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Betty and Barney Hill's Bogus Journey

The names: Betty and Barney Hill, a loving couple and residents of the fine town of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The date: 19 September, 1961. The place: US Route 3, a lonely country road. They were returning from a vacation to Canada, but little did they know that they would be returning to terror! As they drove, they noticed a light moving erratically in the sky and, after a short time, it began to trail the car. Barney pulled over and got out his binoculars to get a better look, whereupon he discovered it was as hip of some sort, and he could make out human-like shapes moving behind a row of portholes. He kept repeating "I don't believe it!" to himself, though his wife, in the car and without binoculars, didn't know what he was talking about at the time.

As the craft grew closer, Barney cried out something along the lines of "They're gonna get us!" He hopped in the car and sped off "at breakneck speed." The next thing the couple knew, it was 2 hours later and they were only a short distance away from where they'd seen the craft, without memories. In the coming weeks, they would begin experiencing nightmares of being abducted and physically "examined" by aliens, undergo intense hypnotic therapy, and become the most famous UFO-related celebrities of the modern era.

This is one of the most well known and most historically important cases of alien abduction of all time, mainly because it's all baloney. However, it was well televised baloney, and that brought UFO abductions, and the little gray men that the Hills reported seeing, into the mainstream of popular culture.

What actually happened to the Hills that night? Hell if I know. But I know what didn't happen: They were not, absolutely not, kidnapped by space aliens. The reason I say this is based on a number of things. After the abduction, there's a period of "amnesia" where the abductee remembers nothing out of the ordinary. Then, after having some nightmares or "partially recovered memories," the abductee undergoes months of intense hypnotherapy, at the end of which they come to realize they really were kidnapped by space aliens. This is exactly how it happened in the Hill case: They never actually got around to telling the authoritative "complete" version of the story until years after the incident happened.

What the average UFO enthusiast will try to leave out of any discussion of this case is that, from the starting line, Betty Hill was 100% certain she'd been abducted by aliens. This isn't all that surprising, since she was a paranormal and cult enthusiast herself: When you spend most of your free time reading books on UFO abductions, there's a rather good chance you'll end up thinking you were abducted yourself. Her husband, on the other hand, didn't think anything unusual had happened, and only after six months of "therapy" was he ready to admit he'd been taken aboard a spaceship.

In the words of Dr Simon, a prominent Boston psychiatrist that treated the Hills "People do not necessarily tell the factual truth while they are under hypnosis ­- all they tell is what they believe to be the truth." It was his opinion that Betty Hill made the whole thing up and only under hypnosis was she able to convince her husband that it had happened. (Fun side note: UFO enthusiasts claim that Dr. Simon, a fully trained and reputable mental health professional, made these statements because he was afraid of damaging his reputation by being associated with UFOs. Hogwash. There are plenty of ways for a person to distance themselves from UFOs that don't include flat-out saying your patients are lying.)

So, let's look at some other interesting tidbits from the case. Betty Hill later brought a number of people out to the UFO "landing site." None of the people saw anything, except for Betty Hill, who claimed that a spacecraft and crew were sitting in the very center of the area. She was just, for some advanced alien reason, the only one able to spot it.

Barney Hill, for his part, described seeing a being inside the spacecraft "with large wraparound eyes" which I think we can all agree is a bit odd. He never mentioned it in the original version of his story: In fact, he made this claim 12 days after a popular TV show, The Outer Limits, featured a character with the exact same features. The Outer Limits was a show popular in the mid-sixties, and this particular episode, "The Bellero Shield", aired February 10, 1964. Hill never made any mention of such a creature in the three years between the "incident" and the airing of the show, then, less than a fortnight after seeing it on TV, he claimed he'd seen it in 1961. Wraparound eyes are a pretty unique feature, and to the extent of my knowledge, has never been done anywhere else in science fiction. This was all discovered by a gentleman named Martin Kottmeyer as he sat watching TV one night, mind you.

It's interesting to also note that I the episode the alien claims that he cannot speak English, but that he can understand a woman's speech by looking into her eyes. All creatures that have eyes, says the alien, have eyes that speak. Interestingly enough, in some of his hypnosis sessions, Barney Hill claimed to see disembodied eyes, or that he was able to speak to aliens through their eyes. Sadly, this insane tale, this mishmash of convoluted late-night TV was eaten up by the UFO enthusiast community, and now wraparound eyes are a not entirely rare detail in many abduction "cases." Before the Hills abductions were relatively rare, and wraparound eyes were totally absent from literature and cinema (except for this episode of The Outer Limits and a Japanese film named The Evil Brain From Outer Space. The special effect monsters for both of these features were made by the same man, who seemed to have a thing for crazy eyes.)

Anyway, before the Hills abduction and wraparound eyes were rare and non-existent; after their well-publicized adventures, people started coming out of the woodwork claiming both. The Hills would later claim it was impossible for Barney to have seen the show because he worked nights. However, his shift did not start until midnight, and the show aired at 7:30. You don't need to be a wizened old clockmaker to realize he had plenty of time.

So there you have it. It's the case that sparked the phenomena of alien abductions, little gray aliens, and crazy looking eyes. Is it possible that things really happened the way they said? Sure. Nothing's impossible. On the other hand, does it make any sense? Not even remotely. Did space people decide to use the publicity from this case as a starter's pistol, the green light to start kidnapping people en masse? Or did the publicity from this case create other abductions in the same way that this case was created from TV shows and books that Betty Hill had read? I'm no statistician, but even I can see that the second option is the one that makes the most sense.

In the words of Robert Schaeffer, "We can find all the major elements of contemporary UFO abductions in a 1930 comic adventure, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century."

Be seeing you.

First published in The Triangle 15 April 2005, causing a storm of controversy I didn't see coming, including accusations of being in cahoots with CSICOP because they had written a similar article some months before. I am not, nor was I at the time affiliated with CSICOP.