War of the Worlds Monument

June 1, 2007 — Sometime in the weeks preceding October 30, 1938, Orson Welles closed his eyes, jabbed a still-thin finger at a random spot on a map of the Eastern Seaboard, and intoned in his oft-impersonated voice, “There. Grover’s Mill. The Martians will land at Grover’s Mill, New Jersey.”

Yes. Orson Welles, the future voice of both Robin Masters and Unicron, was planning an interplanetary alien invasion. And he hated Grover’s Mill the most. Actually, as you well know, he was in the process of Americanizing the London-based events of H.G. Well’s novel The War of the Worlds and adapting them for a radio drama to be performed for his radio show, The Mercury Theatre on the Air. He needed a landing spot for the first Martian-Earthling encounter that wasn’t the English countryside. Grover’s Mill was “good enough.”

I’m not going to tell you the story of the famous radio broadcast in 1938 on that eve of Halloween (which, I know, is already an eve itself). You know it. It’s lore. I will say, though, that I’ve always been kind of suspicious about how much pandemonium Welles’ broadcast actually caused. I mean, more than likely a couple handful of people called each other and the police out of curiosity and a few maybe peeked dubiously out their windows at the night sky. I doubt there was deadly rioting, mass nudity, and animal sacrifices to the gods. People always exaggerate, especially about stuff that happened decades ago. And newspaper accounts, of course, exaggerate about what happened only days ago.

Apparently though, there was a little bit of a ruckus in Grover’s Mill. After all, they were called out by name by these Martians. A funny anecdote that is passed around about the event that night is that one farmer went all Die Hard on a nearby water tower with his shotgun because of how closely it resembled one of the Martian tripod machines. Probably happened. Alcohol was probably involved, too.

Besides inciting an immediate panic, an eventual legend, and an impressive career, what Orson also probably didn’t realize he was doing by putting his finger on that spot on the map, was that he was putting Grover’s Mill, New Jersey, on the map as well. Well, for some of us, I guess.

Grover’s Mill has exactly one single moment in its entire history, and this was that moment. It just had to be memorialized. In reverse order of importance, I’ll tell you where they did it, and then I’ll tell you how they did it. The town of Grover’s Mill is just off one of the early-numbered exits on the New Jersey Turnpike. There’s really nothing much to the town itself. I think I remember one building total, but it probably also has the remnants of a water tower somewhere. It also has a park. Van Ness Park. A place destined for a memorial. Or a picnic.

Once you pull into the parking lot of Van Ness, you’ll have to choose the blue-blazed trail from the many rugged, but nicely color-coded hiking trails that spider-web off from the entrance to find the monument. You then hike about three relatively laborious miles on this trail, and then you’ll see the monument on a small hill across a rope bridge spanning a rather deep gorge—well, deep as far as New Jersey gorges go, anyway.

Just kidding.

Van Ness Park is a tiny park that borders a large pond and is basically made up of a tiny picnic pavilion, a tiny playground, and a tiny field. As soon as you park your car in the tiny parking lot, you’ll see the monument.

Honestly, between you, me, and everyone else, I was expecting a cheesy little plaque financed by the meager proceeds of basket raffles and bake sales. However, I think the Orson Welles War of the Worlds monument just might be my favorite of all the world war monuments in this entire country. Standing about seven feet tall and about five feet wide, it’s a coffin-sized and shaped bronze bas-relief image. Think Han Solo in carbonite, and you’ll get the picture...or just look at the accompanying picture.

The bas-relief depicts three major things. Most coolly, a giant tentacled tripod machine prominently at the top; less coolly, an unsuspecting and gullible family sitting around a radio near the bottom of the monument; and, back to coolly, Welles himself performing the radio play in the middle. At the very bottom is the explanation, “He fooled us.” Not really, but it might as well be. Instead it’s the basic explanation for that All Hallows Eve eve that I refused to give you at the beginning of this article.

It seems odd that I’m about to end the article at exactly the point where I start describing the subject of the article, but there really isn’t much else to say about the War of the Worlds monument. It is what it is. Very simple and very cool. Except in the sunlight. If you happen to lean on it then, (even for a brief picture for an unassuming website), you'll pay for it in pain. Bronze heats like Satan himself.

Anyway, thanks Grover’s Mill, for not embedding a cheesy little plaque in the ground. Oh, and for not being ashamed of being so gullible.

I'm also pretty proud that I didn't try anything silly with the Welles-Wells name connection.