Residents ‘Spooked’ During “War of the Worlds” Reprise

Chalk it up to irony; “a state of affairs or an event,” as defined in any dictionary, “that is contrary to what one expects and that is often amusing as a result.”

The fact that alien monsters from outer space are invading Earth would, under normal circumstances, literally be cause for alarm. But not in the auditorium of Jefferson Township’s St. Thomas the Apostle Church, where last month, an authentic reenactment of the radio classic “War of the Worlds” was in progress before an audience in rapt attention.

Nevertheless – and just at the very moment of an alien victory threatening all humanity – the audience had genuine cause for alarm; and in this case, for real. A deafening noise consumed the auditorium, quickening heartbeats and striking fear into the hearts of the ‘radio listeners,’ while mothers clutched babes to their hearts.

Meanwhile, men from the Knights of Columbus (KofC) Council 5510 – how fortuitous to have knights in attendance – reconnoitered to strategize.

Knights of Columbus program committee members welcome guests to the performance. Pictured are Mike Murphy, Fred McMenamin, Joe O’Donnell and Frank Punturieri. (Photo by Maria Weiskott)

The audience held its collective breath wondering who would be first responders to the alarm: Jefferson’s finest, Jefferson’s bravest or a militia from Picatinny Armory?

None. No sirens. No first responders. Just a resounding voice from the stage: “Ladies and gentlemen, this is not the ending we planned. It’s not us. This is not our ending!” one of the actors called out.

Calm ensued. Someone pointed to the source of the offending blare causing the alarm. It was just that, literally – an alarm. A smoke alarm set off by the puffs of mist meant to cast a menacing spell over the performance and which emanated from a machine on stage.

The ‘troublesome,’ but mood-building fog fills the room. (Photo by Maria Weiskott)

The Show Must go on!

 Following a brief period of residents waving their arms about in the air to dispel the foggy atmosphere and silence the alarm, calm rippled through the audience and the show continued.

The irony here might be that reaction to the alarm by the Jefferson audience might be a bit reminiscent – albeit nowhere near equally panic-stricken – as that of Grover’s Mill residents exactly 81 years ago.

It was then, October 30, 1938 – ‘mischief night’ – that the now famous, or is it infamous, “War of the Worlds” was performed by Orson Wells on the Columbia Broadcasting System radio network. It was written and programmed by Wells especially for Halloween as an episode of the American radio drama anthology series, The Mercury Theatre on the Air.

The actor adapted the program from the H.G Wells novel, “The War of the Worlds,” which was written in 1898.

The avid Mercury Theatre fans who tuned in late that night, missed the Wells prologue explaining that the evening’s presentation was merely a reenactment of the original novel.

Therein lays the root of the alleged hysteria in the New Jersey community of Grover’s Mill whose residents thought the town was being invaded by aliens from outer space. After panic resulting from the program subsided, outrage followed.

False fire alarms aside, the entertaining reenactment of the radio program in Jefferson was performed by Raconteur Radio and sponsored by KofC Council 5510.

A packed audience, including The Jefferson Chronicle’s own Carol Punturieri, wait for the program to begin. (Photo by Maria Weiskott)

New Jersey-based Raconteur Radio (https://www.raconteurradionj.blogspot.com/) stages theatrical presentations of vintage radio plays, classic works of literature and pop-culture parodies for live audiences in a variety of venues throughout the tri-state area. Productions feature theatrical lighting, period costumes, vintage commercials, Golden Age radio equipment and extensive sound effects.

Be advised, however, that those sound effects may not necessarily include fire alarms.

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Maria Weiskott is a Jefferson Township resident and a forty year veteran of the publishing profession. An award-winning journalist and editor, she served in top managerial positions at numerous business-to- business newspapers and magazines including Reed Elsevier and Fairchild Publications. Early in her career she operated a local newspaper in the Passaic Valley towns of Little Falls, Totowa and the former West Paterson. Following retirement, she launched a “ghostblogging” service that provides social networking update and blogging services for small and medium sized businesses. Maria travels widely with her husband and is a passionate photographer. She can be reached at maria.weiskott@thejeffersonchronicle.com.