Monday, October 29, 2012

The Meridian Room Scare

Has anyone played a joke on you so well, had they not told you the truth you might still be fooled?


What if an announcement went viral over Twitter or Facebook and no one detected the farce. Or if someone tried to call attention to the deception, but those convinced of the announcement would not believe them?


Well, over a million radio listeners in New Jersey, Chicago, and around the nation did. 

Traffic jams blocked city streets with residents attempting to escape cities. No one knew where they were going, they simply had to leave. Get away. Those not in vehicles ran to police officers pleading for gas masks to save them from the poisonous gas on its way to the city.

Phone lines to the electric companies jammed with requests to have power shut off.  A report from a church in Indianapolis states a woman ran into the sanctuary, raised her hands and screamed, "Flee for your lives. New York City has been destroyed. The end of the world is here. Prepare to die."

I have often wondered what convinced so many people to believe Martians landed and attacked the United States. I've listened to the replay and, until today didn't know why.

Orson Welles used state of the art technology, the best actors, and a convincing script to perform the radio show The War of the Worlds on October 30, 1938. We may look back and say pshaw, I wouldn't have fallen for that." But those who heard it then believed and became afraid for their lives. Their hearts pounded with fear and they honestly knew beyond any doubt, martians would take away all that they had and loved.

Welles announced a disclaimer in the beginning of the program, "The Columbia Broadcasting System and its affiliated stations present Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater on the air in 'War of the Worlds' by H.G. Wells." Why did the people still believe?

Word of pandemonium across the nation reached the CBS station. Wells interrupted the dramatization and announced a reminder to all listeners, "This presentation is fiction, ladies and gentlemen." But they didn't believe him. People stampeded, cars crashed, loved ones gave farewell hugs to family members.

In the aftermath, the FCC investigated the matter and found that no laws had been broken. Networks agreed to use caution in the future.

But the question remains. What caused the people to believe the reality of Welles story? 

That night, a favorite American radio program aired on NBC at the same time. The first guest was ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his dummy "Charlie McCarthy, a favorite for millions of listeners. His presentation lasted twelve minutes. The second act that night happened to be an unknown singer. 

Listeners switched their radios over to CBS where an announcer took them to "the Meridian Room in the Hotel Park Plaza in downtown New York." The music of Ramon Raquello and his orchestra entertained listeners for several minutes before an announce broke in to report "Professor Farrell of the Mount Jennning Observatory had detected explosions on Mars." The dance music resumed followed by another interruption telling listeners that a large meteor landed in a farmer's field in New Jersey.

The listeners missed the warning in the beginning. The events portrayed as real events and convinced the masses. Orson Welles intent was not to scare a nation but to entertain. 

The Bible, on the other hand, does not seek to entertain, nor does it seek to scare. The Word of God, does, however, give us warnings of events to come. 

What has scared you?

I'll start. To this day, I do not like being in a dark room. 

1 comment:

Janice said...

I am afraid of hatred. That would be hatred held in the hearts of people directed toward me and others they do not even know. They hate and seek to destroy simply because their religious beliefs dictate hatred toward those not of their beliefs. I am also afraid of hatred from others because my skin is a different color than theirs, etc.