We're about to take an in-depth look at the first alien abduction case that attracted widespread attention in the United States. It happened quite a few decades ago, so we've got a lot of history to cover. A table of contents is included in case you'd like to skip around. Buckle up!
On September 19th, 1961, just south of Lancaster, New Hampshire, Betty and Barney Hill were driving back from a vacation up north. Betty saw a bright light in the sky moving from below the moon toward its right. She said to Barney that it looked like a shooting star, but moving upward.
As it moved erratically and grew larger and brighter, she asked her husband to pull over so they could get a closer look, and he stopped at a picnic area just south of Twin Mountain. Betty pulled out her binoculars, and looked at the "odd-shaped" craft which had multi-colored lights. The craft was now moving across the face of the moon.
Betty's sister said she had seen a UFO a few years earlier, and Betty thought now she might be seeing one too. Barney, however, wasn't so convinced...
Barney, looking through his wife's binoculars, thought that it was a commercial airliner traveling from Vermont to Montreal. Suddenly, the craft changed directions and descended toward them.
They quickly went back to their car and began driving toward Franconia Notch, a narrow mountain pass.
This object that [I thought] was a plane was not a plane.
Barney Hill // October 1961
Barney drove slowly through the pass, as both he and Betty wanted to observe the craft, especially as it came closer to them. At one point, the craft actually passed over a restaurant and signal tower located on Cannon Mountain and reappeared near the Old Man of the Mountain.
Betty said that it was at least one and a half times the length of the Old Man (at least 60 feet) and seemed to be rotating. They both testified the craft was moving back and forth very erratically, bouncing back and forth above them. About a mile south of Indian Head, they said the craft rapidly descended toward them and Barney was actually forced to stop in the middle of the road.
Above the couple's 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air, the craft hovered at what Barney estimated to be 80 to 100 feet off the ground, and he said it reminded him of a huge pancake. With a pistol in his pocket and binoculars in hand, Barney left the car and approached the craft.
Using the binoculars, Barney spotted eight to ten humanoid figures looking out the windows of the craft.
In unison, every figure but one moved a panel on the rear wall of a hallway that appeared to circle the craft.
The remaining figure managed to communicate to Barney.
Barney would later tell the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP) that he was certain the beings were not human.
[The alien said] to 'stay where you are and keep looking.'
Barney Hill // October 1961
Barney could recall the aliens wearing glossy black uniforms, and black caps. What looked like bat-fin wings with red lights attached were propelled from the craft's outer layer, and a long structure descended from the bottom. The object moved closer, about 50 to 80 feet above the car and around 300 feet in front of it.
Barney "tore" the binoculars away from his face, and ran back to the car. Almost in hysterics, he half-yelled "they're going to capture us!" at Betty. They watched the object change direction once again, this time hovering close to directly over the car. Barney put the car into gear and tried to speed away as fast as he could, directing his wife to look out the window to watch for it.
Almost immediately after they began to drive away, they heard strange sounds, almost like buzzing or beeping. The couple swears it seemed like the sounds were bouncing off the trunk of their car. The car vibrated harder and the Hills experienced a tingling sensation. Their senses were dulled and they entered a state of altered consciousness. More buzzing and beeping sounds brought them back to their senses.
They discovered they were actually about 35 miles south of where they had been originally, but had only vague memories of actually driving the stretch of road.
All they remembered about the event was making a sharp, sudden and unplanned turn, encountering a roadblock, and a huge fiery orb in the road.
On their way home they tried to establish a chronological order of the events as they happened, but as soon as they heard the first buzzing and beeping sounds their memory became fuzzy and fragmented.
Immediate Aftermath & Air Force Report
Barney and Betty arrived at home just as the sun was rising. They both describe odd feelings and occurrences that they could not explain. Both of their watches would never work again. They took long showers to guard against possible contamination, and each drew a picture of what they had seen and experienced.
They also noticed strange, shiny, concentric circles on the trunk of their car. To their surprise, when a compass was brought near the circles, the needle spun aimlessly, but when the compass was pulled away from the circles it pointed north again.
On September 21, two days after, Betty phoned Pease Air Force Base to report what they had experienced. She left out a few details though, for fear of not being taken seriously.
The very next day, Major Paul W. Henderson reached out to the Hills to schedule a more detailed interview. He released a report on September 26 which originally stated the Hills had simply misidentified Jupiter.
The report was amended later to remove that claim and include the words "optical condition," "inversion," and "insufficient data." His report was then forwarded to Project Blue Book, a government project located at Area 51 in Nevada.
A few days after the encounter, Betty went to the local library and checked out a UFO book written by a retired Marine Corps major named Donald E. Keyhoe. Donald was also the head of the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP), a civilian UFO research group. On September 26, Betty wrote a letter to Donald.
