THE STORY IN BRIEF: On the night of September 19/20, 1961, Barney and Betty Hill, returning from a honeymoon in Canada, encountered a large UFO in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The next thing they remembered was being thirty miles down the road with two hours elapsed that they could not account for. Both physical evidence and nightmares alarmed them. Later, they were hypnotically regressed and recovered memories of being on board the craft and subjected to medical exams by non-human entities. Their story swept America in the mid-1960s, and remains the most famous abduction case in history.
A First Time for Everything
The mysterious case of Barney and Betty Hill happened almost sixty years ago but its relevance seems greater than ever. It remains the most famous alien abduction case in world history simply because it was all about the firsts.
- It was the first alien abduction claim in the United States.
- It was the first reported case of missing time.
- It was the first use of hypnotic regression to recover abduction memories.
- It was the first public description of what we now know as the Grays.
- It was the first time a couple had claimed a simultaneous abduction.
Startling and shocking when first reported, the Betty and Barney Hill case became the essential template for what followed in the entire field of alien abduction phenomena. When one claims abduction experience today, it is a reasonable question to ask if the person reporting such an event was influenced by previous accounts in books, articles, TV shows, films, documentaries, and social media because the specifics are known worldwide.
When the Hills said it happened to them, however, they were telling a story that came from someplace else, someplace original. Betty and Barney Hill had no reference point from which to make up a story about an abduction. It was the last thing on their minds.
In 1961, most people still called them flying saucers, and it was a big enough leap to think that something without wings might be buzzing about in our skies. The idea that those craft might have occupants was more than any reasonable person could even contemplate. Getting specific about what they looked like and where they came from was far too improbable. Talking about having medical experiments conducted was outrageous times infinity.
Let’s start with the simple fact of the matter: Barney Hill was a Black man and Betty was a white woman, and the Civil Rights movement that they both believed in was ripping at America’s soul. Not only were they an interracial couple, working for the NAACP, but they were living with the full time stress they saw in the silent stares of disapproval that followed them, even on the best days.
Still, they were also living normal lives to the extent it was possible. Betty was a social worker, taking on child welfare cases for the state of New Hampshire. Barney worked for the Post Office and had a grueling commute to Boston and back for his graveyard shift.
Before the events of September 1961, they got a lot of comic grief from their friends because they had the same names as those cartoon characters, the best friends of the Flintstones, Barney and Betty Rubble. The Flintstones was the first animated series on primetime TV, and it had debuted on ABC just one year before the abduction. On many levels, these were more innocent times.
The Hill case was so sensational that it’s no wonder many Americans fell in love with it. It was so disruptive. At a time when most people wouldn’t even talk about UFOs in polite society, here came a story (publicized in the mid 1960s) that confronts its receiver with specificity and cultural impact. It was like giving the finger to the restraint of the 1950s and embracing the chaos of a new decade of change.
In the years since September 19/20, 1961, with the growth of cable TV, streaming services, podcasts, and social media on the Internet, the Hill case has become a staple of conjecture, accusations, and awe. Believers and skeptics regularly, even today, butt heads over what happened.
The Internet has not been kind to the accuracy of the Hill’s story. Dozens of articles, even in mainstreamers like History, have recognizable mistakes and distortions. Many authors of these pieces have obviously thrown them together fast with limited or zero fact checking. With each amplification, the story gets a little more frayed around the edges as writers feed on the assumptions of other writers.
There’s no way a single Medium article could ever straighten out all the deception, misinformation, and poor reporting that accompanies the Hill case these days. Still, the basics can set us free. Here they are, as straight up as possible.
It Happened One Night
The Hills had planned to stay in Montreal the night of September 19th. The standard line is that they changed their minds when they heard about a storm heading for the East coast.
It may also have had something to do with Barney’s discomfort about the possibility of getting a room as an interracial couple. He already felt like an outsider, living in mostly white Portsmouth, but these people in Montreal spoke French as well. He was an outsider-squared in that city up north.
So, for whatever reasons, they decided to pull a long late night into early morning drive, at least seven hours of hard mountain darkness ahead, and arrive in Portsmouth before the sun came up. They stopped for food at a diner, probably feeling the stares when they entered. Barney got a cheeseburger despite his high blood pressure, and Betty got the chocolate cake. They left just a few minutes after 10 p.m.
Then things got strange. Here are the bullet points:
- They saw something in the sky they thought might be a satellite or a plane only it followed them. They tried to get away from it but eventually it forced them to stop in the middle of the road and they could see that it was an actual wingless object. With binoculars, Barney even saw beings looking back at him through windows. They heard a buzzing sound.
