Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Night the Martians Landed: A Family Story from 1938

I am reposting this story in memory of my Grandmother and Aunt Lona Mae, both of whom were born on October 31.

My Aunt "Sister", who would have been 101 years old on Halloween, shared this story at her birthday celebration the summer of 2010. Those who can remember the night of October 30, 1938 are becoming more rare, and it was a true gift to hear her first-hand account of family members' responses to a phenomenon of wide-spread panic and fear as a result of the radio broadcast of an adaptation of HG Wells' novel, War of the Worlds.

I had heard and read about the broadcast and its effect on individuals and families across the country. It was planned as a 60-minute Halloween radio drama, an episode of the Mercury Theatre on the Air, and was directed and narrated by Orson Welles. The first two-thirds of the broadcast was presented as news bulletins which suggested that an actual invasion by Martians was taking place. There were no commercial breaks, which added to the sense of realism. The use of the news bulletin format also contributed to the believability of the story, as well as to the resulting panic, since people were accustomed to legitimate newsflashes, but not those used as part of a work of fiction.

According to Wikipedia, historians have calculated that six million people heard the broadcast, 1.7 million believed it to be true and 1.2 million were genuinely frightened. According to my aunt, a number of those who believed it and were frightened resided in southeast Missouri, and were outside that Sunday evening, gazing toward the sky.

Aunt Sister, Uncle Jesse, and their three children stayed home from church and were listening to the radio, probably doing the equivalent of today's "channel surfing" between the Chase and Sanborn Hour, featuring ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and singer Nelson Eddy, and the Mercury Theater. The first comedy sketch on the Chase and Sanborn Hour ended about fifteen minutes into the program and was to be followed by a musical selection, presenting a good time to change the station. This would have taken them directly into the middle of the Martian invasion on Mercury Theater, with no reassurance that what they were hearing wasn't really happening.

This is a part of what they heard:

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the most terrifying thing I have ever witnessed. . . . Wait a minute! Someone's crawling. Someone or . . . something. I can see peering out of that black hole two luminous disks . . . are they eyes? It might be a face. It might be . . . good heavens, something's wriggling out of the shadow like a gray snake. Now it's another one, and another one, and another one. They look like tentacles to me. There, I can see the thing's body. It's large as a bear and it glistens like wet leather. But that face, it . . . ladies and gentlemen, it's indescribable. I can hardly force myself to keep looking at it, it's so awful. The eyes are black and gleam like a serpent. The mouth is kind of V-shaped with saliva dripping from its rimless lips that seem to quiver and pulsate.

How many of us have thought about what we would do if the world was coming to an end? Their instincts were to gather with other family members, so they left in their car to travel the few miles to the my grandparents' home.

On the way there, my aunt noticed that baby Sandra's shoe was missing, that she must have dropped it or left it at home. Uncle Jesse reassured my frightened aunt, that Sandra "wouldn't be needing her shoe."

She also noted that people standing out on the dirt roads as they travelled, looking at the sky and exclaiming, "They're coming! They're coming!"

When they arrived at Mom and Pop's, the house was empty. Mom and Pop had gone to Arkansas to church and hadn't yet returned home. After a short time, they and the rest of their children arrived, asking what was going on.

According to Aunt Sister, Pop didn't believe a word of the story. He also scoffed at his oldest child's fear, declaring, "I didn't know that I raised a child who would be afraid to die."

Little brother Earl, then stepped up and joined forces with his sister, put his arms around her and said, "You raised two of them!"

The family story ends here, and we can imagine the relief they and others like them felt when they learned the truth. We can also understand their panic and fear in a time when modern communication was still in its infancy. We might also want to temper any thoughts or comments we might have about naivete or the willingness to believe the unbelievable -- at least until after Halloween!


p.s. You can hear the Mercury Theater broadcast on YouTube. It is in multiple parts, so I am not including links.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Pre-Surgery (Halloween) Shopping is Done -- Be Back Soon!

This little Halloween Witch is helping to take the sting out of my upcoming surgery on Monday.  We bought her from the hospital gift shop when I went for my pre-op appointment.  I will be back to blogging soon.  In the meantime, here are some photos of Halloween and autumn decorations. 

Note:  Framed graphics and cards are from The Graphics Fairy .

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Black Hole Decorating Challenge: Large Screen TV

I knew that it would be a big, flat, black presence in our living room when we purchased our large screen tv.  Tom has no man cave, so we really had few options for its location.  Especially in our downsized home, the mantel has always been a favorite decorating spot, particularly for holidays and seasonal decor.  I was willing to make the sacrifice, though, to make my hubby happy during his retirement years.  (And, I must admit, I'm enjoying seeing the programs and movies on the large screen, too.)  So up it went, and it has been a continuous presence in our living room ever since.

I believe in "use what you have" decorating and am doing what I can to integrate the black hole into my scheme.  This is one option:  use its capabilities to bring more visual celebration of and to the times of our lives.  Ours came with instant access to Flickr and I have put together seasonal slide shows to play to coordinate with my mantel decorations.  Here are a few from my Halloween show.  I have used about 20 photos of my granddaughters in their costumes through the years and some pretty shots from free photograph sources on the Internet.

Works for me, with my resources.  Maybe you have some other ideas for the tv or other decorating black holes.  I'd  love to see your solutions, if you do.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Saving My Place with My Bookmark Collection

I started collection bookmarks at the same time I started collecting books.  As a new librarian, I had opportunities to attend conferences, book fairs and festivals, book signings, and other events where bookmarks were given away.  Our libraries also provided bookmarks to our customers celebrating our summer reading programs, special author visits and other events, such as the Red Dirt Book Festival and Pioneer Library System's 50th anniversary (50 special bookmarks highlighting the progress of the system, such as the year we first reached circulation of 1,000,000 items, the year one of our librarians was selected one of the New York Times Librarian of the Year, the year our system won the American Library Association John Cotton Dana Library Public Relations Award, and the year one of our branches won the Outstanding Rural Library Award from ALA).

My bookmark collection was much easier to transport home than the books I found myself buying when I traveled and they provided reminders of the accomplishments of our libraries and others across the country in guiding people to the best in reading and information.  I found myself looking for bookmarks in museums and other places I visited on vacations and found they served as miniature pieces of art and history.

My collection grew as I received bookmarks as gifts and enjoyed the expression of love they represented.  Those that are handmade are the most precious, as well as those produced as commemorative of special days in family and friends' lives.

Now that I'm retired and we have downsized, I find myself "weeding" out some of the books that I carried home from conferences.  I no longer have room for 1,000 books (although I have room for thousands on my Nook and my Kindle).  I also continue to use my hometown library and use my bookmarks to mark my place.

I'll keep my bookmarks until books are obsolete; that is to say, I won't ever give them up.  I don't believe books will ever become obsolete, but if they do, my bookmarks will be even more collectible!


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