1938 Martian Landing Site Monument
Princeton Junction, New Jersey
"A humped shape is rising out of the pit. I can make out a small beam of light against a mirror. What's that? There's a jet of flame springing from the mirror, and it leaps right at the advancing men. It strikes them head on! Good Lord, they're turning into flame!"
- Eyewitness at Grovers Mill, NJ, October 30, 1938
In 1938, the Martians landed in New Jersey.
For most of us born after, it's hard to imagine what could drive a nation of adults to mass hysteria the night before Halloween. C'mon...did the Martians also put toilet paper in their hedges and smoldering brown paper bags on their front porches?
True, we may have a somewhat jaded outlook on extraterrestrial invasion, contagious mutant spore that it has become. Today's Martians are familiar and commonplace, their stories and translucent bulbous heads crowding our TV programs and office cubicle toy displays. Imagined alien visitations are part of the everyday retail landscape, manifested in the crashed saucer at the Lathrop Tower Mart and Burbank's Fry's Electronics.
But in 1938, scorching annihilation from outer space was still a relatively new concept to the average Joe. Orson Welles and his Mercury Theater ensemble put on one of the world's great hoaxes when they broadcast a radio adaptation of H. G. Wells' War of the Worlds the night before Halloween, October 30th. Twelve million people heard the fake "live news" broadcast, and many were convinced an attack from Mars was underway. The Martian landings were centered around the little-known but real town of Grovers Mill, near Princeton.
Today, there's not a whole lot to see, but it's worth a stop if you're in the neighborhood visiting Elsie the Cow's grave. At the intersection of Cranbury, Clarksville, and Grovers Mill Rds. you can peek at what remains of the water tower that was shot to piecesby nervous residents in 1938. It's barely visible, standing behind the houseto the right of the Grovers Mill Company, obscured by a fence and overgrowth on privateproperty.
More photogenic is the "Martian Landing Site" monument installed in 1988 in Van Nest Park, near the calm and scum-green Grovers Mill pond. The plaque is a 3D bronze relief depicting an impassioned Mr. Welles orating into a microphone as a 1930s family listens in terror by their radio. Looming above is a sinister Martian machine, a metallic tentacled walking tripod ("flying saucers" didn't come into vogue until after 1947).
There is an occasional celebration marking the anniversary of the broadcast; the 60th was a fairly major tongue-in-cheek blowout, including a formal Martian Ball. The local historical society maintains a web site at www.waroftheworlds.org, where you can buy an eerie red and black UFO/water tower blanket.