Judge Joe Pigott and his wife, Lorraine, visited StoryCorps in Jackson, Miss.
Judge Joe Pigott and his wife, Lorraine, visited StoryCorps in Jackson, Miss. StoryCorps
When retired Judge Joe Pigott was growing up in Mississippi, he knew that his step-grandfather was an unusual man. A country doctor, "he had no sense of humor whatsoever," Pigott recalls, "especially when it involved himself."
And anytime the man known simply as "Doctor" was listening to the radio, "you just did not make a sound," Pigott says — "especially when the news was on."
Unfortunately for Doctor, his two quirks betrayed him one night in 1938, when radios around the country blared the news of an erupting "War of the Worlds."
Listening to Mercury Theatre on the radio that evening, the family heard the voice of Orson Welles describing a sudden and vicious alien attack on America — specifically, a Martian invasion of New Jersey.
"And since it was New Jersey, and I had an uncle in New Jersey," Pigott recalls, "they thought, 'Well, there he goes.' "
By the time it was announced that the alien forces were headed their way next, Doctor had heard enough. He directed everyone to get into the car to drive to his brother's house, "so we can all be together when the end comes," as Pigott recalls.
After Doctor drove his Chevrolet over from his farm near Tylertown, Miss., the family talked about what seemed like the end of the world.
And then, Pigott says, "they began confessing to each other, and repenting of their sins.
"And the more they talked, the madder they got at each other."
Finally, around 11 p.m., one youngster who felt a bit skeptical about their impending doom went back into the house and turned on the radio, which was by now full of reports about the success of Welles' very real-sounding radio drama.
The young man walked back outside — and waited just a bit longer before telling the rest of the family about the hoax.
As he drove back home that night, Doctor didn't speak, Pigott says. And as the scare became part of family lore — in a story that was told many times over — he never found the humor in hearing it.
Far from it, Pigott says.
"Doctor would get up in a huff whenever anyone started to tell it."
Produced for Morning Edition by Nadia Reiman and Michael Garofalo. Recorded in partnership with Mississippi Public Broadcasting.