Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Betty and Barney Hill: From Bedrock to The Beyond

(Betty and Barney Hill with Delsey, 1961)

Betty and Barney Hill, an interracial couple from the pre-Civil Rights city of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, like their cartoon namesakes Betty and Barney Rubble of the stone-age town of Bedrock, were probably no more equipped than their animated counterparts to grasp the concept that flying saucers and invaders from space could be real.

Like Greek God Atlas's seven daughters who morphed into the constellation of Taurus, Betty Hill also transformed into a heavenly star. Hill, born Eunice Elizabeth Barrett, June 28, 1919, in the rural New England hamlet of Newton, New Hampshire, became, along with hubby Barney, born July 20, 1922, in Newport News, Virginia, one of the most high profile, self-professed UFO abductees of the 20th Century.

On September 19, 1961, at 10:15 P.M., while returning from a Canadian vacation with their beloved dog Delsey, two hours of the Hills' memories were erased after the couple stopped at Indian Head, a remote resort area in Thornton, NH just off U.S. Route 3. The Hills, whose vehicle had been pursued by an airborne light, watched the luminous object through binoculars. When they saw that their stalker was a flat, pancake-shaped craft, rimmed with windows from which humanoid occupants stared back, the couple jumped into their car and sped away. Or so they thought.

Returning home to coastal Portsmouth, NH, the Hills gradually began to realize that they could not remember what happened to them during a two-hour period of their stop at Indian Head. Nightmares in which the couple found themselves aboard an exotic aircraft, surrounded and medically examined by other-worldly beings, disturbed the sleeping and waking hours of the Hills' lives. After receiving confirmation from Major Paul W. Henderson, of Portsmouth's Pease Air Force base, that a mysterious flying object appeared on radar over New Hampshire the night they stopped at Indian Head, the couple sought medical help through Boston-based psychiatrist/neurologist Dr. Benjamin Simon.

What emerged from numerous hypnotic regression sessions Simon conducted with the Hills became a landmark in alien abduction research as well as fodder for a thoughtfully written book from which a plausible made-for-TV movie emerged. Connecticut author John G. Fuller (who wrote the Incident At Exeter, which recounts multiple ufo sightings in the town of Exeter, New Hampshire in the fall of 1965) chronicled the Hills' close encounter of the third kind in his book The Interrupted Journey, giving world-wide exposure, and considerable credence to the couple's unnerving recovery of their repressed memories.

In the 1975 Universal Studios film The UFO Incident, acclaimed performers Estelle Parsons, and James Earl Jones, portrayed the Hills. The driving force behind the movie's production was actor Jones himself, who, having read Fuller's book, was eager to play the role of postal worker Barney Hill.

(Estelle Parsons, as Betty, and James Earl Jones, as Barney, wonder where Fred and Wilma are...)

While aboard their abductors' craft, Betty recalled being shown a "star map", which she was later able to draw after receiving post-hypnotic suggestion from Dr. Simon. The map, recreated in a 3-D model in 1966 by Marjorie Fish, a school teacher and astronomer, was later studied and enhanced by Professor Walter Mitchell of the Ohio State University, thus enabling the various points to be identified as Zeta Reticuli.

Barney, who was a member of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and the Rockingham County (NH) Community Action Program, died of a cerebral hemmorhage on February 25, 1969, fueling speculation amongst ufologists that his early demise was attributed to the medical examination performed on him by his captors.

Betty, a career social worker specializing in the field of adoption and foster parent training, who had became the grande dame of ufology, died in Portsmouth, New Hampshire on October 17, 2004. Her desire had been to shed a positive light on the alien beings she encountered that long ago September night, but as times changed and interest in the subject became campy and commercialized, Betty, whose head was in the stars but feet planted firmly on the ground, grew tired of the unsought celebrity and plethora of claimed abductions. ''If you were to believe the numbers of people who are claiming this, it would figure out to 3,000 to 5,000 abductions in the United States alone every night,'' she said. ''There wouldn't be room for planes to fly.''

(A black cat with space alien eyes watches Betty and Barney from inside a Halloween pumpkin)