This weekend gone by, we had some Halloween shenanigans.

On Saturday, we had a family trip to a local nature reserve and we took part in a Halloween nature trail. We had to follow clues and work out a famous Witch phrase in order to win a prize at the end. Along the way we were confronted by the grim reaper who posed us a riddle…..

We met some witches who made us delve into boxes full of goo and eyeballs and the way was strewn with scary Halloween stuff.

Our dog clearly has an innate ability to sense evil as she barked non-stop at the grim reaper and at a number of model zombies along the way, but thankfully was not duped by the body parts left lying around in certain areas and so left them be rather than identifying them as a snack!

We had a lot of fun and the weather was glorious. Then yesterday with friends, we carved pumpkins and had some Halloween related fun.

There is a lot I find funny about Halloween. Celebrating a theme of being scared, and using scary undead and ghoulish imagery always seems like the sort of thing that kids should not really like or get excited about. Likewise, the tradition of sending children out to accept sweets from complete strangers seems to be a complete reverse of the usual rules.

Yet there is a sense of fun throughout and a lot of jokes get played, even if they are mostly focused on scaring people!

For example, here in the UK back in 1992, the BBC screened the ultimate prank TV show that frightened the nation. Ghostwatch starring Michael Parkinson, Sarah Greene and Mike Smith (all respected TV presenters at the time) was initially set up as an investigation into “the most haunted house in Britain” and many tuned in thinking it would be light-hearted viewing, but actually ended up being terrified and it really shook the nation, a brilliant ruse and hoax! Many still believe Ghostwatch was the scariest TV show ever made?

It surely did not scare as many people as one particular radio show though…. As I wrote last year in an article entitled, What Have Orson Wells, Pokemon and Current Trends On Social Media All Got in Common? Are You A Voice Or An Echo? ….

Back in 1938 Orson Welles caused a bit of a stir with his realistic radio broadcast of “War of the Worlds” which was dramatised and adapted to depict a Martian invasion of Earth.

Updating H.G. Wells’ 19th-century science fiction novel War of the Worlds for national radio, Orson Welles probably did not suspect the ensuing havoc.

Sunday evening in the 1930s was prime-time in the golden age of radio, and millions of Americans had their radios turned on. Many missed the introduction of the play due to a very popular ventriloquist being on another channel. Many of those tuning in late heard the announcer take listeners to “the Meridian Room in the Hotel Park Plaza in downtown New York, where you will be entertained by the music of Ramon Raquello and his orchestra.” The music played, and then the frightening stuff began. An announcer broke in to report that “Professor Farrell of the Mount Jenning Observatory” had detected explosions on the planet Mars. This was followed by another interruption in which listeners were informed that a large meteor had crashed into a farmer’s field in Grovers Mills, New Jersey. This report on the History Channel states:

Soon, an announcer was at the crash site describing a Martian emerging from a large metallic cylinder. “Good heavens,” he declared, “something’s wriggling out of the shadow like a gray snake. Now here’s another and another one and another one. They look like tentacles to me … I can see the thing’s body now. It’s large, large as a bear. It glistens like wet leather. But that face, it… it … ladies and gentlemen, it’s indescribable. I can hardly force myself to keep looking at it, it’s so awful. The eyes are black and gleam like a serpent. The mouth is kind of V-shaped with saliva dripping from its rimless lips that seem to quiver and pulsate.”

The Martians mounted walking war machines and fired “heat-ray” weapons at the puny humans gathered around the crash site. They annihilated a force of 7,000 National Guardsman, and after being attacked by artillery and bombers the Martians released a poisonous gas into the air. Soon “Martian cylinders” landed in Chicago and St. Louis.

The radio play was extremely realistic, with Welles employing sophisticated sound effects and his actors doing an excellent job portraying terrified announcers and other characters. An announcer reported that widespread panic had broken out in the vicinity of the landing sites, with thousands desperately trying to flee. In fact, that was not far from the truth.

Thousands and thousands of radio listeners believed that a real Martian invasion was underway. Panic broke out across the country. In New Jersey, terrified civilians jammed highways seeking to escape the alien marauders. People begged police for gas masks to save them from the toxic gas and asked electric companies to turn off the power so that the Martians wouldn’t see their lights. One woman ran into an Indianapolis church where evening services were being held and yelled, “New York has been destroyed! It’s the end of the world! Go home and prepare to die!”

It is a major contender for use of the expression “well that escalated quickly.” You can google it and explore the story and read about the accounts of people whose neighbours were banging on their doors telling them to flee for their lives. These people had their reality created for them by radio. Many believe that the masses were primed for such as the current political climate was created by being in between two world wars, and there are other contributing factors for sure, yet people’s reality was created by radio and then further constructed by the response of the masses around them reacting with panic.

It was aired on the 28th of October, around Halloween time, and today Halloween is massive and spending exceeds $7 billion in the US according to the National Retail Federation and here in the UK, Halloween is worth about £330 million.

I joked above about the usual rules of society being reversed, but of course, we make it all safe and sanitise the celebration for our children a fair bit. It is all made safe, and we do seem to love a good safe scare that modern day Halloween provides us with. Dr Mathias Clasen writes that “Halloween has the potential to bring us into contact with our evolutionary heritage by confronting us with reflections of evolutionarily ancient, fear-inducing stimuli.” There are so many studies examining Halloween, that I just could not keep up with them all this morning, but it does make for fascinating reading.

Halloween is firmly entrenched in the UK and the US now it seems though and shows not signs of it’s appeal letting up, and especially while my children are young, we’ll be getting plenty of Halloween action in here for a fair few years to come! Hope you all enjoy it and enjoy your frights tomorrow night!