Most of you know Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds radio play that may or may not have terrified the East Coast in 1938. But what you probably don’t realize is that three decades later, versions were made for San Francisco and Buffalo.
First though, you need to listen to something from three decades ago — Jeff Wayne’s rather ridiculously awesome 1978 musical version is well worth paying for. Chunky guitars and flutes. It was so 70s that even the Moody Blues couldn’t handle it.
1978: Jeff Wayne
Some interesting anecdotes:
- H. G. Wells’ brother Frank approved of the idea of a musical version.
- Jeff Wayne sent the script blind to the theater where Richard Burton was performing, and Burton happened to read it during a break.
- Carlos Santana was supposed to do the guitar riff that was the heatray, but Jeff Wayne’s dad and Carlos’ manager got in a huge argument after just one day of recording.
- It was the most expensive album made to date — £240,000, 5x more expensive than Queen’s A Night at the Opera. That is like $1.5 million today.
- “John Lodge of the Moody Blues endured a 36 hour marathon session on the song Thunder Child, but was just not able to make the cut because Jeff has recorded it too far above his range.”
Anyway, I played the album on my show today on BFF.fm. I listened to this endlessly as a kid (along with the Star Wars soundtrack, naturally) and it holds up. (The beginning of the second album/disc drags a bit, but be sure to listen to the very last track. “Canberra, do you read, over?”)
If the 1938 version or a modern reproduction of the original play doesn’t appeal to you, I don’t entirely blame you. Luckily for you, in 1968 a Buffalo radio station, WKBW, adapted it to a modern radio style – and rather than actors, actual DJs and news anchors spoke in a style of radio we now know while real ads played. They spun songs you’d know. It works – the breaking news gets increasingly intense as the play progresses.
Seriously though, this thing is intense. (But nothing brings home the reality of a Martian attack than Carlos Santana and Rod Stewart songs being interrupted by “news breaks”.)
The intro is *well* worth listening to — this particular version was a 1971 replay, and for the first few minutes they talk about the reaction in 1968 despite their month-long media campaign that the dramatic recreation was coming. The Buffalo Police got 4000 calls. A newspaper rushed a team of reporters out to the landing site described in the fake broadcast. A town’s Civil Defense team went on alert. The Canadian military sent teams to the bridges coming from the US.
1964: SAN FRANCISCO
In this era of destroying San Francisco in film, you will be happy to know than San Francisco also had its own War of the Worlds moment. In 1964, the now-defunct KPEN (the first station to broadcast in stereo west of the Mississippi!) created and broadcast a version of War of the Worlds customized to the Bay Area. (If that link dies or turns spammy, here’s an archived version.)
The first half is pretty traditional to the original play — the attack on San Francisco starts at about 29:00.
Meteors Martian cylinders land near the refinery in Richmond as well as South San Francisco. Troops from the Presidio are deployed, artillery units fire from San Bruno mountain, and bombers are sent in from Hamilton Field for a low pass over Candlestick. Things do not end well, and Martian attack machines breach the Embarcadero and black smoke rolls up Nob Hill before the broadcast ends.
I also broadcast it during the last 30 minutes of my show. Hearing local names has an impact, but there are also some interesting historical references, like the Embarcadero Freeway and the Fox Theater and Governor Brown.
Here are some “live” tweets I made:
Continuing in this week’s pandoramamonium, here is the harbor San Francisco in 1853.
Click to lengthen. h/t to @SF_historian and @dnomadB.
“Hey. I’m gonna leave this ship right here kthxbai.”
The abandoned ships of course proves my theory that San Francisco has always been full of assholes.
Modern day analogy:
But man do I wish people in the 1850s would make my life a little easier today:
I’m looking at you, William Shew!
Field of view, via the 1853 Coast Survey map.
via British Pathé:
I created a few panoramas out of the pans in the film.
One of the three fire engines destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and fire.
180 degree slow pan which I stitched into a panorama. Residential area, street on a slope, with a cross street that looks more commercial. Where is this? Fillmore? Divisadero? The 1905 Sanborns will help. Haven’t found anything that’s a good fit yet though.
Bingo! Matt comes through with Golden Gate and Steiner!
The homes you see at the start of the pan:
Note the three collapsed eaves of the streetcar barn d0wn Steiner.
Another pan. Definitely a business district.
A 360 degree pan. South of Market?
You probably already know about the new HD cameras on the ISS. You can watch it over on ustream.
My ISS Above (yay Kickstarter!) blinks wildly when the ISS is passing overhead. I then run wildly to my phone, load uStream and start taking screenshots to GIF together.
California is pretty big.
UPDATE: here’s a recording via uStream.
