Calling All Earthlings…
This remarkable piece of sheet music comes from back in the day when we all knew that life existed on Mars and there was no need for multi-billion dollar rover projects to prove the point. Published in 1901 by the E. T. Paull Music Company of New York, A Signal From Mars colorfully illustrates that which was hoped to be.
Above: E.T. Paull’s (the “E.T.” portion of his name was purely coincidental) fantastical cover art for the 1901 sheet music edition of A Signal From Mars. Approximately 10 1/2 inches by 14 inches (27cm x 35cm). c. 1901. Source: The collection of Edward T. Garcia.
The turn of the 20th Century saw a huge upsurge in the public interest in the Red Planet. Much of this fascination stemmed from H. G. Wells’ 1898 publication of War of the Worlds. While it would still be some 70 years before humans would actually take that “giant leap” to another celestial body, the incredible strides in technology that had occurred during the latter part of the 1800s gave the public the sense that space travel was a real possibility and not simply the dream of certain writers of popular fiction. It was in their minds only a matter of time.
The idea that Mars was in the possession of a mighty network of canals had been postulated by Giovanni Schiaparelli as early as 1877 and about 20 years later Percival Lowell proposed that these canali were, in fact, the product of an advanced civilization. Lowell presented his theory in a series of books: Mars (1895), Mars and Its Canals (1906), and Mars As the Abode of Life (1908). This colorful and melodramatic sheet music edition came in the middle of this Martian craze.
The E. T. Paull Music Company was noted for stunning chromolithographic artwork that graced the covers of the sheet music that they published. There were two editions of A Signal from Mars. In the first, the Martian mage is shown looking at Earth through a backward telescope as in this example (hardly a convincing sign of an advanced civilization) a mistake that was corrected in the second edition of this march and two-step by Raymond Taylor.
Above: As is almost in answer to the signal from Mars comes this cover illustration from the March 30, 1911 issue of LIFE magazine. As envisioned by American illustrator/futurist Harry Grant Dart, ships from Earth illuminate the red planet in turn with a humorous play on words. 9 inches by 11 inches (23cm x 28cm). Source: The collection of Edward T, Garcia.
While popular scientific consensus now believes there are no Martians to be found certain wiser people still hold a torch for our long hoped for celestial neighbors. After all, if the likes of Edgar Rice Burroughs, C.S. Lewis, Robert H. Heinlein and Ray Bradbury kept an open mind on the subject, why not the rest of us?