‘War of the Worlds’ panic more relevant in today’s age of misinformation

Saturday, Oct. 30 will mark the 83rd anniversary of the famous “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast that sparked panic that Martians were landing in New Jersey. News 12 New Jersey’s Brian Donohue visited the site in the Grovers Mill section of West Windsor Township and says that the lessons of that day are more relevant than ever.
In the backyard of a 250-year-old house in Grovers Mill stands an unusual water tower that some people on that day in 1938 mistook for a Martian craft. Orson Welles’ radio play described the Martian ships as large cylinders that stood on three legs and were made of a metal framework – not unlike how the water tower looks.
There is a disputed local legend that at least one farmer on that day shot holes in the water tower, thinking that aliens were invading.
“During the broadcast, some drunken farmer mistook it for an alien tripod and shot at it. And supposedly there are bullet holes in it,” says Paul Ligeti, vice president of the West Windsor Historical Society.
This story has made the water tower a frequent stop for fans and history buffs who pass through Grovers Mill. But Ligeti said that he has spoken to the former residents of the house who lived there in the ‘70s and ‘80s, who doubted the holes in the tower were from bullets.
“It would be interesting if it were shot. But I frankly doubt that it was,” he says.
Across the street in Van Nest Park, there is a monument to the broadcast. Donohue says that it may be the only monument to something that didn’t really happen – or only sort of happened.
There is also the Martian Project. The West Windsor Arts Council erected Martian sculptures around the town.
But Donohue says that he believes that the water tower is the most relevant monument of them all. He says that it is reminiscent of the way the world is today, where disinformation clouded as news runs rampant and people panic at a threat that may not really be there.