21 October 2007

30 October 1938: Martians Invade New Jersey

On Halloween eve, 1938, people were listening to Orson Welles's Mercury Theatre Presentation on CBS radio, enjoying the music of Ramon Raquello and his Orchestra. Suddenly, an announcer interrupted the show with a news bulletin that an astronomer had sighted an "incandescent gas" emanating from the planet Mars. Afterwards, the network reverted to its regularly-scheduled programming, only to be preempted by another emergency news report, which informed its listening audience that a "huge flaming object" struck a farm in Grover's Mill, New Jersey. A newscaster at the scene of the crash, in an alarmed voice, said that an alien emerged from what appeared to be a spacecraft, and "it glistens like wet leather. But that face-- it... it is indescribable." The alien invaders then turn on the gathering crowd of onlookers at the farm in Grover's Mill, and fire their "heat rays" on them.

More bulletins came into the radio station-- railroads, bridges, and cities were blown up by the Martians throughout the United States. The U.S. military proved unable to fight the aliens, who began to spray poison gas through the air as they advanced toward New York City. As a reporter was broadcasting from the top of the CBS building in New York, the Martians began to invade New York, and he, like many others, collapsed from the effects of the poison gas. Towards the end of the broadcast, all that was heard was a ham radio operator repeating "2X2L calling CQ.. Isn't anyone on the air? Isn't anyone on the air? Isn't there... anyone?" The world was saved, though, as the Martians died from exposure to germs and bacteria present on Earth.

Obviously, Martians never landed on that day in Grover's Mill, New Jersey, or anywhere else. It was Orson Welles's dramatization of H.G. Wells's War of the Worlds that was broadcast that evening (for the orginal audio broadcast in its entirety, click here). Although disclaimers announcing that the program was a fictional account were run before the show began, at twenty minutes into the broadcast, and at the forty-minute mark of the hour, there were reports of panic in the newspapers the next day.

In Newark, New Jersey, fifteen people were treated for shock at St. Michael's Hospital; twenty families in the same city wrapped themselves in wet towels, and created traffic jams as they searched for gas masks, the police, and ambulances. Meanwhile, further south, scientists from Princeton University set out in search of the first Martian landing site in nearby Grover's Mill. The Memphis Press-Scimitar called in its editorial staff to run a special edition on the Martian bombings of Chicago and St. Louis, and the pending invasion of Memphis. The New York Times alone received 875 telephone calls from panic-stricken listeners of the program. The Associated Press, consequently, issued a bulletin reassuring the public that the world was not coming to an end.

How had so many been taken in by the fictionalized account of the Martian invasion? One of the reasons was the realistic style that Orson Welles used in creating the fictional newsflashes, perfectly mimicking CBS radio's emergency news broadcast procedure. Many radio listeners, however, missed the disclaimers for the Mercury Theatre Presentation on CBS, as they were tuned in to the Chase and Sanborn Hour on NBC, which was hosted by Don Ameche, and featured Edgar Bergen and Nelson Eddy as the entertainment for that show. After the first comedy act on the Chase and Sanborn show was over, many in the listening audience began tuning around the dial, and came upon the War of the Worlds broadcast as the first "newsflashes" were broadcast, not realizing that what they were hearing was a fictional account. Orson Welles apparently was well aware that many listeners would tune into his Mercury Theatre Presentation after Chase and Sanborn's first act, and deliberately timed the first "news report" to coincide with it.

The U.S. public, upon realizing it was a fictional account, became indignant, and flooded the FCC with complaints. This resulted in the censure of Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre, and CBS was ordered to never use the phrase "we interrupt this program" for dramatic effect. Welles had said that the War of the Worlds presentation was meant to be "the Mercury Theatre's own version of dressing up in a sheet, and saying, Boo!" Later, he regretted making the decision to air the program, and said , "I don't think we will choose anything like this again."

As the years went by, the U.S. public seemed to forgive Welles for his clever prank. Today, various radio stations around the nation re-broadcast the War of the Worlds every Halloween. In 1988, on the fiftieth anniversary of the original broadcast on CBS, West Windsor Township, New Jersey (in which Grover's Mill is located) held a Martian festival, which culminated with the unveiling of the Martian Landing Monument in Van Ness Park (left). Near the Grover's Mill Company, the water tower that nervous residents shot into pieces that fateful night in 1938 still stands for all who pass the area today.

So, the next time your favorite program is interrupted by a "Special Report"...


"Boo!" Time, 7 November 1938. Online http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,788886-1,00.html. Text downloaded 21 October 2007.

