September 10, 2009 — You’re in danger of missing an anniversary, so consider this article a calendar reminder. In a little over a week, on September 19, 2009, we’ll all happily arrive at the 48th anniversary of the supposed alien abduction of Betty and Barney Hill in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Don’t worry, you still have time to run out and get a card.
On the night of September 19th and on into the early morning of September 20th in the year 1961, husband and wife Barney and Betty Hill were traveling back from vacation in Montreal to their home in Portsmouth, NH, when, according to their story, they were followed by a spaceship and eventually accosted, kidnapped, examined, and then released back into the wild by its extraterrestrial crew.
The event has since become the best documented and most famous case of alien abduction in the history of ufology, introducing into mainstream culture such what-was-life-like-before-them terms as “hypnotic regression,” “missing time,” and “anal probe,” as well as cementing a template for the current mythology of alien visitors in both our fictions and the abduction claims that have succeeded it. The story of the Hills grew big enough, in fact, that it prompted a best-selling book by John Fuller entitled The Interrupted Journey, inspired a television movie called The UFO Incident starring James Earl Jones, and was subjected to debunking by famous intellectual Carl Sagan.
Last year, on the night of the 47th anniversary of the event, I and my wife got into our car, drove up to northern New Hampshire, and then re-traced the route taken by Betty and Barney Hill on that fateful night. We chose this randomly numbered anniversary because we had just moved to the Granite State and didn’t want to wait three years for a more momentously numbered one. In addition, I like commemorating events a few years before it makes sense to because then everybody who is prompted by timely media interest on the more legitimate anniversary to research it will come across my article. Life is made up of a series of schemes.
So right before New England officially switched over to its renowned Autumn outfit, we trekked north to Lancaster, NH, waited for the appropriate hour of darkness, and then basically turned the car around and drove back home. Technically, we should have started in Montreal, I guess, but the Hills’ trip didn’t start getting interesting until hereabouts and 2008 was a time of great confusion over what documentation you needed to cross the Canuckian border.
I had prepped in advance for the trip by reading Captured, a recently published account of the Hill abduction and its aftermath that was co-authored by Kathleen Marden, the niece of Betty Hill, and Stanton T. Friedman, nuclear physicist and famous UFO guy. That’s in addition to my life-long preparation of watching every alien abduction movie I could get my hands on, including Communion, Close Encounters, Fire in the Sky, Altered, and whatever clips I could find on YouTube of the so far unreleased-to-DVD The UFO Incident.
The temperature on the night of our own journey was crisp, bordering on cold, and the sky was perfectly clear for UFO watching. We popped the X-Files series soundtrack into the car stereo and took off, our eyes enthusiastically searching the sky, with the occasional glance spared for the darkness of the road in front of us.
According to their accounts, the Hills were driving south on Route 3 when they noticed an erratic light in the sky that seemed to be following them. Eventually, that erratic light grew into a strange ship, which soon landed, trapping the Hills. The ship’s inhabitants then escorted the dazed couple into the spacecraft and subjected them to the scientific rituals of some sort of intergalactic catch-and-release program.
The Hills described the physical appearance of the aliens as Irish Nazi Jimmy Durantes. Also as what has become known as classic “grays” with thin, short bodies, oversized heads and large, dark eyes that even those of us who haven’t been abducted can now instantly recognize thanks to the flypaper that is popular culture. Obviously, that latter description doesn’t sound anything like an Irish Nazi Jimmy Durante, but the Hills’ story is a little confusing on the appearance of the aliens, as well as on other points. I don’t mean for that to sound cynical. It was a rough night for them.
Actually, most of their memories of the night were unearthed a few years later, under hypnosis and further reflection. Their immediate impressions of the night were hazy, disjointed, and included stretches of missing time—everything a long, midnight trip through the mountains of New Hampshire would be even without alien interruption.
Certainly our own more recent trek down that same road seemed if not as surreal as the Hills’ experience, at least somewhere in the same thesaurus entry. But I guess that’s more because of what it was intrinsically, a late-night re-enactment of an event I don’t believe happened in the first place but am still kind of glad that a lot of people kind of do.
Of course, the whole story is actually more detailed and complex than my summary, but I’ve got a lot to pack into this two-part article and can’t spend too much time on the actual reason for the article. Plus, some of the details will be more relevant in Part II, where I’ll have to come up with all new excuses of why I’m not delving into them.
During the Sixties, the main route for getting from the top of New Hampshire to the bottom was Route 3. It still pretty much is, just with the addition of an interstate highway. As a result, the Hills’ approximate route is easy enough to follow, as long as you pay attention to where it merges and unmerges with Interstate 93. And I mean you because I didn’t and ended up having to retrace my own steps in order to retrace theirs.
In fact, due to the Hills own fuzzy recollections of that night and the various road and zoning changes over the past 50 years, we still might not have followed their course exactly, but we also didn’t get abducted, probed, or have our memories erased (that I remember), so I count it as a trade-off.
Even though a lot of the route is highway, much of it is still unlighted and highly spooky at the time of night that we drove it, especially through the mountainous Franconia Notch area. Just like the Hills did 47 years before, we pulled over and got out of our car at various points along the route. Of course, they were checking out the pursuing UFO in disbelief and being terrified into flight. We were merely taking pictures and spooking ourselves back into the car.
Also like the Hills before, we passed by various landmarks, including what used to be the rock formation known as The Old Man of the Mountain. Back in the Hills’ day, he still had a face. These days, he’s nothing but landslide remnants and an awkward New Hampshire marketing icon. When we drove past it, we could detect the smooth black outline of its decapitated stump against the stars. We also passed by the 75-year-old Jack O’Lantern Resort in Woodstock, with its pumpkin face sign that the Hills probably would also have passed back then.
As to the actual touchdown point of the encounter, the spot is basically unknown, even to the now-deceased participants. Betty claimed to be able to find it later in life, but by then she was so immersed in UFO culture and her status within it that even UFO believers were starting to doubt some of her assertions.
Finally, we made it home...completely uninterrupted, I’m loathe to add. I basically spent the whole trip forgetting to turn off my high-beams for passing cars going in the opposite direction, braking for phantom moose, and wondering if anybody else on the road was saying, Large Marge-style, “On this very night, 47 years ago, on this very stretch of road...” For the record, I also didn’t see anything I could have even forced myself to mistake for a UFO, but then again, I probably would’ve mistaken an actual UFO for not being one, I’m so skeptical in general.
In the end, for us, it was only a three-hour tour. For the Hills, it lasted until their dying days. Barney passed away at the young age of 46 due to a cerebral hemorrhage, eight years after the incident. Betty died in 2004, after living a long life fully enmeshed and celebrated in UFO culture. They’re both buried at the back of Greenwood Cemetery off North Rd. in Kingston, NH. Below each of the names on their cemetery plaques is stated, “of The Interrupted Journey.”
Anyway, as I mentioned, we’re now only a few days away from the 48th anniversary of the event, and in the intervening year since our little expedition, we’ve had a couple of other Hill-related adventures, which I’ll recount in Part II of this article.
The best thing about writing Part I of a two-part article is that I don’t have to come up with a tidy conclusion yet...
Part II gets a whole lot cooler with a New Hampshire gas station dedicated to the event and the original records, hypnosis transcripts, and artifacts from that night, access to which was kindly granted by the University of New Hampshire. I'll even get into the thematically and geographically related Incident at Exeter.