- The next thing they knew, it was two hours later, and they were thirty miles further down the road, feeling hazy, not sure how they got there.
- Back in Portsmouth, they realized that Betty’s new dress was torn, and her earrings were missing. Barney’s new shoes were scuffed badly. They felt clammy and violated.
- A compass went wild when it was placed on their car trunk where they had observed a collection of half-dollar sized round spots that weren’t there when they left. Plus, the car clock and their watches had stopped.
- They reported the case to Pease Air Force Base and to the National Investigations Committee for Aerial Phenomena. They spoke to a few key friends and family. Everyone saw how shaken they were.
- Betty began to have frightening nightmares about being taken aboard the saucer they saw. Weird dreams about blue people in uniforms, not alien Grays.
- Over two years later, they submitted to hypnotic regression, conducted by a Dr. Benjamin Simon. In separate accounts, they each told the same story from different points of view, about being taken on board the craft, having a medical exam conducted, and, in Betty’s case, having a conversation with a Leader. These tapes exist, some eleven hours of them, and they are shocking and authentic.
- Soon a local paper, The Boston Traveller, broke their story based on the old-fashioned investigative journalistic efforts of the dogged John Luttrell. Later, after Luttrell broke the ice, author John Fuller wrote a book about the Hills. Look magazine excerpted the book. America went wild for this story. NBC made a movie-of-the-week about it.
- Various attempts to prove the case have included testing Betty’s dress for DNA and finding blood on the inside where she claimed a needle was placed into her belly button as a pregnancy test. Also, a “Star Map” of the Zeta-Reticuli origin of the craft that one of the aliens showed to Betty turns out to match astronomical realities that wouldn’t be known for a decade after their abduction.
- Barney died in 1969 of a brain aneurysm. At his funeral, the NAACP provided food for the guests who included city, county and state politicians and community leaders. Betty passed away in 2004 of lung cancer.
Stand by Me
Eunice (Betty) Barrett-Stewart and Barney Hill met in the summer of 1956 when Barney, his then wife, Ruby, and their two children met Betty while on vacation. After Barney and Ruby separated, early the following year, Barney and Betty, also divorced, started hooking up.
Betty and Barney were married in Camden, New Jersey on May 12, 1960. It was the second marriage for both of them and they had taken a big leap when they said “I do.” Their marriage said in no uncertain terms that they wanted to be color blind in the choice of their soulmate but, of course, that was never possible. Not in a country that was turning fire hoses on citizens and arresting people for sitting at a lunch counter.
That’s exactly what makes their story so poignant. Betty, 42, and Barney, 39, were in love, and they were off on a long-delayed honeymoon to the romantic hotspot of Niagra Falls with a return through Montreal. They didn’t have much money (about seventy bucks in cash for the trip and no credit cards), but they had each other. They thought they deserved some private time together.
I’ve come to see their relationship and this twist in the road it took in New Hampshire’s White Mountains as a love story told through a lens darkly.
Theirs was not an abduction experience that happened to one of them, rendering the spouse or significant other a mere observer. No, Betty and Barney Hill went through this trauma together as a couple. When no one else could be counted on, they had each other. Always.
As a backdrop to that way thinking, consider that the Ben E. King version of Stand by Me was all over the radio in 1961 (it hit #1 on the R&B charts) when Barney and Betty had their encounter with strange. It had been recorded in April of 1961 and immediately took its place in among that year’s great songs that included Tossin’ and Turnin’, The Lion Sleeps Tonight, Runaround Sue, Travelin’ Man, The Twist and dozens of other classics.
When the night has come
And the land is dark
And the moon is the only light we’ll see
No I won’t be afraid
Oh, I won’t be afraid
Just as long as you stand, stand by me
The song is one of the most romantic ones ever written. Yet it also captures the angst of that late night drive through the isolated mountain pass. The Hills were driving their blue and white 1957 Chevy Bel Air and, if they could get reception on the AM car radio, they might well have heard it that night, it was that ubiquitous.
What the song also unlocks is the feeling that no matter how scary the dark of night can be, it is more bearable if you have your lover standing with you. Barney had Betty by his side, and she had him.
To me, Stand by Me is the theme song not only of their abduction but of their relationship.
The Story Heard Round the World
As a young kid, I first read about the case in my parent’s October 1966 copy of Look magazine where it was a cover article, “Aboard a Flying Saucer.” While most of America heard about the case this way, it was journalist John Luttrell Sr. of the Boston Traveller who broke the story the year before.