Lovgen, Stefan. "War of the Worlds: Behind the Radio Show Panic," National Geographic News, 17 June 2005. Online http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/06/0617_050617_warworlds.html. Text downloaded 21 October 2007.

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14 October 2007

Charlie Engelhard's "Project Grand Slam"

Almost everyone who is familiar with the James Bond series of films certainly has seen Goldfinger. And, anyone who has seen it will know how Auric Goldfinger deviously avoided import restrictions on gold by manufacturing ordinary objects (such as the fixtures on his own Rolls-Royce) to export his precious cargo out of England, and into Switzerland. At his Auric Enterprises plant, he installed golden chairs and other furnishings on the airplane that he used to travel to India. Once there, of course, the gold was melted down and sold at an enormous profit. From there, his greed led him to attempt to knock over Fort Knox, a plot, which, of course, was foiled by James Bond, with the support of his American colleague, Felix Leiter, with the U.S. Army in tow.

When Ian Fleming created the archvillain Goldfinger, he did not look very far to obtain his inspiration. In fact, it was one of his very own acquaintances who provided the role model for him: "Platinum King" Charles Engelhard, Jr. (left). Engelhard, as president of Engelhard Minerals and Chemicals Corporation, which was headquartered in Newark, New Jersey, imported precious metals, the majority of it in platinum, for use in industrial machinery components, and was also needed for the manufacture of scientific instruments. Engelhard had said of his precious metals business that "we'll handle anything that's small in volume, but high in value. But our nub will be platinum."

In Engelhard's quest for greater wealth, he traveled extensively in South Africa throughout the late 1940's and into the 1950's, and maintained an estate in Johannesburg. It was there that he forged a business partnership with his close friend Harry Oppenheimer and his firm DeBeers, which resulted in the formation of the Anglo African Corporation of Southern Africa, which managed assets of an estimated three billion dollars-- a princely sum in those days. Engelhard also served as chairman of the American - South African Investment Company of Johannesburg, which managed his South African mine interests. Through his control of Anglo-African and American-South African, Engelhard was able to find a way around the import restrictions placed on gold bullion in South Africa, restrictions that enabled England to keep South Africa's wealth within its control. Engelhard, ever the resourceful industrialist, saw an opportunity in a loophole in the restrictions-- objets d'art made from gold were able to be exported out of South Africa without restriction. With that in mind, he formed Precious Metals Development, a business venture that manufactured religious objects, as well as other objets d'art out of gold from Anglo-African's mines. The finished works were then imported to Hong Kong, where they were melted down into bullion, and then shipped to Engelhard's factories for his industrial uses, or sold as bullion for profit.

It was around this time that Engelhard had met Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond series of novels. It is said that the two men may have met through one of Engelhard's London bankers, Robert Fleming and Company, which was founded by Ian's grandfather. They had become friends, and on occasion had discussed the possibility of forming some sort of business partnership together. Fleming, impressed by the extravagant lifestyle of his friend, found real-life inspiration for the villain in Goldfinger, which was published in 1959. After all, a man who maintained a fleet of jets at his personal disposal, owned estates all over the world, and who also owned champion racehorses was practically beyond reality!

Apparently, Engelhard enjoyed the comparisons people often made between him and his fictional counterpart. After the movie Goldfinger was released in 1964, he even took to calling one of the stewardesses on his personal jet "Pussy Galore." Which only proves the kind of larger-than-life character that Charlie Engelhard was.

Fact is stranger than fiction. Indeed.


Epstein, Edward Jay. " The American Conspiracy." In The Diamond Invention. Online http://www.edwardjayepstein.com/diamond/chap18.htm. Text downloaded 14 October 2007.

Lycett, Andrew. Ian Fleming. London: Phoenix, 1996.

The New York Times. New York, New York, 3 March 1971.

O'Brian, Jack. "Voice of Broadway." Newark Star-Ledger. Newark, New Jersey, 21 September 1988.

12 October 2007

Stephen Yautz featured in BrandlandUSA Blog

Recently, Garland Pollard's BrandlandUSA Blog contained a post on "dead brand" Engelhard. To read more about what I had to say about Charles Engelhard (left), click here.

07 October 2007

Welcome to my Blog!

My Blog is going to be devoted to various historical topics, focusing on New Jersey, New York, and whatever else is of interest to me. Please stay tuned for upcoming installments on New Jersey native Charles Engelhard-- the Real Goldfinger. You will find, as I have, that his life was just as fascinating as his fictional counterpart, James Bond nemesis, Auric Goldfinger.

Meanwhile, a link to my website appears below.

Happy reading!