Image: Wikimedia Commons
How old were you when the Orson Welles War of the Worlds radio broadcast was aired?
“I was little. If it was on Halloween in 1938, then I was four years old. I was little but I have some vivid memories from that night. We were in my grandparent’s farmhouse in Ferrell, New Jersey, and my grandmother and grandfather were listening to the radio as usual. Their names were Mary and George. They were my father’s parents. All of a sudden there was a lot of confusion in the house and the next thing I know we were down in the cellar. But it wasn’t a normal cellar, it was just a dug-out hole. It was all dirt. Not just the floor, everything was dirt. I don’t know what it was used for. I had never been down there before. I left that house in the fourth grade and I never went down there again. The house is still there.
“My grandpop didn’t tell us why he brought us down there, though I remember him saying something like ‘they were coming.’ It was dark except for one light, probably a gas lamp. I remember watching my grandparents talking while me and my little brother Billy sat there. Billy would have been about three. They couldn’t take the radio down there since there was no electricity, so it was quiet except for them talking. They were both telling us to be quiet, to not make any noise, though I don’t remember me or Billy saying anything.
“The next thing I remember, and this is my most vivid memory, is that somebody got the idea that they could keep us safe from the poison gases if they kept us wet. So they kept us wet the whole time. They took water down from the well and wet some blankets, and they put the wet blankets around us. Honestly I still don’t remember being afraid at that point, I just remember being really cold. I was shivering. I don’t remember either me or my brother crying. At that age, you have complete trust in the adults you’re with. I don’t remember crying. I remember shivering. The most vivid memory I have is the wet blankets. When the blankets would start to dry, they would wet them again.
“My grandfather had his shotgun. I can see him holding his gun. I remember that vividly because it wasn’t usual to see that. I knew that he was going to use it save us, he said something like that, but honestly, I don’t remember if he said he was going to shoot us or shoot whatever was coming. You’d think that would have stood out.”
Why didn’t they call someone?
“There was no phone. See, that’s it. If you had a phone, you would have called somebody up and said what’s going on. But it was a farm, there was no phone and the neighbors weren’t close. The closest neighbor, their name was Hummel, my grandfather didn’t get along with them. When you live on a farm, you’re more or less by yourself. You’re isolated.
“Originally I wasn’t afraid, just cold. It was only when my grandparents started to express more fear that my brother and I got afraid. Fear started to set in when we were down there for a really long time and it got colder and we got hungry and I could see that my grandparents were getting scared. They were both saying things to each other like, ‘what will they do to us? What do they want? Why do you think they came here? If we stay down here, maybe they won’t see us.’ I don’t remember him using the word Martians or aliens. All I knew was that somebody was coming to the house that didn’t belong there.”
How long were you down there?
“I don’ t know how many hours it was but it was the whole night. Finally my grandfather heard somebody walking around outside and he said ‘they’re here, they’re here.’ He got up with the gun, to protect us. This person just kept walking around outside. Then my grandfather heard somebody call out his name. He was hesitant and didn’t want to answer, but the person kept calling and he finally realized that it wasn’t a trick and that this person knew him. He and my grandmother talked about it and he went upstairs. Then after a while he came back down and said it was okay.
“Then it was like it never happened. My grandfather never talked about it once. He never admitted to it. I never asked my grandmother or grandfather about it, I don’t know why. It was just never discussed. Billy and I never talked about it, which is funny. I don’t know if he would have remembered it.
“The last time I really thought of it was during 9/11. I had the same sensation. The fear of the unknown. I was thinking, why are they coming? What do they want?”
— Joan Geraci, age 80, Bellmawr, New Jersey
You can find the 1938 broadcast here. For more on radio shows of that era, see Old-Time Radio Shows: Why I Listen to This Ancient Crap.