It's The 85th Anniversary Of The Radio Show "War Of The Worlds"

OCTOBER 30, 2023  On October 30th, 1938, A Radio Show, "War Of The Worlds," Scared The Pants Off The Entire Nation. That Was 85 Ye...

OCTOBER 30, 2023 


On October 30th, 1938, A Radio Show, "War Of The Worlds," Scared The Pants Off The Entire Nation. That Was 85 Years Ago 

The Show Sounded Like A Real Newscast, & Featured A Martian Invasion. People Thought It Was True 

The Wizard's Hot Air Balloon. 
This Was The Second Version Of "War Of The Worlds."  
The First Was A Book, Printed During The Alaska Gold Rush 

The theme of invasion from outer space stays with us. Not long ago, "UFOs" and "Chinese Spy Balloons" triggered concern.  Here's a Journal reprint of how UFOs dovetail into the Alaskan and American psyche, written as planes searched the Alaska sea ice for a downed UFO. 


Only a week after the Chinese Spy Balloon was shot down off the East Coast, a second object was gunned down near Prudhoe Bay on February 10th. In unsettled times, UFOs and invaders are frequent players on the American scene. 

Yellow Brick Road Was Land of Oz's Valdez-to-Fairbanks Trail 

The Land Of Oz Map (Wikipedia) 

Mars, Spacemen, Explorers, Danger & Alaska




GOING TO ALASKA WAS 

LIKE GOING TO MARS

Americans are touchingly eager to get off the beaten path. Several years ago, tens of thousands of people volunteered for a one-way ticket to Mars. For them, living on Mars was appealing. It seemed something like locking yourself up for the rest of your life in a yurt. With an iPhone, room service, an endless stash of tofu and kale – and, apparently, Elon Musk.  


As she pondered her options for heading into outer space, one stylish 30-something told Popular Science that she had three reasons for heading to Mars. She was tired of mosquito bites. She didn't like billboards. And (how fads do fade!) she wanted to be the first to plant a geocache on the Red Planet.


In the 1898 Gold Rush, around 4,000 ordinary Americans, motivated by much the same mix of self-confidence and ignorance, showed up at the port of Valdez and slogged over the glaciers into the Copper Valley. For them, it was kind of like going to Mars. Except for the bugs. Clouds of raging mosquitoes were ready and waiting as the unsuspecting adventurers tramped into Alaska’s black spruce thickets, unprotected by yet-to-be-invented spray-on mosquito repellents. 


The Copper Valley region had no gold. So the 1898 Alaska miners met with failure, right out the chute. But there was another problem. This wasn't  a hardened group of genuine "miners" -- or  even "outdoorsmen." 


Captain William Abercrombie, who resentfully showed up in Copper Center a year into the Gold Rush, to ruefully rescue miners whose teeth had rotted out of their heads due to scurvy, or whose feet were gangrenous from winter frostbite, was scornful of the adventurers' naivety and sheer lack of experience. 


Abercrombie felt the men had treated the whole Alaska adventure as a lark (which was true.) Worse, for that era and its health issues –– when the average American male only lived to the age of  around 46 –– the people who came to Alaska in search of gold were practically senior citizens. "The cause of their (mining) failure was due to their advanced age, which averaged over 47 years, and the lack of knowledge of the general indications of mineral deposits and business qualifications," the Captain sniffed. 


Worse, these folks were city people. Wrote Abercrombie: "It should be remembered that most of the men located in the various camps had probably never been out of sight of the smoke from a factory chimney." 



YOU’VE GOTTA BE HANDY 

Today for many Americans, the planet Mars, not Alaska, is "The Last Frontier." There are some similarities between the Red Planet and Alaska that go beyond the brutal cold and distances.


One of the most interesting is how both places are vastly underestimated. And how would-be colonists are brutally unaware of what they might face.  Mars is so much tougher than Alaska.  There are overlaps, of course, like the 50 degree below zero temperatures, the long nights, the distance from home and the lack of goods and services… 


But then there's also that big, fat, Martian elephant in the room: A basic lack of air.  


In 2015, Matt Damon, still bulked up from his stints in the Jason Bourne series, went to Mars in the movie, The Martian. He got stuck there, all by himself -- for years. Being Matt Damon, he approached the challenge head-on, like an Alaskan would.  When his shelter got busted up, and the great, empty airless vastness of the universe flooded into his Martian home, Matt deftly patched up the gaping hole with duct tape and a massive, pulsating sheet of plastic. When his prepackaged space food ran out, and he had nothing left to eat, he planted potatoes, carefully fertilizing the tender little plants with his own feces.  



HERE COME THE MARTIANS

During the Alaskan Gold Rush into the Copper Valley, Mars was on people’s minds. So were Martians. A year before the 1898 Gold Rush, an amazing, extraterrestrial event happened in the little cotton town of Aurora, Texas.


