The History of Mischief Night in New Jersey: 1938 to Today


Martians attack Grover's Mill, New Jersey night before Halloween, 1938. Today, toilet paper attacks our trees. The history of Mischief night begins with Orson Welles.

1938, the night before Halloween. The day when Orson Welles would go down in history for causing mass hysteria across the nation.

In a show presented without commercial interruptions, an adaptation of H. G. Wells’s 1898 novel, 'The War of the Worlds,' was presented live as an episode of The Mercury Theatre over the CBS radio network.

Six million people heard the broadcast, but what many of them missed was the vitally important information at the beginning of the broadcast that stated the following presentation was one of fiction, not fact.

The program begins as a typical news cycle of events with the occasional interesting report of odd explosions on Mars. Shortly thereafter, the program reports sightings of unknown objects falling or perhaps landing in Grovers Mill, New Jersey! 

Then comes a "live" report from Grovers Mill where a crowd has surrounded the mysterious cylindrical object that has touched down in the small New Jersey town.

Then all chaos broke loose.

The Martians emerge from the spacecraft with their long tentacle legs and fire heat rays into the crowd evaporating police and bystanders. 

The state militia enacts martial law in New Jersey as Martian tripods destroy everything in their path. 

Then the Martians make it across the Hudson River and release clouds of poisonous gas into the city.

In Cape May, a woman interrupted church services. “I just heard on the radio that New York has been bombed and destroyed,” she screamed. “It's the end of the world! You may as well go home to die!”

Meanwhile, in the land of reality, citizens of Grover's Mills, who had missed the important message early on in the broadcast stating this was a fictional presentation, barricaded themselves indoors or formed militias of shotgun-wielding citizens to fend off the invading aliens. 

The tale ends with Martians falling ill to earthly germs for which they have no immunity, and the Earth is once more in the hands of humankind.

New York Times, Oct. 31, 1938

While Grover's Mill residents understandably felt embarrassed for their hysterics, in 1988 the Township of West Windsor, where Grover's Mill is located, commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of the broadcast with a bronze statue to honor the interplanetary war that never was.

Today, mischief night is not quite so clever. 

Morristown residents are used to the common shenanigans of the night such as toilet paper in their trees, ding-dong ditches, and general spookiness.

Perhaps no mischief night will ever be as iconic and spooky as that 1938 night before Halloween in Grovers Mill, New Jersey.

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