On September 19, 1961, a reported event occurred on the back roads of New Hampshire that single-handedly rewrote what experts believed about UFO encounters. Up until this time, only a handful of reports of a similar nature had surfaced. However, this was the first highly publicized abduction account filled with detailed information. What happened close to Lancaster that evening made international headlines and made celebrities out of the couple that came forward. Their names are Betty and Barney Hill, and this is their story.
The Hills were a married couple living in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, with their pet dog, Delsey. Betty was a social worker with the State Welfare Agency and Barney worked for the Post Office. They were respected members of their community as members of the NAACP and the Unitarian Church. In fact, the governor had appointed Barney to serve on the state civil rights committee (Huff Post).
The Betty and Barney Hill Abduction Story
After a short vacation to Niagra Falls, they were driving home on Highway 3 through the White Mountains. Betty sat in the passenger seat and was idly gazing out of the window when she noticed a bright light that she initially thought was a star. It seemed to be following them, but it was moving erratically. The couple had a brief conversation about it. Barney initially assumed that it was just an ordinary aircraft, but Betty suggested they pull over so they could get a better look and also to give Delsey a pit stop.
What followed is said to be the first well-documented, feasibly legitimate UFO abduction in history. The couple claimed that they saw bipedal humanoid creatures in the window of a large spacecraft that landed in a field, after which they had no recollection of the next two hours.
Barney stopped the car and got out his binoculars. Betty looked first. She knew it wasn’t a star when she saw a spinning craft with an “odd shape” and flashing lights of different colors. Barney took his turn to look through the binoculars. Although he had presumed it must be an airplane, he saw it rapidly descend and move in their direction . . . too quickly to be a plane. He rushed back into the car and continued to drive toward Franconia Notch. Betty watched the craft as it got closer and closer until it was right over them, forcing them to stop in the road.
A Close Encounter
Barney did not know what they were looking at, but it was huge and silent. It hovered about 100 feet above them. He grabbed his pistol and the binoculars and went out to investigate. Barney saw windows across a pancake-shaped object. As he moved toward it, he saw something else that made him turn and run back to the car. Inside there were up to 11 beings that didn’t quite look human. They were staring at him through the windows.
Barney hysterically ran back to the car and drove away as fast as he could, but the Hills were suddenly overcome by buzzing and tingling throughout their bodies. This was when things became very cloudy for them. When they regained full consciousness, they were once again experiencing the tingling, and they were 35 miles further down the road without a clear memory of the drive to get there.
Unease At Home
When the Hills arrived home around dawn, they both felt strange. They knew they had seen something, but they couldn’t remember what happened after they felt the buzzing sensations.
“Both Betty and Barney had physical changes from the night before, including Betty’s torn and stained dress, Barney’s scraped shoe, and a broken binocular strap. But neither of them had any memory of these things having happened” (University of New Hampshire). Each also owned a watch, and after the previous night’s events, neither watch ever worked again. Attention quickly turned to the car. On the back of the vehicle, shiny circles of a concentric nature were discovered. A compass placed near the circles indicated that the circles were magnetized.
Did the Air Force See It Too?
Betty confided in her sister who strongly advised that she get in touch with the local Air Force Base to report the incident. Barney was more concerned with being labeled an eccentric but allowed Betty to get in touch with Pease AFB on September 21. At that time she made her first report.
Five days later, Major Paul Henderson visited the Hills at their home and completed an official inquiry. A report written by the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP) concluded that the Air Force files had insufficient data on the events of that night.
Indeed, one of the overlooked aspects of this case is that at approximately the same time as the Hills said they had their UFO sighting in the White Mountains, Pease Air Force Base in Portsmouth confirmed that radar had picked up a UFO in the mountains. Skeptics point out that the Air Force concluded the UFO was simply a weather balloon.
Betty Seeks Answers
Ten days after their encounter, Betty began to have vivid dreams about the strange event. Five nights in a row her dreams contained small men in uniforms who forced the Hills into a strange craft and subjected them to examinations. She wrote down her dreams in a journal.
Betty went to the library and found a book on the UFO phenomenon written by former Marine Corps Major, Donald Keyhoe, leader of NICAP. She contacted him directly, and their investigation began about a month after the sighting. Both of the Hills were interviewed at length by NICAP officials. Betty and Barney both admitted to seeing the same thing – a large disk that was silent. The people that Barney said he saw were “somehow not human.”
Coping and Moving Forward
The couple did try and put the whole episode behind them but were being affected in different ways. Barney grew more and more stressed and anxious as time went on. Outsiders assumed that this was due to their interracial marriage – an uncommon occurrence during that generation. Some criticized the pair based solely on their union. None of this helped either spouse, and things got so bad for Barney that he was forced to take time off work in order to try and recover.
Things were not much better for Betty, but she turned her attention toward trying to find out as much as she could about their perceived encounter. Meanwhile, Barney began seeing a therapist. Their feelings that something happened that they couldn’t quite piece together gnawed at them for two years.
