Informant: So there’s this legend in my community, and I don’t know if people outside of it would really know about it, but definitely all the kids in my class know about this because we all went to a field trip and we learned about the history of our little town in class and like, ok do you know H. G. Wells’ book, War of the Worlds?”
Me: “Yeah, I know it.”
Informant: “Well in 1938 Orson Welles did a reading of it on the radio, and he read in the style of a news report. And this was in Grover’s Mill, this small town inNew Jersey, but people didn’t realize that like, it was fiction, so they all actually thought that like aliens were coming in and invading earth, and people legit thought it was real, since it like, sounded like a news report. They all were running out of their houses, shooting with guns, and basically, it was just like, a huge disaster.
So in my elementary school, they taught us all about this, and I guess it was like, the history of our town. Also, so in the 80s, they created a time capsule and buried it in the area where the hysteria culminated, and it’s by this park that I always used to pass like everyday after my mom dropped off my dad, and there was this um, water tower behind this creepy-looking house painted gray. And it’s pretty big too. And like, I passed it all the time without ever really thinking about it, but I guess back then people thought it was a spaceship and started shooting at it.
And with my friends, we made up all these stories about it, because we didn’t actually know what the house was for or who it really belonged to. Like we’d see a car in front of it always, but never anyone actually going in and out, you know. It was just a staple in our community and everyone thought it was really old and weird. We made up stories, like ‘Oh, aliens live there, Oh, it’s haunted,’ that kind of thing.
It’s just the kind of creepy house and I have friends that definitely still believe in some of the stories, or the ones from before when people actually thought it was a spaceship. And like, honestly, if it turned out that aliens really did live there, we wouldn’t be surprised.
In the end, we learned when we were older that a chiropractor lived in the house, which took away from some of the creepiness, and he repainted the house a different gray so it’s less run-down looking. But there still is that vibe of creepiness, I mean, at night also, you see the lights come on inside but still you’d never see anyone inside!”
This is a good example of a memorate, or how someone will create a memory of an incident, such as a haunting or alien invasion, after hearing previous legends regarding the area or situation. My informant has been told about the mass panic in her town since she was a child, so it’s natural for her and her friends to fabricate stories about real aliens or sinister people in the strange house they often pass.
It also shows how important it is for a small town such as hers to distinguish itself in whatever way it can. Orson Welles may have done a reading there, but that was nearly a century ago, so new stories and legends have to be made up to keep people’s interest in the town. This is why the time capsule was buried in the 80s and why the children were led on field trips to visit the supposedly haunted house, which they in turn also believed was ghostly or inhabited by extraterrestrials. It provides interesting locations to visit for tourists and gives a sense of pride to townsfolk who live there.
I find it interesting that my informant remembered seeing a car parked in front of the “haunted” house, but because she and her classmates never saw a living person, they still had probable cause to believe something out of the ordinary was going on. This brings up the question of how much “creepiness” is necessary for a person to believe a haunting is real. My informant says the house was a strange gray color, but had she not heard that it was the location for the climax of hysteria in 1938, it’s doubtful she would have noticed what color the house was painted. It’s likely that the house itself would never have attracted any attention had she and her classmates not been taught about their peculiar town history.