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What Did Barney Hill See?

Barney Hill is a subject of great interest: His wife had read at least one book about UFOs shortly before she had a nightmare that convinced her she and her husband had been abducted by space aliens.

It took Betty Hill about six months to crack Barney, and get him to say that he believed the same thing. To Barney's credit, though, she had the help of a hypnotist. After he cracked, was Barney telling the truth about what happened? Was he just henpecked into agreeing with his wife? Was his tale the product of confabulation during hypnosis? Or did he just get so confused that reality and fantasy detached from each other, and he went a very special sort of mad?

I don't know. I never met him; I doubt very much that we will ever have a truly definitive answer. However, I believe that the fact that Barney's story changed overr time, by somewhat dramatic amounts, points to the possibility that when he was describing his UFO abduction experience, he was unable to convince himself that it had happened as thoroughly as his wife had. Therefore, his version is hazy and changes, as opposed to his wife, who knew what she wanted to see and was able to burn it into her mind that this is exactly what she had seen.

Barney Hill's description of the space aliens seems to have been different every time he was hypnotized or interviewed. Initially, he described the inhabitants of the space craft as dressed in black garments a la the Gestapo. Later their clothes changed; later yet, their physical appearances changed; later yet all bets were off as he bounced from one description to another. Here is a brief look chronologically, story by story, for the details.

Still Under construction. I had not collected as many images as I thought.

19 September 1961 - Betty and Barney Hill return home from a vacation in Canada, where they had been relaxing after Barney fell ill with an ulcer. Later, they would claim this is the date on which they were kidnapped by men from beyond the stars.

Late 1963 - The Hills begin undergoing hypnosis at the hands of Dr. Simon, who would eventually conclude that they were sharing a manufactured story spurred by a nightmare. During these sessions, Barney describes entering the alien spacecraft and seeing the occupants. He describes them as wearing shiny black suits with matching caps. There was one alien who seemed a little bit taller and was standing at a window; Barney called him the Leader. He was dressed the same way, and when asked about him, Barney says that he looks like a Nazi, a "German Nazi." Though Barney seems to have served during World War II it is unclear whether or not he had ever seen a Nazi first-hand. Drawings show The Leader wearing a stylish scarf. From Barney's interview with Walter Webb, NICAP investigator, 21 October 1961:

"The figures, according to Barney Hill were of human form dressed in shiny black uniforms and black caps with peaks or bills on them (which could be seen when the figures turned their heads). The uniforms were like glossy leather… The figures reminded the observer of the cold precision of German officers; they moved smoothly and efficiently and showed no emotion except for one figure operating a lever who, Mr. Hill claimed, looked over his shoulder and smiled… The 'leader' at the window held a special attraction for the witness and frightened him terribly."

Space Nazi: half as tall, twice as intimidating

During these early sessions, Barney also mentions the presence of a red-headed Irishman. He's rather nervous that such a fellow is present, because he has the impression that Irishmen in general do not like black people. The Irishman is not mentioned at all in later accounts.

Similarly, Barney later claims that the leader is the only one dressed in black; the other men on the ship are wearing plain trousers and shirts that look to be made of a material similar to denim.

Strangely enough, Barney also describes the ship at this point. He says it looks like a regular, saucer-shaped UFO, but with the distinction that it has 'fins' on the side. Each fin has a red light on the end, and between the two are the portholes or windows through which Barney observes some of the crew through his binoculars. According to an early interview with Walter Webb, Barney says that he can see a crewman through a window who smiles at him and pulls a lever. He's labelled "figure that grinned" in the image below, Barney's original drawing of the craft. As he does so, the 'fins' begin to come out of the sides of the ship, like a transformer or an F14.

So what's so odd about this? Later, Barney recounts under hypnosis that the beings inside the craft had no mouths whatsoever. Various people have speculated on why he originally said a being smiled at him and later said none of them had mouths, so I will leave the theorizing to you, the reader. Also note that the concept of retractable wings controlled by a big lever would seem like cutting-edge technology back in the day; currently, it seems about as technologically advanced as 8-tracks and shag rugs. These fins seem to me something along the lines of a method for Barney to save face. He thinks it's a plane, but his wife says it's a UFO. So rather than just giving in to his wife, why not just decide that the thing is a UFO that looks like a plane?

Interestingly enough, very few UFOs are ever reported as having wings. Very few are reported as having portholes spanning the whoel breadth of the front of the UFO, though some are reported as having flashing red lights. As far as I have been able to tell, this is the first time that any one UFO has had all three.

In every version of the story, as the Hills flee the ship, Betty turns to her husband and asks if he now believes in flying saucers, to which he answers no. He's convinced that what they saw was an airplane or military helicopter. She badgered him for months that it must have been a UFO, and eventually he changes his story. For the record, Betty also mentioned early on that her abductors had "Jimmy Durante noses" which, being born in 1981, I think maybe means that the noses were enormous? Who the hell is Jimmy Durante?

10 February 1964 - An episode of The Outer Limits called The Bellero Shield airs. For more information on this, please read the article The Eyes That Spoke by Martin Kottmeyer. Shown below, but not very well: the Bifrost alien and his wrap-around eyes.

22 February 1964 - Less than a fortnight after The Bellero Shield airs, Barney now describes the occupants of the ship as not wearing any clothes and having large, wrap-around eyes. This is an image that is fairly rare in the media, yet Barney more or less quotesThe Bellero Shield shortly after it is aired, mentioning not only wraparound eyes, but eyes that speak to him. Statistical probabiliy of this being a coincidence have been calculated to be approximately the same as the statistical probability of someone simultaneously winning the lottery, finding a patch of four-leaf clovers, and being hit by a meteor as their long-lost twin walks by.

1966 - The book The Interrupted Journey comes out. No one really notices until an excerpt is published in Look magazine. The book then becomes a national best-seller.

1967 - David Baker does ten charcoal sketches of the abductors based on a "police sketch-artist approach" with Barney. The aliens are beginning to look less and less like German Nazis and more and more like... ah.. .zombie gorillas?

1969 - Barney Hill dies of a cerebral hemorrhage.

1975 - NBC makes a made-for-TV movie called The UFO Incident. James Earl Jones stars as Barney Hill and Estelle Parsons plays Betty. To show how thoroughly the film was publicized, the picture below is of an advertisement for it placed in The National Enquirer. Inquiring minds, and all.

Here's an image from the film itself. You can see that the aliens have undergone their final metamorphoses into naked, tiny gray hobgoblins. Gone are the hair and noses described by Betty, though they still retain a semblance of the black military uniforms described by Barney.