Here’s a still of the Bay Area.
Zoom and enhance:
Imagine showing this to Cabrillo or Drake. They’d be swearing like sai… well, swearing a lot.
Hopefully we can grab the straight down view on some SF pass soon…
This is a step up from the non HD version of the ISS pass I GIFd a few years back:
Still cool though.
Apparently I am not the first person to think of this (via Gilly Youner):
I stumbled onto this 18th century instrument designed to measure the blueness of the sky called a Cyanometer. The simple device was invented in 1789 by Swiss physicist Horace-Bénédict de Saussure and German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt who used the circular array of 53 shaded sections in experiments above the skies over Geneva, Chamonix and Mont Blanc. The Cyanometer helped lead to a successful conclusion that the blueness of the sky is a measure of transparency caused by the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere.
I have helpfully labeled this 225 year old chart to reflect San Franciscan values:
On a serious note, this article on a blind man using the VoiceOver feature of the Color ID app is pretty amazing.
The next day, I went outside. I looked at the sky. I heard colors such as “Horizon,” “Outer Space,” and many shades of blue and gray. I used color cues to find my pumpkin plants, by looking for the green among the brown and stone. I spent ten minutes looking at my pumpkin plants, with their leaves of green and lemon-ginger. I then roamed my yard, and saw a blue flower. I then found the brown shed, and returned to the gray house. My mind felt blown. I watched the sun set, listening to the colors change as the sky darkened. The next night, I had a conversation with Mom about how the sky looked bluer tonight. Since I can see some light and color, I think hearing the color names can help nudge my perception, and enhance my visual experience. Amazing!
Last week the esteemed David Gallagher kindly pointed me to a photo of a streetcar from the SFMTA photo archives.
The photo wasn’t embedded and I initially thought “Hey thanks David but I’m sure I’ve seen this one before.”
I had not seen this one before.
Or any of the photos in the archive save one or two. Warning to San Franciscans: clear the rest of today’s schedule before opening this and any other link to the SFMTA Time Machine.
Anyway, the photo above is looking at where Cole Hardware is today. Here’s the 1905 Sanborn map of that side of the street:
The streetcar was turning into the car house across the street. Here is a photo showing the car bar from 1910, looking north on Mission towards 29th — within 6 years, the entire west (left) side of Mission had been rebuilt, including the building that the 3300 Club is in now. (If I remember correctly, the dome was removed during WWI.)
Lots of the photos are nicely tagged, but some are not, or hold surprises. For example, this 1905 photo is just labelled with the “22nd 24th & Mission Street line” but for those living in the greater La Lengua Co-Prosperity Sphere will realize it is a shot of Bernal Hill taken from Valencia and Mission streets, looking to the east up Fair.
The lower white fence that you can see through the streetcar windows is Peters, and the one above it is (well, will be) Coleridge. Here’s the 1905 Sanborn for reference.
The two houses on the right edge of the photo match up with 61 and 65 Coleridge:
Also, that platform in the top right corner of the photo is clearly visible on the Sanborn map.
Here’s a dramatic SFMTA shot of Mission and 29th in 1909, looking down from above what will be the 3300 Club towards what will be Pizzahacker (so sorry verb tenses):
This is the same curve where our 1907 runaway streetcar jumped the tracks and crashed into future Pizzahacker after it was set loose by union sympathizers who shot the conductor. Zooming in, you can see the signs for Bernstein’s Mission Toggery and Warrens’s candy and ice cream store.
Also, a dog.
Same corner in 1904 during some track work.
There used to be a kindergarten at 3303 Mission next to proto-Pizzahacker — it closed sometime between 1900 and 1905, so not sure if those kids are escaping from it or not. Can’t quite tell if the real estate/insurance sign was painted over or not.
Red is where Pizzahacker will be, kindergarten is 3301-3303 Mission:
And the 1905 Sanborn:
The dentist (with a saloon on the ground floor) is long gone — that building is where 199 Tiffany now stands, and that particular spot is where Goood Frickin’ Chicken now serves delicious shwarma. But to the right is the building the home of Al’s Diner, and next to that, the new home of Ichi Sushi.
Stopping now before this posts turns into a doctoral thesis, but fret not as we will dig up more soon on other corners and streets in this ridiculously fabulous SFMTA historical photo archive.
I’m sure you’ve all seen the Judgemental Maps of San Francisco by now.
It’s OK, though not particularly original and a little trite. TK made a ur-version that covers most of it:
(Hey TK, how about Pitchfork-style reviews of maps of San Francisco?)
Zoom and enhance:
At some point other that now, I will go through and link to all these references.
Please phrase all comments as if you were posting from the 1860s.