She mentioned all the events that occurred that night, including the humanoid figures Barney saw through the binoculars. She also said that both she and Barney were considering hypnosis as a way to attempt to fully recall the events of September 19th. Her letter was eventually forwarded to Walter N. Webb, an astronomer and NICAP member located in Boston.
On October 21, 1961, Webb met with the Hills for a six-hour interview where they detailed everything they could remember about the encounter.
Barney was sure that his brain had created a "mental block," and guessed that there were parts of the encounter he (and his brain) would rather not remember.
Webb was positive they were telling the truth, save "for some minor uncertainties and technicalities that must be tolerated in any such observations where human judgment is involved (e.g., exact time and length of visibility, apparent sizes of object and occupants, distance and height of object, etc.)."
They were telling the truth and the incident probably occurred exactly as reported...
Walter Webb // October 1961
Ten days after the abduction, Betty began having strange, extremely vivid dreams that lasted for five nights in a row. She said that she had never experienced more detailed and intense dreams in her life. They occupied her thoughts during the daytime, and stopped after five nights very abruptly. She mentioned them to Barney once, but his attitude was sympathetic yet unconcerned, so she never brought them up to him again.
A few months after the dreams stopped, in November of 1961, Betty started recording the dreams in a journal.
Each dream was relatively the same.
She and Barney were stopped at a roadblock and surrounded by men. Betty said the men stood between 5'0" and 5'4" and wore matching blue uniforms with hats similar to the ones worn by military cadets. They looked "nearly human" with black hair, prominent noses, dark eyes, and blueish skin. She lost consciousness in the dream, but eventually came to and recalled two small men forcing her and Barney to walk through a forest at night. She tried calling out to Barney, but he was unresponsive, and seemed like he was in a trance.
The figures led her and Barney up a ramp to a metallic, disc-shaped craft. After they were inside, the aliens tried to separate the two. Betty protested, and one of the figures —whom she only refers to as "the Leader"— told her in English that the exam would take longer if the two were examined together. The couple was then led into separate rooms.
Once inside her room, the Leader as well as a different figure ("the Examiner") entered in a pleasant, calm manner. The Examiner also spoke English, although Betty said that it was imperfect and he was hard to understand. He explained to her that he was simply going to do a few tests to help understand the differences between the Hills and the blue figures.
The Examiner sat her in a chair and a bright light shone on her. He took a lock of Betty's hair, trimmings from her fingernails, and examined her eyes, nose, mouth, teeth, throat, and hands. Next, he used a dull object similar to a letter opener to take skin cell scrapings and placed them on a substance that looked like cellophane. The last test was of her central nervous system; he pushed a needle through her belly button, and she cried out in pain.
The Leader waved his hand over her eyes, and the pain disappeared.
The Examiner left the room, and Betty started talking with the Leader. She found a book full of strange symbols, and the Leader said she could take it home with her. Betty asked where he was from and he pulled down a map of all the stars.
Betty was reunited with Barney, but then a disagreement broke out among the figures. The Leader communicated to Betty that the other figures did not want her to even remember that the encounter took place —let alone keep the book covered in strange symbols.
September 7, 1963
There is a guest speaker at the Hills' church, Captain Ben H. Swett from the United States Air Force. He gave a talk on hypnosis; the Hills approached him afterward with their story and asked for advice. Swett told them to ask Stephens, a psychiatrist Barney was seeing, about possibly using hypnosis to help Barney.
Stephens referred them to Benjamin Simon, who lived in Boston.
December 14, 1963
The Hills meet Simon for the first time. He dismissed their claims of encountering aliens, but thought that they genuinely believed it, and was intrigued to learn more.
After the sessions, Ben Simon hypothesized that Barney's experience was simply a fantasy based on Betty's dreams. He felt it was the most reasonable and consistent explanation.
Both the Hills fiercely rejected this idea. Barney noted that even though some of his experiences were consistent with Betty's, they each had unique memories as well. He was ready to accept that they were abducted by a UFO and examined by alien beings, although he never did embrace it as fully as Betty.
While Simon and the Hills could not agree on what caused their memories, the end result was clear. Hypnosis had worked; they no longer felt abduction anxiety.
Simon went on to publish an article about their sessions in the journal Psychiatric Opinion.
Publicity and Popular Culture
October 26, 1965
A story in the "Boston Traveller" about the Hills was picked up by United Press International, and Betty and Barney received international media attention.
1966 — August 1, 1975
A man named John G. Fuller received permission from both the Hills and Simon to write the book The Interrupted Journey which included Betty's star map. The book was very successful and went through several printings, including a mass-marketing paperback.
October 20, 1975
The UFO Incident, a biographical film based on the Hills' experience, was released on television starring James Earl Jones and Estelle Parsons.
December 14, 1980
The Hills' story is discussed by Carl Sagan on the 12th episode of his show, Cosmos.
March 5, 2019
"Project Blue Book," a History Channel series, released its ninth episode titled "Abduction" which was based on the details of Betty and Barney's experience.