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Nolan's Pop Culture ReviewOn the 50th Anniversary of the Betty & Barney Hill UFO Abduction
POSTED BY NOLAN B. CANOVA, September 20, 2011    Share

Long-time PCR readers will recall the great enthusiasm I've always displayed toward any and all reports of UFO encounters, and their effect on popular culture. The month of September marks 50 years since the most famous alien abduction case in history, that of Betty and Barney Hill took place. It was the first of its kind in contemporary times and set the tone forever after of how such events would be described.

Now, when I say "the first of its kind", I am aware of the exploits of the late George Adamski, a UFO experiencer of the 1950s who documented through photographs and interviews with the media his association with Nordic "Space Brothers", outer-space people with whom he purportedly occasionally rode in saucer-shaped flying craft to other planets (especially Venus, as I recall). Regardless of the veracity of such claims, he was not abducted, nor was he subjected to any experiments by small gray aliens. That, my friends, started with Betty & Barney Hill.

Betty and Barney Hill
Their story in brief: late on the night of September 19, 1961, social-worker Betty Hill and her husband Barney, a postal-worker, were driving back to Portsmouth, New Hampshire from a vacation in Niagara Falls and Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Somewhere along U.S. Route 3, Betty observed some lights in the sky she first thought might be falling stars, but the angles were wrong. She urged Barney to pull over and investigate more closely with binoculars, which he did. At first he thought it was merely a commerical airliner, but changed his mind when the vehicle appeared to move at odd angles. The couple got back in the car and continued driving the lonely stretch of highway, eventually stopping again to observe when the lights moved in much closer. They heard a series of strange beeping noises and that was their last memory until they "woke up" in their moving car down the road about 35 miles, again hearing strange beeping noises, now fading out. As their consciousness cleared, they realized they were missing the last three hours of their lives from their memories.

It would be two years before Betty took the story public, and that was mostly because of strange, physical lasting effects of the encounter. Another year later, psychiatrist Dr. Benjamin Simon of Boston would hypnotically regress the couple in separate sessions to try and determine the source of their anguish. These taped sessions yielded an amazing story of alien abduction, medical experiments, and limited communication with extraterrestrials. Simon concluded the couple were actually sharing memories of dream experiences by Betty and were likely never actually abducted by aliens. He took no position on what happened on U.S. Route 3. The case remains controversial.

Alien star map hand-drawn by Betty Hill
Later, Betty drew a "star map" she supposedly saw on a wall of the spacecraft. The aliens said the map pointed to their home planet. Schoolteacher Marjorie Fish made a project of this map, reverse-engineering it to try and determine where the planet might be. Eventually, she settled on one of the planets of the Zeta Reticuli system, a conclusion that had some casual support from astronomers of the day.

The Hill's experiences resulted in the seminal book The Interrupted Journey by John G. Fuller (1966), and the amazingly good made-for-TV movie The UFO Incident (1975) starring Estelle Parsons and James Earl Jones as Betty & Barney Hill. (It is worth noting that the Hills were a mixed-race couple at a time when such a thing was comparatively rare. This provided grist for the mill of some critics who blamed the Hill's post-traumatic sense of urgency on their social status.)

That's basically it in brief. For a more detailed and exhaustive play-by-play of the Hill encounter, the Wikipedia entry is a good place to start.

For a pretty good skeptic's take on this affair, I recommend this Skeptoid page. Although the Benjamin Simon material is only lightly glossed over, Betty's dubious credibility on all things Ufological becomes something to consider. I do reject the frequent suggestion that Betty got her image of aliens off an episode of the '60s TV show The Outer Limits, "The Bellero Shield". To me the ghostly alien in "Wolf 359" is much closer. But I digress...

Barney died in 1969. Betty continued gaining notoriety in UFO circles. I myself saw Betty Hill interviewed on The Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder. Somewhere in the interview she claimed to see her alien "friends" from her back yard about every night! Stunned, Snyder pressed for details, and Betty revealed that she sat outside at night, looking at "all the lights in the sky" and made some allusions that communications of some sort took place. Evidently, Betty had a nearly life-long obsession with UFOs and almost all lights in the sky had special meaning. Betty passed away in 2004.

Despite the controversy, reports of alien abductions were basically codified after the 1961 Hill encounter, with only rare exceptions (e.g., The Pascagula Incident). The small gray aliens with large wrap-around, almond-shaped eyes, the hypnotic trance to subdue the victims, the abduction onto the spacecraft itself, and most notably, the horrific medical probing examinations where the aliens seem oblivious to the pain and suffering they're causing all became part of the national perception of UFO abductions.

The most notable of these types of tales would probably be The Travis Walton abduction, subject of the book and film Fire in the Sky, and author Whitley Streiber's experiences detailed in his tremendously influential bestseller, Communion.

My aim in this column is not to prove or disprove any of these claims, nor will I take any position on their veracity. I am merely pointing out how popular culture is often affected by highly-publicized stories of extraordinary circumstances. After a while it becomes part of the national consciousness to the degree it defies common debunking and is accepted as pretty much, well, fact. Betty & Barney Hill are the closest to household names out of sheer publicity and marketing (like Roswell).

And to this end it is worth noting the 50th anniversary of The Betty & Barney Hill Alien Abduction as an historic incident that forever changed the perception of UFO encounters.

"Nolan's Pop Culture Review" is ©2011 by Nolan B. Canova. All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2011 by Nolan B. Canova.

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