On April 17th, 1897, at 6 am, two separate early-rising Aurora children spotted an inbound "airship", billowing smoke. It's always bad to see a plane go down. But this event was truly ominous. There were no planes. The Wright Brothers wouldn't invent the first successful aircraft until 1903.


By definition, then, this was a UFO, an "unidentified flying object." The burning craft swept in out of the sky, crashed into a nearby windmill, fell into pieces, and eventually dropped into a well.


Townsfolk gathered round. There was a mangled pilot in the cigar-shaped vehicle. He had been killed, and was duly identified – as a Martian -- by an army officer who came over from Fort Worth with the express purpose of checking things out. 


Although today, some would probably label the hapless Martian "an illegal alien," small-town Texans like doing the right thing. Even for a stranger. The Texas villagers of 1897 solemnly interred the spaceman in the Aurora Town Cemetery. According to the papers, he was given a full Christian burial.


It's not as if people weren't expecting something like this. America was obsessed with Mars, For at least a year before the Texas crash, there had been growing numbers of dramatic UFO sightings reported in small-town papers all over the country. 


It was something like the 1950s, when a fear of Russia and nuclear war dovetailed with flying saucer sightings – along with countless black and white movies about Martian landings. People were jumpy as the 19th century ended, too. It was tough times in America. The country was in a long economic depression.


The Civil War was over, but tensions still remained. The great Indian Wars were every bit as homegrown and personal as the Civil War had been. And also, many Americans justifiably feared war and a German invasion. 


Meanwhile, the two big English-speaking countries, the Americans and the British, were busy taking over many parts of the world themselves. The little island nation of Great Britain was trying to turn itself into an empire, and had scooped up Canada, parts of Africa, India, and big chunks of the South Pacific including Australia and New Zealand.  


To the south of Alaska, the United States was expanding its territories across the West. Winning the Spanish-American War (which took place in 1898,the same year as the Alaska Gold Rush) would hand over the Phillippines ot the United States. America took over the lush Hawaiian Islands, and was about to take over the Panama Canal, controlling the shortcut between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.


So, for Americans, the idea of “invasion” was a very real one -- even if you were the one doing the invading.



ALASKA AND FANTASY LANDS

In Alaska, the northland was being overrun, too, by swarms of gold miners -- coming down the Yukon River in boats, tramping up over the Valdez Glacier on foot, or hiking in through the Klondike.


The average 19th century American was well aware of two things: That there were strange new worlds out there: in Asia, Africa and the north. And that Americans, Germans, the British -- anyone (even Martians) could arrive out of nowhere and just take over, 


It was no surprise, then, that in 1897, the same year as the Texas Martian incident -- and a year before the Gold Rush -- that H.G. Wells, a British writer, wrote his classic novel: 'The War of the Worlds" about Martians arriving in a small town in England in their space capsules.


Meanwhile, in 1900, one year after the Gold Rush, a man named L. Frank Baum wrote a best-selling children's story: The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz. Although aircraft didn't yet exist, the tale featured a hot air balloon. The children's book combined several major themes of the day: a fascination with new, unknown lands, peoples, terrain and animals –  and balloon travel. In the book, a bored young Kansas girl is whisked from her gray, tedious world by a tornado. She's dumped into the colorful Land of Oz -- a place as unknown to her as the Copper Valley was to inbound "miners" a year before, in 1898, as they trudged into our home territory over the Valdez and Klutina Glaciers. 


Like the Copper Valley, the Land of Oz was full of pitfalls and dangers, mirroring the problems that a growing number of explorers were encountering throughout the world in their travels. Unlike the cold land of Alaska, the Land of Oz had a "Deadly Desert" which could turn you to sand. Instead of bears and stomping moose, the Land of Oz was populated with Winged Monkeys, Sea Serpents, crabs, dragons, giant purple spiders, and many other imaginary animals-- again mirroring the creatures that an explorer might find. Dorothy, the young girl, even runs across a deadly field of lethal poppies. 


The idea of imaginary alternate universes was wildly popular at the time. The French writer, Jules Verne, wrote a book that was published in English in 1872, called Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas. In the novel, the heroes experience Alaskan-like conditions, when they arrive at the South Pole, and are trapped by an iceberg and have to dig their way through it to escape. In 1865, Lewis Carroll wrote Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, where Alice runs into strange creatures in a fantastic unknown country, too. 


The Land of Oz, like so many stories of its time, also featured its own hand-drawn maps. Not surprisingly, they were as homemade, fanciful, and incorrect as the maps that were used by miners as they traveled in the Copper Valley. 


At the start of the 20th century, the world was ripe for being terrorized by spacemen, invaders, balloons, and strange and distant lands and people. 


It never went away. Eighty-five years ago, after the radio was invented, the War of the Worlds resurfaced again. This time with the Martians landing in the United States. And the very thought of it terrified unwitting radio listeners who didn't realize it was only a show. 






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