Almost everyone has heard the story about how Orson Welles produced a radio drama based on H. G. Welles’ story The War of the Worlds that was broadcast October 30, 1938, the night before Halloween. The dramatization largely took the form of a series of news bulletins that interrupt regular programming about the Earth being attacked by Martians. The story goes that people who heard it thought it was a real news story and there was mass panic and hysteria, with people all over the country running out of their homes and into the streets in fear.
Frankly, I just did not believe it. It seemed like one of those too-good-to-be-true stories and I had it on my to-do list to check out the news reports from that time to see if it was as big an event as portrayed now.
But as is often the case, if you wait long enough, someone else will do the work for you and I learn that W. Joseph Campbell in the School of Communication at American University in Washington, D.C debunks the story, suggesting that the broadcast itself, while causing some pockets of consternation, did not produce anything close to mass hysteria, though some people who had heard about it second hand and misunderstood what was going on repeated the warnings to others.
The original story quickly died down and disappeared but later developed a life of its own, being recycled regularly, usually at Halloween time.