A speaker at the Hills’ church, Ben H. Swett, gave a talk about his poetry, and Betty and Barney attended. The pastor was aware that Ben dabbled in hypnotherapy and ask him about it. At the end of the talk, Betty and Barney asked Ben if he thought hypnotherapy might be able to help regain what they felt were lost memories. They also asked for his help, but he declined because he didn’t feel that he was qualified, and instead, he recommended they ask Barney’s therapist for a referral. They took his advice, and that’s when they found Dr. Simon. (Bswett)
Hypnosis Session with Dr. Simon
Dr. Benjamin Simon began working with the couple at the start of 1964. Over the course of around six months, he used hypnotic regression. During the first sessions, Dr. Simon concluded by inducing amnesia to each partner in order to reduce the possibility of potential collusion out of session. If neither was able to remember what happened, then there was less chance of them discussing matters among themselves.
In his sessions, Barney had many new recollections, such as meeting an Irishman that had red hair. There were also beings there that didn’t seem to be human. All of these individuals were dressed in similar looking uniforms. Each had a peaked cap and silver piping on the uniform itself that reminded Barney of Nazi uniforms. According to his own memories during hypnosis, Barney said the crew spoke a language he could not understand and also English. But, they weren’t using their mouths; Barney said they appeared to use “thought transference.”
Betty reported similar events during her hypnotic sessions separately from her husband. Both revealed that they underwent medical exams during which the beings took numerous samples that included blood, bodily fluids, and hair. Betty also stated that as part of her exam, skin samples were taken. Much of what Betty had mentioned during her sessions were things that she had already written in her journal.
Something took place on board the craft that only Betty noted. She indicated that the aliens showed her a map of where they came from, which she drew during one of her sessions. Some people believed this could be the location of the “homeworld.” Additionally, Betty had indicated that the beings showed her “trade routes” that they used frequently, routes they didn’t take often, and those that they took for expeditions.
Sometime around 1970, a teacher from Ohio made a match to the Zeta Reticuli star system. It looked just like the map Betty drew and also included our own Sun. Some of the stars on that map weren’t cataloged until after the Betty and Barney Hill incident, which for some people proves that their experience was genuine.
Carl Sagan, however, provided another perspective on his show, Cosmos, episode 12. He said, “There is a resemblance between the two maps, but that’s mainly because the lines corresponding to the navigation route have been copied from the Hill map onto the real star map. If we were to substitute some other set of lines for the Hill lines we find that the eye suddenly is biased against seeing any agreement between the two maps at all.” He also indicated that anyone can find just about any pattern from various vantage points in space.
Once Dr. Simon completed the hypnotic sessions, he presented the tapes to the local NICAP investigators. Having interviewed the pair shortly after the original event, NICAP officials were impressed by their honesty and intelligence. Both wanted nothing more than to get to the bottom of what happened to them. Many people considered the Hills to be reliable, and even Dr. Simon believed that the Hills truly and sincerely believed what they reported.
On the other hand, Dr. Simon never believed in UFOs or alien visitations. He was under the impression that the Hills shared a delusion based on Betty’s dreams. Although he conducted the hypnosis sessions, he never swayed them into their testimonies. On the contrary, Ben Swett heard the session tapes and indicated that Dr. Simon actually tried to suggest logical, rational explanations for the Hills’ memories during the sessions – but to no avail. They stuck with their abduction stories.
Toward the end of 1965, the Boston Herald-Traveler managed to get an exclusive scoop when they somehow acquired reports of the original encounter. Someone had broken confidence, and October 25 was the first of a five-day exposé of the Betty and Barney Hill alien abduction story. According to Swett, Barney was upset about the leak and he had called Swett in the middle of the night in a panic about it. “Barney said he and Betty were afraid they would be scorned and ridiculed and lose their jobs,” said Swett in his personal statement about the Betty and Barney Hill abduction case.
Now that the couple was a media sensation, they both felt they had little choice. They needed to break their own silence. Before this, neither made any overtures for publicity at all. The Hills and Dr. Simon all collaborated with author John Fuller to produce a book based on their experience. This book, titled “The Interrupted Journey,” emerged in 1966. Betty’s niece, Kathleen Marden, wrote a second book and titled it, “Captured! The Betty and Barney Hill UFO Experience.” Both publications are still available today, along with countless others.
What Happened to Betty and Barney Hill?
We may never know what really happened to Betty and Barney Hill on September 19, 1961. The public is divided in its perception of the story between those who believe it wholeheartedly and those who think the story was merely a confabulation. What is certain is that, despite their reluctance to come forward and report their encounter, the Hills have become synonymous with the UFO community. Their experience turned into the most well-known of all UFO reports and would set the stage for many others like it.
As the 1960s progressed, Barney’s health began to worsen. In February 1969, he died of a cerebral hemorrhage. Betty never remarried after his death and went on to become something of a UFO celebrity until her own death in 2004.