This fictional story is dedicated to Orson Welles’ Mercury Theatre on the Air broadcast of H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds which occurred October 30, 1938. I hope you have as much fun reading it as I did writing it.
Shamrock’s “War of the Worlds”
About two miles down the road is where my father fought the Martians. He never told me about it, but Grandpa used to tell me stories all the time about Shamrock, Illinois’ history. And one day while watching the History Channel, I figured out the real story of the Battle of Shamrock.
It all began that fateful night of October 30, 1938 when Orson Welles broadcast his radio program “War of the Worlds.” Right at the start of the broadcast, the announcer stated this was just a radio program, but the residents of our little town must have missed that beginning announcement.
The Civil Air Patrol sirens blasted into the otherwise peaceful night, and Dad and the other volunteers rushed to the Shamrock fire station for their instructions. Captain Larry told them to go home and take up arms to fight the invaders. Dad tried to tell the others that this was not a real invasion — only a radio program for entertainment purposes, but they would not listen and turned on him. I can only imagine what thoughts went through Dad’s mind when his fellow neighbors and people he grew up with accused him of being a Martian.
Dad was a simple man: A furniture and appliance salesman at Hiken Furniture Company in downtown Shamrock. He had never been much of a hunter and hated to grow things because he had spent his early childhood living on a farm. But there was one thing Dad was good at and that was judging people, and at that moment he knew he better shut up and bear arms or he might find himself hanging from the end of a rope!
Captain Larry and Dad ran to Chaudet’s Hardware Store for guns and ammo while others searched downtown for anything that could be used as a weapon. Captain Larry was just about to break down Chaudet’s front door when the store owner arrived. Lucky for him, Mr. Chaudet had his keys in his hand and let Dad and the captain into the store.
Meanwhile, farmers were arriving by truck loads carrying pitchforks and whatever else they thought was useful for fighting Martians. One enterprising farmer arrived with a truckload of cow patties and enough matches and kerosene to burn down the town.
Mothers grabbed their babies and hid out in basements, and where ever else they felt safe. My mother, the local school teacher, ran to the school because she just knew that someone human or otherwise would get the idea to burn the place down. She parked herself on the front steps of the school–shotgun in hand–and dared anyone to challenge her. Lucky for them, no one did.
Once again the announcer stated this was only a radio broadcast for entertainment purposes. His deep, distinctive voice echoed throughout people’s homes, but no one was inside to hear him.
The men stood guard along the perimeter of the small town’s city limits and searched the skies for anything unusual. All they saw were scared birds and fireflies. The farmer with the cow patty filled truck left it sitting in the center of the town square in case they had to set it on fire. Unfortunately in all the excitement, no one thought about how those brown cow “pies” would attract bugs and flies, and sure enough in no time at all the town square was swarming with little flying varmints. Some of those flies were so big they looked like they could carry draft horses away! Everyone looked to Captain Larry for instructions as to what to do about this new problem, but he was too preoccupied with trying to keep the trigger happy gunmen from shooting themselves or somebody else.
Dad kept scurrying about the outskirts of town; talking the whole time; supposedly checking the line, but he really kept moving because he knew a moving target was harder to hit. He finally made it to the school house and collapsed from sheer exhaustion on the front steps right next to Mom. There he stayed because he knew Mom and her shotgun would protect him.
Suddenly from somewhere off in the distance came a deep rumble. The men searched the sky expecting to see a giant spaceship. Someone yelled into the darkness and told everyone to go home and turn on all their lights. The men folk scattered. Soon the whole town was lit up like a Christmas tree, but no one could see anything.
Then they heard it again. This time the rumble was closer, and it wasn’t coming from the sky. It was coming from the darkness of the main road. They intently listened and soon realized it was about two miles down the road and heading straight for the town square!
Frightened men looked at each other as they wondered what to do. They hadn’t been this scared since the start of the Great Depression when they head tales about city folk jumping out of windows. One enterprising man sprinted off to find Captain Larry.
Meanwhile back at the school house, Dad and Mom discussed the situation. They both realized this was just a radio program because they had heard the announcer at the start of the broadcast, but they had no idea what to do about it. They were sorely afraid someone was going to get killed; so Dad reluctantly headed off to find Captain Larry. As he rounded the corner by the general store, he ran smack dab into a shotgun. Lucky for him, the gunman was too shocked to fire, or Dad would have been blown to smithereens.
“Ace, I’m so sorry.”
“It’s okay, Lorena.”
Lorena slowly lowered the 12 gauge as if it weighed a ton. “The last thing Howard said was: ‘Defend the store… no matter what.’”
Dad slowly reached for the gun as he spoke. “And you’re doin’ a fine job of it too.”
Lorena looked down at Dad’s hand as he slowly pushed the shotgun barrel away from his “private parts”. Once the coast was clear, he gingerly reached for the barrel.
Lorena gracefully let go of the gun; turned and reentered the store calling back over her shoulder as she went: “I got another one inside.”
Dad looked down at the newly acquired shotgun and decided to skedaddle before she decided she wanted it back.
Then it happened. Gunfire! So much gunfire that it almost sounded like the 4th of July. Dad stopped so fast he stumbled and almost fell. He looked around and saw the bullet riddled, tire flattened combine sitting smack dab in the middle of the road.
Dad scurried toward the holey mechanical beast as the shell shocked driver opened the door and tumbled out onto the ground. As Dad cradled the unconscious man in his arms, the men folk charged to the scene; whooping and hollering the whole way like they had won the prize at the local turkey shoot. The men in front stopped short and got knocked over by the others like shoppers at a big sale at Macy’s or Gimble’s stores before the Great Depression.
“Now see what you’ve done!” Dad screamed.
The men folk helped the others get up, and Captain Larry arrived on the scene just as the poor combine driver was revived.
The driver groaned and spoke. “I was about two miles down the road harvesting my corn when I heard the emergency sirens. I thought something bad had happened; so I rushed here to help.”
“And you almost got shot for it” Dad said as he scowled at Captain Larry.
Just then, women folk started arriving on the scene and chimed in in a chorus of: “The show’s a fake … It’s all phony … I can’t believe it.” …
Captain Larry scanned the shocked, confused faces before him. “I guess we all better go on home. It’s been a hell of a night.”
As the weary town folk scattered, the combine driver’s voice echoed into the now peaceful darkness. “Hey, who’s gonna pay for my combine?”