- Courtesy photo
Betty and Barney hill pose with a newspaper story on their report of being abducted for an hour two by aliens on a remote road in the White Mountains.
- Courtesy photo by Peter Spanos
The plaque honoring Betty and Barney Hill's reported abduction by aliens.
- Courtesy photo^^Bust of alien Junior and dress Betty Hill wore night she says she was abducted.
- Aliens in pop culture.
New Hampshire couple’s claim of UFO sighting, alien abduction marks 50th anniversary
What’s the most famous thing to ever happen in New Hampshire?
For a certain segment of society, it just might be Betty and Barney Hill’s reported interaction with a UFO on Route 3 near Lincoln, which occurred 50 years ago Monday.
The Hills, a quiet Portsmouth couple whose only public role until then involved participating in the state’s Civil Rights movement, said they had been taken aboard a cigar-shaped spacecraft and questioned by humanoid alien beings.
Betty Hill even drew from memory a space map that the creatures had shown her, locating their home base (some claim it points to a binary star called Zeta Reticuli, 39 light-years away).
Their tale, the first of its kind, eventually was publicized as far afield as Life magazine, put into a best-selling book and made the subject of a TV movie in which a young James Earl Jones played Barney Hill.
It virtually launched the whole alien abduction subset of the UFO movement, earning New Hampshire perhaps its most usual “first-in-the-nation” distinction. Call it the paranormal version of Alan Shepard’s flight.
“These stories have a place on the landscape of America, and New Hampshire can offer them up. It’s an important part of our culture,” said David Watters, director of the Center for New England Culture at UNH, who knew Betty Hill.
The Hills’ story is having something of a resurgence these days. New Hampshire has come to embrace it, if a bit gingerly, aware of the fact that no scientific or mainstream entities give any credence to the idea that space aliens are somehow hiding around us.
A state historical plaque unveiled this summer celebrates “the first widely-reported UFO abduction report in the United States.”
Since 2009, the UNH library has held the official Hills collection, which has 87 folders of papers, recordings and other materials, as well as a statue of an alien called “Junior” that Betty Hill jokingly displayed and a dress of hers that apparently became contaminated with a mysterious substance during the abduction.
The school is careful to take no official position on the validity of their tale and likes to emphasize the role played by the Hills, an interracial couple at a time when mixed marriages raised eyebrows, in the Seacoast’s NAACP chapter. But it’s the UFO abduction stories that draws casual and scholarly viewers and the occasional documentary film crew.
“When it was first mentioned as coming here, I was a little worried ... but it has drawn serious people,” said William Ross, special collections head for the UNH library. At least one academic “is contemplating a scholarly book on the event,” he said.
As part of the 50th anniversary of the event, a portion of the collection is going to be put on display at the university’s planetarium.
Book spurs interest
Much of the credit for this interest goes to the Hills’ niece, Kathleen Marden, a New Hampshire native who, like Betty Hill, was a UNH graduate.
For many years now, Marden has spent much of her time talking and writing about their experience, and about UFOs and other anomalous subjects, taking on the role of a field investigator for the Mutual UFO Network, a national group with a strong presence in the Seacoast. (Exeter hosts an annual half-joking, half-serious UFO festival.)
“It’s sort of like a full-time job for me, in my retirement,” said Marden, who taught special education for years in the Exeter school system. Her book “Captured: The Betty and Barney Hill UFO Experience” helped spur interest in the story.
Marden and co-author Stanton Friedman, a former nuclear physicist who has been a prominent UFO proponent for decades, are the stars in a 50th-anniversary celebration taking place this weekend at the Indian Head Resort in Lincoln, which is unveiling its own plaque in honor of the Hills’ experience.
Among the events will be a bus tour of the route the Hills took while driving home from a vacation in Quebec, back when White Mountain roads were a lot smaller, darker and more isolated than they are now. They won’t be able to visit the actual site where the Hills say the aliens took them aboard, because it’s a housing development.
There also will be talks, entertainment (including a chef carving an ice sculpture of “Junior,” the bust of a bug-eyed alien that Betty Hill used as a tongue-in-cheek prop when talking about the events), a viewing of “The UFO Incident” movie with Jones, and a discussion about that star map.
Lights, craft, lost time
The Hills’ story goes like this: Driving home to Portsmouth from a vacation in Quebec, they saw mysterious lights and then a spacecraft that they followed through Franconia Notch. The craft hovered, there were weird noises and vibrations, and eventually the couple found themselves driving home, with feelings of unease and some “lost” time.
The next day, Betty filed a short report with the Air Force at Pease Air Force Base, where officials thought the couple had seen the planet Jupiter. Unsatisfied, they found a UFO book, contacted the author, and the following month met with a Boston astronomer and UFO buff named Walter Webb and gave a six-hour interview.
But the most compelling details didn’t come out until Betty began having dreams and there was a hypnosis session the following January.
The couple said they had been taken aboard the ship by humanoid aliens with big eyes, a grayish pallor and bluish lips, who questioned them and examined them on separate exam tables, taking skin scrapings and inserting at least one probe.
This is also when Betty was shown the star map, before both were released to drive home.
The Hills didn’t seek publicity, only telling friends and a church group about the incident.
An October 1965 story in the now-defunct Boston Traveler newspaper told the tale, apparently without the Hills’ permission or knowledge, and they became minor celebrities for a while.
Barney Hill, a Post Office employee who died in 1969 of a cerebral hemorrhage, was never too enthusiastic about the notoriety, which was in contrast to their staid and quiet lives.
Betty Hill, who lived until 2004, came to embrace the notoriety and reported more UFO sightings over the years, keeping a sense of humor about the topic that led her to embrace the statue of a bug-eyed alien she called “Junior.”
Eventually, the Hills’ tale was eclipsed by more dramatic stories, such as the 1965 “Incident in Exeter” that helped cement the Seacoast’s UFO status.
But it now seems that Marden is suspicious of most UFO and abduction stories, particularly those who say they were floated out of their bedrooms and probed by aliens – “85 percent to 95 percent can be explained as conventional in some way” – but believes that real evidence exists of beings from outer space visiting Earth.
“We don’t know where they’re from or why they’re here,” she said. “But imagine, what would be the social, political, economic and religious impact if all of this was made public? It would be historic.”
David Brooks can be reached at 594-5831 or firstname.lastname@example.org.