“Last night, I couldn’t sleep, and lit the light to read. I saw the bulb go out. It faded out, as though the power went off by slow degrees.” This is one of the voices describing the disconcerting events that occurred “At Midnight on the 31st of March.” It is the dramatization of a story in blank verse by Josephine Young Case (published in 1938) which, the result of fortuitous timing or a bad case of literal-mindedness, was broadcast on this day, 31 March, back in 1943. It was one in a series whose literary aspiration was signalled by its title Author’s Playhouse (just where to place the apostrophe I am not quite sure). A transcript of the broadcast may be perused here; while an excerpt of the original work has been shared and discussed here by a fellow webjournalist). “At Midnight” is a peculiar, disturbing look at a small-town community dealing with the disappearance of the world its members knew or thought to have known, had created for themselves, learned to accept as binding or let shape them without questioning its nature.
“Our lights went out at midnight,” another speaker recalls how the end of their world began. “And the radio programs died out, too. And I’ve got a battery set. But I couldn’t get nothin’ but static.” A third one marvels that, beyond their village, there were no “towns at all. Not any house or road. Only the river, and the creeks, and the trees.” “At Midnight” offers no solutions, no explanations. It is the vanishing of a world with which those who used to inhabit it are forced to deal.
Tuning in, I was not only reminded of our current spell without a drop of heating oil or my remoteness from the city I once called home, but of a threat to all I knew or wondered at when, as a child, I overheard my parents talking about a prediction that the world would come to an end before dawn, leaving me to ponder an unfathomable chaos. “And what will come to us?” another voice “At Midnight” echoes the distant fears none but a thoughtless adult would call childish. “Yes, where will we be?”
“At Midnight” encourages us to rethink what we generally consider the end of the world—the end and the ends of our life. The show, an adage has it, must go on, as it had to on 1 April, back in 1946, when Noah Beery, scheduled to appear with two of his family members in a Lux Radio Theater production of Barnacle Bill, died shortly after the rehearsals. Producers of the well-oiled Lux program found an immediate replacement, with brother Wallace and niece Carol Ann clinging like the titular organism to their comedy vehicle so that it could take off as scheduled. Noah Beery’s voice now speaks to us from the beyond as, in this rare case, an transcription disk, unaired and long-forgotten, has given it a now public afterlife.
“Yes, where will we be?” I keep thinking as I go on making a largely unheeded record of the lives I know, and lead, and dream of . . .