The Space Needle Fell Down
When The The Space Needle Fell Down
April 1st 1989 was a typical gray dreary day in Seattle. At 7pm a “special report” interrupted the broadcast on Seattle’s local NBC affiliate KING 5. A news announcer solemnly announced that about 7 minutes ago at 6:53pm, Seattle’s most iconic landmark, the Space Needle had collapsed. The announcer reported that injuries where light, noting that a maintenance man had been sent to the Harbor View emergency room. The announcer said that structural damage to buildings around the Space Needle was extensive and the Needle itself was beyond repair. Video showed two photos of the collapsed Space Needle. The broadcast then showed an emotional eyewitness account of the collapse of the beloved landmark building. The lack of human casualties was attributed to the Needle being closed due to a basketball championship. The broadcast suggested metal fatigue and the construction of a bus tunnel as a possible cause of the catastrophic event. The "special report" then ended and normal programming resumed.
Despite the fact that each photo was clearly labeled, "SPACE NEEDLE – APRIL 1, 1989 APRIL FOOLS DAY" and that the "special report" was broadcast during a previously schedule broadcast of local comedy show Almost Live and that the eye witness was a regular on the show; people all around the region panicked. While many immediately understood that it was a prank, others swamped the city's 911 system. The Space Needle reported receiving over 700 calls. King 5 was inundated with calls both angry and panicked. People worried about loved ones visiting or working in the Space Needle and around the needle. Allegedly, a group of doctors from eastern Washington hit the road to provide humanitarian aid.
Needless to say, the Space Needle did not fall down and still stands today. The news announcer was an actor specially hired for this prank.
It is important to remember that 1989 was a very different time. This was a time before photoshop. Those photos looked very believable. This was also a time before we had hundreds of TV stations and few people had cable. KING 5 was a respected broadcaster. One of the only 5 or 6 stations that most people could receive. It was also a time before cellphones. If you wanted to check-in on somebody you couldn't just call them. They had to be at home or at work. Or you couldn’t talk to them.
This was Seattle's own version of the War of the Worlds scare. And just like that broadcast from Orson Well so many years ago, all people needed to do to verify the broadcast was to change the station. An event as big as an alien invasion or the Space Needle collapsing would be news on other stations. John Keister host of Almost Live said that the prank had been inspired by hearing reporters say when leaving for time off, "Unless the Space Needle falls down, don't call me".
John Keister publicly apologized the next week saying, " "On April Fool's Day, we broadcast a prank -- a phony news report -- in which we said that the Space Needle had collapsed. Now, we meant this as an April Fool's Day joke. We labeled it as a joke, and we thought that people would take it as a joke. Unfortunately, ... it didn't work that way."
If you would like to see the video yourself, I have linked to it in the show notes. I've also linked to an absolutely incredible clip from the schlocky disaster NBC mini-series 10.5. This clip has a man using his totally gnarly BMX skills to outrun a falling Space Needle.
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Thanks for listening. I'm Jason Rigden and this has been The Podcast of Mystery. If you want to learn more about the show just go to podcastofmystery.com
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