When Thornton Wilder wrote the play, “Our Town,” in 1938,
he set the scene in a fictional town called Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire. The inspiration came when he was staying at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough–a retreat to encourage creativity in resident writers, musicians and artists.
The script of the play states, “the name of the town is Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire–just across the Massachusetts line: latitude 42 degrees 40 minutes; longitude 70 degrees 37 minutes….” The real-life Peterborough, New Hampshire after which the play is believed to be modeled, is located at 42.8497 degrees N (latitude) and 71.96226 degrees W (latitude). So close enough!
The play “Our Town” had its world premier at the McCarter Theatre, in Princeton New Jersey in January 1938, following by New York City a month later. Some well-known actors have appeared in this play including Henry Fonda, (as the Stage Manager) in 1969, Spalding Gray, (as the Stage Manager), Eric Stolz (as George), and Penelope Ann Miller (as Emily) in 1989. In the 1940 film version, Wilder agreed to United Artists’ request that the movie have a happy ending (and Emily lived). Paul Newman first appeared in Our Town in 1955, (starring as George), and then again in January of 2003. (as the Stage Manager) In 1977 Hal Holbrook played the Stage Manager, at the Lincoln Theater (televised). The play, “Our Town” won a Pulitzer in 1938.
In a strange twist of fate, later in the same year (October, 1938) a similarly-named town, Grovers Mill in New Jersey, received a different type of notoriety. It became the initial hysteria-producing location of Orson Welles “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast. Instead of the Stage Manager and the Gibbs and Webb family, we have “a huge, flaming object, believed to be a meteorite,” falling on a farm. And that’s just the beginning.