Surely I'm not the only person fascinated by Orson Welles' War of the Worlds? The idea of a simple radio broadcast causing such a panic is almost hypnotizing, you have to learn more. The problem is the more I learn about it, the less I can believe it. The documentation doesn't add up.
What I heard all my life can be found in the wonderfully illustrated Aliens Are Coming. It gives a good though brief synopsis of what supposedly happened, but the pictures were what made it for me. They showed people listening to the radio, panicking, etc. but with googly-eyed and tentacled green aliens in their midst. The humans are reacting to their presence but what they hear on the radio. The back gives the history behind the story.
But what lead me to pick up this book. That was an amazing documentary in the American Experience collection: The War of the Worlds. It was a well put together and fascinating show that not only told the known story and what academia has been studying about it but used letters written to Mercury Theater and Orson Welles by people who experienced the broadcast. Actors portrayed the people and recited parts of them as if they were being interviewed.
Not only was it one of the better set ups for a documentary I've seen but it worked hard to set up the world around the preference. Events in Europe, the Depression, disasters that had recently taken place might explain some of the people's panic. But what the papers say and what records and eye witnesses show are two different things. Even the letters themselves give a different view. Few had people rushing from their homes in panic; the ones that did were either alone or not in a huge crowd. Police and hospitals report no injuries and few groups. The newspapers were A) eager for a story and B) taking a dig at a competitor they couldn't really beat.
That's not to say that people weren't "fooled" for a time, the letters show there was concern caused by the format of the show. But the myth we were taught doesn't really stand up to investigation, certainly not to the degree we've been lead to believe.
I greatly enjoyed both of these but taken together they compliment each other. I can't entirely recommend the book though as it perpetuates a myth I more and more come to believe has little to back it up. The info at the end is interesting though.