In any case, the Look article featured excerpts from the blockbuster book, The Interrupted Journey by John Fuller who had just written another New Hampshire UFO non-fiction book, Incident at Exeter. Fuller wrote his book in a hurry to meet a crushing deadline and the author had to deal with notes from his publisher, the Hills, and even the hypnotist who regressed them. It’s not that it was bad, Fuller had a flair for language, but it was incomplete.
Almost ten years later, in 1975, James Earl Jones optioned the book and produced and starred in the TV movie, The UFO Incident. Many people remember the film fondly today but, candidly, while Jones and Estelle Parsons are tremendous actors, the movie no longer holds up to our memories. The aliens are laughable, the craft not much better, and the script is limited by the narrow focus on the hypnosis sessions.
“People Already Say Things”
In 1996, as the co-creator of NBC’s Dark Skies, Brent Friedman and I made Betty and Barney characters in the series’ two-hour pilot episode, “The Awakening.” They were in only this one scene but, as a result, the clip is a pretty decent introduction to the case:
“I am a Black man married to a white woman, Mister Loengard. People already say things.”
That’s one of my favorite lines I’ve written that has ever been produced. The actor who plays Barney Hill in this clip — Basil Wallace — delivers the line with great power, authority, and dignity yet manages to convey Barney Hill’s exasperation with the bizarre situation he finds himself in. By the way, I do understand that Betty Hill was no blonde, but our casting director got us Lee Garlington, a tremendous actress, and our director Tobe Hooper exercised his dramatic license when it came to hair color.
Captured! The Betty and Barney Hill UFO Experience
While producing Dark Skies, I met the iconic ufologist Stanton Friedman, that gruff, lovable mad scientist and nuclear physicist. I optioned his book, Top Secret/Majic, and in the years that followed learned a great deal about flying saucers, Roswell and Majestic-12 from him.
In 2007, Stan and Betty Hill’s niece Kathleen Marden co-wrote Captured! The Betty and Barney UFO Experience, the first book since The Interrupted Journey to really update and expand the story.
My wife Jackie and I have optioned Captured! for our company Stellar Productions with the intent of developing it as a dramatic feature film or television series. Along with producer Steven Adams of Alta Global Media, we are currently talking about it with potential production partners.
We all appreciate the book’s goal to dig deeper into their lives, provide new information about their UFO encounter and abduction, and add new twists and turns in evidence to come.
Sadly, Stan Friedman is not around to help promote the 60th anniversary edition, having passed away in 2019. Because of interest that derives from the anniversary, both Kathy Marden and myself will be appearing as on-camera analysts in a two-hour special about the Hills on the Travel Channel that will air next October.
All of this is to say that over these years, I’ve come to have opinions… and theories…
New Thinking on an Old Case
Many readers can probably debate the case based on what they already know, dividing neatly into believers and skeptics. That’s definitely a valid exercise.
From my own point-of-view, it seems clear that something quite mysterious did happen on the night and morning of September 19/20, 1961 up in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Still, what exactly are we talking about?
As mentioned earlier, building off the rights we’ve optioned from the Captured! book, my company Stellar Productions intends to tell the Betty and Barney Hill story as either a limited or continuing television series. We’ve given enormous amount of time to considering what might have happened and why.
Our take is much different than what’s gone before, quite relevant to the issues that confront us today. We see the Captured television series as a perfect creative idea that could express the zeitgeist of our times, blending the dawning of UFO reality with a marriage put under pressure by the movement for racial justice and living in the immediate shadow of the Cold War.
Without showing our creative hand completely, here are some of the different ways we see the story.
What if it’s not a binary choice?
Almost from the second their story broke across the national consciousness, the case was viewed at its most simplistic level.
- Were Barney and Betty Hill telling the truth about being taken into an alien spaceship?
- Or were they liars trying to become famous or rich or both?
To this day, it’s how the story is framed by skeptics and believers alike in those dozens of Internet articles, and television documentaries. What if they were telling the truth as they understood it, that something terrible and frightening had happened to them, but the answer unexpected?
What if they were targeted?
There is another assumption to the case that they must have been victims of random chance, lifted summarily out of their lives by alien creatures because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. What if it wasn’t random?
- Is it possible that whatever forces interrupted their lives knew exactly what they were doing and who they were doing it to?
- Is it possible that Barney and Betty Hill were chased, stopped and taken aboard a craft specifically because of who they were?
Race was always a part of their story but it was so much easier to talk about the bright, shiny object of UFO abduction than the hard reality of grim discrimination in America in 1961. Even in New Hampshire, uncalled for stops by police officers and whispers about housing and employment were part of daily life for people of color. A mixed-marriage couple always felt the eyes of others upon them.
