Betty Hill lives alone. Tucked neatly into a quiet residential New Hampshire street, her house is an eclectic collection of knickknacks and memories, garden sculptures and ornaments, pictures, photos, trinkets and collectibles. And, much like her life, the scheme of her home seems to be dominated by the overwhelming presence of one particular curiosity: UFO models, paintings and trinkets, head-bobbing alien figurines, paranormal postcards and souvenirs, and fringe curios dominate nearly every available inch of her abode. A small flying saucer is landed on the mantle alongside a miniature wooden cat (Betty’s affection for cats seems to fall second only to her fascination with the unexplained). A grinning plastic extraterrestrial lurks between a delicate porcelain dancing feline and a colorful, ball-shaped spacecraft/Christmas ornament—another rascally ET peeks mischievously out from behind a small framed photograph of Betty and her late husband, Barney.
On a warm summer afternoon, for any interested visitor to her home, Ms. Hill will not pass up the opportunity to retell her famous story. Stranger or old friend, concerned skeptic or diehard fanatic, truthseeker or believer, any mention of the UFO phenomenon in general, or the alien abduction phenomenon in particular, will earn a chiding reaction in Betty. Any attempt to compare notes or contrast cases is met with reluctance by Ms. Hill—“I have never met anyone who’s had an experience like ours,” she stubbornly insists. She has a story to tell. But make no mistakes, it is her story.
For those who do not know that story—On September 26, 1961, while driving home from a Canadian vacation through the White Mountains near Indian Head, New Hampshire, Betty and her husband Barney saw a strange light—an unidentified craft which appeared land in the woods off the side of the road. Soon after, they were stopped and taken aboard the craft where they encountered nonhuman beings whom Betty describes as the “UFO People.” During the event (which went largely unremembered by both Betty and her husband, to be recalled much later under hypnosis) they were given what seemed to be a medical examination, and Betty was shown an intriguing “star chart” purporting to describe the interstellar movements of her abductors.
This unprecedented experience was brought to the public and made famous in John Fuller’s book, The Interrupted Journey, and in the movie The UFO Incident starring James Earl Jones and Estelle Parsons.
“Though,” Ms. Hill tells us, “My story was almost never heard at all.” It seems that the publisher at Dial Press was considering passing on Fuller’s book—until, while heading into his office in Manhattan, he had a UFO sighting of his own. A sighting that not only convinced him of the veracity of the UFO phenomenon, but changed his mind regarding the publication of the Hill’s story, as well.
The book went on to be a bestseller, and the movie prompted an even larger public reaction. Ms. Hill recalls the thrill of speaking about her experience with James Earl Jones on the telephone, and of spending a weekend in a New York City hotel with Estelle Parsons. Betty was happy with the film, “Even though some of the [more controversial] details of our medical examination were edited out.” Her only real complaint was in the way that the UFO People were depicted in the movie. “Oriental girls were dressed as aliens, but because of the heavy masks and costumes, they lacked expression,” Betty explains. “The movie was good,” she says, “but the UFO People, didn’t look like what I saw.”
To illustrate just what indeed she did see, Betty brought out a sculpture of one of the UFO People—a life-sized bust which she affectionately referred to as “Junior.” The sculpture had been created by the artist Marjorie Fish, and wonderfully captured the countenance of the UFO People that she and Barney had encountered, Betty claimed.
Our conversation was interrupted, very suddenly, by the surreal sound of a rooster’s crow from somewhere outside, though it was well past noon. The sound was immediately followed by the frantic cackling of chickens and Betty leapt from her chair, darted off into the kitchen and bolted out the back door. She returned moments later, smiling and shaking her head. “All that squawking and commotion,” she declared, “The chickens are announcing the arrival,” she held up her hands dramatically, “Of an egg.”
Sitting in her living room, drinking iced coffee and smoking cigarettes, it was hard to imagine that this grandmotherly woman was an historic UFO experiencer, an icon of the UFO community, and the unwitting founder of the abduction phenomenon. Indeed, aspects of virtually every part of the contemporary UFO phenomenon can find its roots in the Hill’s 1961 experience: the diminutive, large-eyed humanoid abductors—the bizarre medical procedures (which, much later would betray what seemed to be an alien interest in the human reproductive cycle)— the lost or “missing” time, unrecalled buried memories of the abduction experience—few people realize that the “Star Chart” which Betty was shown by the UFO People during her encounter is the source of the currently fashionable New Age belief that the extraterrestrials hail from Zeta Reticuli. And yet, for all of these remarkable similarities and patterns, it is for the differences between her account and the many subsequent popularized accounts, Betty believes, that she has been largely overlooked in the UFO community.
“Nobody walks through walls or floats through windows,” states Ms. Hill boldly, waving her hand dismissively and casting a blanket of disparagement upon the contemporary UFO scene. “When people tell strange tales, it is because they’re lying, hallucinating, having delusions, fantasies, dreams, or a recall of something they’ve seen, heard or read,” Ms. Hill’s claim sounds practiced, as she sets the tone for her self-published 1995 book, “A Common Sense Approach To UFOs.” A book which she believes has been largely eschewed by the UFO community.
