“War of the Worlds” Redux

Franc Gambatese didn’t personally experience the 1938 radio adaptation of War of the Worlds, but that has not dimmed his fascination with the broadcast. The West Paterson native has preserved its history in his West Windsor Township coffeehouse.

“My father told me the story when I was little, and it just piqued my interest,” he says. “It started the civil defense movement in America, and it showed how mass broadcasting can affect society.”

When Gambatese and his wife Mickey DeFranco opened Grover’s Mill Coffee House & Roastery almost two years ago, they dedicated it to the night that panicked America. “When Orson Welles did his 1938 broadcast, he picked Grover’s Mills,” Defranco says. “That’s a part of our town, so we wanted to preserve that history.”

The coffeehouse is filled with War of the Worlds memorabilia, including the New York Post article printed the day after the broadcast, an original painting of an alien tripod on the Grover’s Mill barn, and signed movie posters from Ann Robinson, who played Sylvia van Buren in the 1955 movie adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel.

To celebrate the broadcast, the couple is hosting a “Martian Invasion” weekend at the coffeehouse (295 Princeton Hightstown Road). On Friday and Saturday at 7:30 pm, Michael Jarmus, former radio announcer for WCTC-AM/WMGQ in New Brunswick, will host a live re-enactment of the original broadcast. There will be performances by local entertainers, including singer/songwriter Gerald Edward, comedian Helene Angley, and guitarist Greg Nease. On Halloween, Ted Saint James, who has been featured on ABC-TV and NBC radio for his psychic entertainment program The Mysterious Mind of Ted Saint James will hold a séance to channel the spirit of Orson Welles, followed by a psychic-entertainment mind-reading session.

“Last year our staff dressed like Martians, all of the entertainers dressed like Martians, and a lot of people had antennas,” DeFranco chuckles. “This year, our goal is to get everyone here to wear Martian antennas.”

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