Many families have a story about that night.
My grandmother used to describe how my grandfather spent the night on the roof of their tenement building, drunk out of his mind, brandishing his old WWI Navy service revolver. From time to time my grandmother would hang her head out the apartment window and shout out updates.
“Al! Al! They’re coming! God’s sake, they’re by Passaic now!”
“Shut up and get your head back in the house, will you?”
“Oh God, Al! They’re coming up on the Palisades! They starting to wade over to New York!”
“Will you get back inside, god damn it!!!”
“Can you see ’em, Al? God’s sake, can you see ’em???”
A long pause … his eyes would have been squinting, scanning the horizon hard, searching for Martian machines the way he had once scanned for German U-boats … his voice drifted down from up above on the roof … his voice sounded very small, very sober, and very, very scared.
” … yeah … yeah, I see them … they’re coming ….”
He went to his grave insisting that he saw a line of vast Martian machines striding across to Manhattan. You understand: he saw them.
From the Writer’s Almanac:
It was on this day in 1938 that a radio broadcast based on a science fiction novel caused mass hysteria across New England: Orson Welles’s adaptation of War of the Worlds. The first part of the broadcast imitated news bulletins and announced that Martians had invaded New Jersey. There was a disclaimer at the beginning of the program explaining that it was fictional, but many people tuned in late and missed the explanation. So they panicked; some people fled their homes and many were terrified.
War of the Worlds (1898) was a novel by H.G. Wells set in 19th-century England. Orson Welles kept the same plot but updated it and set it in Grover’s Mill, New Jersey.