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An Alien Abduction? Hardly a Convincing One.

A 1961 UFO encounter marked the first widely-reported alien abduction in the United States.

In September of 1961, Barney and Betty Hill had taken a belated honeymoon trip and were on their way to New Hampshire from Montreal on what should have been an uneventful drive. It turned out to be anything but! Just as they were passing Lancaster on U.S. Route 3, Betty noted a bright light in the sky. The couple didn’t pay much attention to it until the light seemed to follow them, getting closer and closer. Betty had a look through binoculars and described what she saw as a “spinning disk” in the air. Barney at first dismissed this as imaginative thinking but when the light appeared to hover over them, he stopped the car, grabbed a gun from beneath the seat (he was after all American), got out, and pointed the binoculars at the strange light. Indeed, he saw a giant spinning disk, but more than that. Through its windows, some sort of beings dressed in uniforms were staring back at him!

When Barney tried to raise his hand with the gun, he found that he couldn’t. He panicked, ran back to the car and the couple took off down the road. As they later recounted, a drowsiness overtook them and by the time it passed, they had traveled miles without any memory of having done so. Once home, they realized that the trip had taken two hours longer than it should have. How could two hours just have disappeared?

Something strange had obviously happened. Betty found a tear in her dress she could not explain, Barney’s shoes had been scraped, their watches had ceased to function, and a compass needle held near their car began to whirl uncontrollably. The next day Betty reported the event to the local Air Force base and a report was taken. Convinced that they had experienced an alien encounter, she voraciously searched the local library for books about UFO sightings. Whether due to her readings or the real-life experience, she soon began to have disturbing dreams about having been taken aboard a spacecraft where she and her husband were asked, in accented English, to lie down on examination tables where they were probed and prodded in various ways. Strands of their hair were plucked, nail clippings taken and needles inserted into various bodily orifices.

The Hills first spoke publicly about their experience in their church in 1963, two years after the event, and followed with talks at local UFO study groups. Because of sleep problems and anxiety, Barney began to see a psychiatrist who referred him to a colleague, Dr. Benjamin Simon, specializing in hypnosis. Perhaps under hypnosis the couple could recall what actually happened and their anxieties could be resolved. During several sessions, the two gave similar, but not identical, accounts that reflected Betty’s dreams. This did not surprise Dr. Simon since it was clear that the couple had discussed the dreams in detail. Although he concluded that the abduction had been a fantasy, he thought the Hills were honest in their beliefs. In any case, the sessions had put an end to the couple’s anxiety about the supposed abduction.

The Hills were not really interested in publicity and their story would have faded away had not a reporter for the “Boston Traveller” got wind of it. He learned about the hypnosis sessions and managed to secure a tape of a talk the Hills had given. In 1965, his compelling account was picked up by United Press International, propelling the Hills to fame that was furthered by a book, “The Interrupted Journey,” detailing their version of the alien encounter. Since then, numerous expert critics have refuted the Hills’ account, pointing out the possibility of false memories surfacing during hypnosis, the ease of mistaking an aircraft warning beacon for a UFO and Betty’s story changing every time it was told. After Barney’s death, she became a dedicated ufologist, claiming constant harassment by UFOs.

While the veracity of the Hills’ close encounter of the third kind is suspect, there is no question that the publicity the supposed event eventually spawned a host of alien abduction reports. The aliens in these adventures are commonly described as having skinny bodies and large heads with oval eyes, just like a picture drawn by Barney under hypnosis depicting the leader of the extraterrestrials who had abducted him and Betty on that lonely road in 1961. Today a sign on New Hampshire Route 3 marks the spot where the alleged incident occurred, noting that this was “the first widely-reported UFO abduction in the United States.”


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