Everyone knows the Betty Hill story in one form or another, but what most people do not know is that after her famous 1961 encounter, her experiences continued.
It took precious little urging to prompt Betty to go to her closet and retrieve her antiquated slide projector and several racks of slides. She placed them next to a stack of her Common Sense books on the coffee table (actually using several of the books to prop up the projector). While we waited for the projector to warm up, she explained that, “Whenever I go to the basement,” she indicated the books, “I bring up another armful.”
Throughout the afternoon, I would again and again be struck with the amount of pride that Ms. Hill took in her experiences. Her slides and her photographs (many taken herself or clipped from newspapers and magazines), her paintings and her sculpture “Junior” (which is featured on the cover of her book)—she shared her horded collection of memorabilia and personal history with that unmistakably proud air of self-satisfaction that is common among those who lived through the Great Depression era.
“We don’t have a good flying saucer vocabulary,” Betty explained beginning the same slide show that she had given at conferences and universities until she retired from the lecture circuit in 1992. She went on to show her many fantastic slides and to describe her many sightings in great detail. As she clicked through the show (it seemed at times that she would rush, and at other times she would dwell on a slide, as if lost in nostalgic recollection) she would call the often indistinct, sometimes blurred images of what she sincerely believed to be alien craft by the more familiar and comfortable earthly names to which she had attributed them: the “Trash Cans,” the “Mushrooms,” the “Jellyfish,” the “Beehive UFO” to name but a few. The photos depicted in the slides were of sightings she had witnessed and taken herself in New Hampshire over the past thirty seven years. Chuckling, she confided that “The Big Apple” was among her favorites—a huge red orb with a small indentation at the top, it bore a striking resemblance to a luminescent cherry or apple.
Over the years, feeling under-appreciated by the UFO community at large, Betty Hill has put together what she calls her “Silent Network”—an informal group of like-minded UFO enthusiasts and experiencers. And with them she has shared many sightings out in the fields and skies of New Hampshire. She showed me one amazing slide, captured during an outing with a few members of her Silent Network: One evening, while skywatching, the small group watched a strange light descend into a nearby field. Betty would always warn those who accompanied her on these expeditions to never, ever approach a landed craft—but on this particular evening one “joker”, as she referred to him, tried to do just that. “And when he did,” she shook her head, her eyes sparkling, and queued the next slide, “Thirty six UFOs appeared at once to guard the landed one!” Her astounding slide shows a rural night sky filled with dazzling colored lights.
Another time, and Ms. Hill brought up the slide to back it up, strange lights left colored streaks in the sky and clearly spelled out the letters IUC. “No,” Betty had called to them, “It’s, ‘I see you!’”
Despite her own historic encounter and continued experiences, Ms. Hill believes that the vast majority of claimed alien abductions by others are false. “The UFO community is highly suggestible,” she argues, “And full of copycats.” To demonstrate her point, she recalls the summer that she discovered a very unusual plant growing in her enormous backyard garden. At first, she couldn’t identify it. Not knowing whether it was a weed or a flower, she could not decide whether to let it grow or pull it out. She joked on a radio interview at the time that perhaps the UFO People had left it for her, but she contends that she was not serious, merely joking. Never-the-less, she soon began to hear similar tales floating back to her from the UFO community and her Silent Network. Letters and telephone calls arrived from other alleged abductees claiming that they too had discovered strange, alien plants growing on their property.
The ever-presence of the paranormal, and of those interested in the paranormal, is a familiar constant in Betty’s life. She tells me that very often, while she is interviewing over the telephone for the radio, a small red light will suddenly appear in her window, and then just as mysteriously disappear when the interview is over. Another time, she recalls being on a television talk show when she was asked, if given the opportunity, would she like to be taken onboard a UFO again. She just laughed and shook her head, “They know where I live,” she declared, “If they want to see me they can come visit any time.” And as if in acknowledgment of her stubborn humor, the next morning she went outside to discover a single, solitary footprint in the exact center of a yard of pristine, untouched snow.
Betty Hill lives alone, but she is not alone. Though he died of a stroke in 1969, the presence of Barney Hill is as strong in her life as ever. She speaks of him often and with a smile, and with such familiarity that it is as if he has merely stepped out for groceries. It is apparent to anyone who knows Ms. Hill that she and her husband were, are, and will always be, soul mates, partners in life, in the enigmatic adventure which brought them to fame, and in whatever lies beyond.
Three cats stroll lazily about her house, coming and going as they please. It is obvious that they are accustomed to visitors. The telephone rings again as I am preparing to leave—another radio interview. Ms. Hill listens for a moment, shaking her head at the constant interruption (this was the fifth such call so far this week, she whispers) and yet smiling, happy for the attention. “I’m seventy nine years young,” she happily informs the eager interviewee on the other end of the phone, and then she listens for a bit. “Yes, that’s right. My husband Barney and I encountered the UFO People in 1961, but that was only just the beginning…”
Betty Hill died on October 17, 2004, at the age of 85. She will be always remembered as “The Grandmother of Ufology.” This author would like to think that she is reunited with her husband, and that in death she finally has the answers to the questions that she was brave enough to ask in life.
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