans, the airborne element of the paranormal — flying saucers and other UFO sightings all across the county. The threat of an alien invasion (though we’ve pretty much eliminated Martians based upon our visits to their place and a Matt Damon movie). Rumors of the government covering up the recovery of a spaceman’s body. UFO hotspots such as Roswell, New Mexico, and Area 51 in the southern Nevada desert. Some folks claimed they were abducted by aliens, taken to outer space, and then returned to good ol’ Planet Earth.
Because the unexplained is always so much more intriguing than the explained, sightings are reported with great frequency, and nowhere more than here in the Golden State. The National UFO Reporting Center has logged roughly 260 sightings in California thus far in 2021, and over 10,000 since the center began recording them in 1996. The vast majority of California’s sightings come from Southern California and many of those from the High Desert.
(Caveat: CalVet asked some veteran residents at its Veterans Homes of California in that area – Barstow and Lancaster – if they’d ever seen a UFO. None from Barstow admitted so. A veteran in Lancaster joked that he had seen one, which he attributed to, well, let’s call it a hallucinogen.)
Last New Year’s Eve, folks from Sacramento and Auburn to Hollywood reported seeing a UFO – definitely not fireworks – with all claiming that whatever it was, it had six lights.
Now, after some former Navy pilots revealed some of the strange things they encountered in the wild blue yonder over the years, the federal government last summer released a report on the very kinds of findings it’s been denying for decades.
Most predictably, the report proved that the government is really good at replacing old acronyms with new ones. UFOs (Unidentified Flying Objects) are now UAPs (Unidentified Aerial Phenomena) in government speak. They even created the UAPTF (Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force) to review UFO sightings reported by very credible Navy and Air Force pilots.
Another major finding: Out of a grouping of 18 sightings, the UAPTF determined with great confidence that one clearly was a weather balloon. The others? AG (Anybody’s Guess).
Even less comforting: Military.com reported that a couple of weeks ago three Air Force veterans went to Washington, D.C. and another Zoomed in from Missouri to describe their separate but equally alarming encounters. They told authorities that UFOs in the 1960s tampered with nuclear weapons managed by the Air Force. These veterans said they were silenced and ridiculed by their superiors, and only recently felt they could share their experiences. Pretty frightening stuff, indeed.
“War of the Worlds” put a genuine scare into America 83 years ago. All of those UFO (OK, UAP) sightings since then leave folks to wonder, “Is there truly a scare up there?”