Both Barney and Betty were active in the NAACP — he was legal redress chairman for the Portsmouth chapter and Betty was editor of the newsletter. To be a committed Civil Rights activist at a time when police were attacking fellow Americans for expressing their constitutional rights was no small matter. Barney was particularly proud of his appointment to the Governor’s Council of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.
If Barney and Betty were abducted by extraterrestrials, it’s interesting to note that while interested in Barney’s dentures, these alien beings appeared to have no interest in the darker color of his skin. They treated both of the Hills as humans.
Still, it is impossible to think of their case without wondering if some horrible racial incident might have happened in the White Mountains, something so extreme that memories of a horrific alien abduction would still be a preferable memory to the actual truth about man’s inhumanity to man.
The story of Betty and Barney Hill must take into account the global face-off between the United States and the Soviet Union in 1961. It was the peak of the Cold War. Just a year after the Hill abduction, the Cuban Missile Crisis would take the world to the brink of nuclear armageddon.
Over the years, UFOs have been associated time and again with an interest in our nuclear weapons from the missile shutdowns at Malmstrom Air Force Base in 1967 to the Tic-Tac sightings by the USS Nimitz in 2004.
- Pease Air Force Base
In 1947, the nation’s only nuclear bomber base was located at, you guessed it, Roswell, New Mexico. It stayed that way until the mid 1950s when the nation’s non-ICBM bomber assets were moved to where they could get a more direct line of flight to our nation’s enemy, the Soviet Union.
That new base was Pease Air Force Base in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, only miles away from where Betty and Barney lived. The AFB became operational in 1956. It was also the place where the Hills turned the day after their encounter for help. They reported the incident to officers there who promised they would pass it on to Project Blue Book.
- Soviet Spies and Subs
Because Pease AFB was so important, Portsmouth was always thought to be at risk of infiltration by Soviet agents. It was just assumed that Soviet subs routinely cruised the cold waters of the Atlantic, near Portsmouth. To a Soviet agent, an interracial couple might have been seen as compromised, a bonus for thoughts of exploitation.
- Mind Games
In 1975, a decade and a half after the Hill’s visit, the Senate’s Church Committee investigating CIA abuses revealed the existence of a program known as “MK-Ultra.” It was dedicated to experiments with mind control for military applications, using powerful psychoactive drugs like LSD and BZ.
As it turns out, MK-Ultra often used Montreal as a base of operations, possibly so it wasn’t headquartered on U.S. soil and allowed plausible deniability. Montreal, of course, is where Betty and Barney honeymooned and where they were returning from the night of their abduction.
Will the Real Barney Hill Please Stand Up?
Less than two months after the Look magazine article broke, December 12, 1966, Barney appeared on the popular primetime game show To Tell the Truth where he and two other men all answered questions from a celebrity panel tasked with finding out who the real Barney Hill was.
Some people believe that they can see inside a person’s soul and become a living lie detector. If you feel that way, watch the segment for yourself and reach your own conclusion.
Just a reminder — don’t look for the truth only from Betty Hill. In her later years, she became what we call in Hollywood an “unreliable narrator,” given to seeing UFOs everywhere and claiming continuing contact throughout her life.
No, look for the truth in Barney Hill. There he is on national TV, a couple of years before his death, clearly uncomfortable to be in this self-created spotlight. He says less than the other two men on the stage with him. Is he uncomfortable because he’s lying or because he’s not?
Is Barney Hill telling the truth?
I think he is.
What Really Happened?
After reading everything, talking to the so-called experts, and debating the story with believers and skeptics, it’s clear to me that Betty and Barney Hill experienced something traumatic on their drive through the White Mountains of September 19/20, 1961.
There are credible reports of radar confirmations and other witnesses to go along with the case. There is the essential decency of the Hills and the fact that everyone who spoke to them in the immediate aftermath of the event judged them to be telling the truth as they knew it.
Given the absolute fact that the U.S. government has pretty much confirmed that UFO/UAP reality exists and that we don’t make these craft and it’s unlikely that Russia, China or anyone else does (or did going back to 1947), there is more reason than ever to take the Hill’s abduction account seriously.
In the years to come, as the UFO/UAP story becomes accepted reality, journalists are going to dig deeper and deeper into some of these classic cases like Roswell and the Hill abduction.
I know the Blue Book and NICAP reports exist because I’ve read them. My guess is that there is another report out there, buried in an archive somewhere, that tells the rest of the story. I hope I’m around to read it when it is finally released through the Freedom of Information Act or other means. It should be a very compelling read.