More than abductees

Yes, Betty and Barney Hill said aliens whisked them away. But they also worked for equal rights.

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April 11, 2009 – 12:00 am


Courtesy photo
Betty and Barney Hill were active in the civil rights movement and other political causes.



It’s been nearly half a century since Betty and Barney Hill claimed they were abducted by aliens while driving through the White Mountains on Sept. 19, 1961, but there’s still no logical explanation for what happened to them that night.

The Hills’ story, widely considered to be the first documented and bona fide case of abduction, is the focus of a public forum and new exhibition at the University of New Hampshire beginning Friday. It also examines the interracial couple’s contributions to the state’s civil rights community.

Artists’ renderings of the described aliens – or "Greys" as they’re also known, thousands of pages of correspondence, documents of additional close encounters, as well as the famous ripped dress Betty Hill allegedly wore aboard the UFO, are all on display.

"Betty wanted (the dress) to be kept safe somewhere so that when human science caught up with alien science, they could do testing," said David Watters, director of UNH’s Center for New England Culture and a friend of Betty before she died in 2004 at age 85. "The story is fascinating. It’s hard to judge what could’ve happened that night, but there’s no question whether they believed it."

The Hills’ version of events – fodder for countless movies, books and media accounts since the story became public in 1965 – is best summed up like this: The couple was driving home to Portsmouth along Route 3 after word came that bad weather would soon hit the Seacoast. The sky was clear and the moon nearly full when their 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air reached Lancaster about 10 p.m.

Betty said she saw a bright light in the sky that Barney, a World War II veteran, assumed was an off-course satellite. When they stopped to let their dachshund, Delsey, out of the car, Betty took out binoculars to get a closer look at the erratically moving UFO.

A letter she later wrote to the National Investigations Committee of Aerial Phenomenon described "several figures scurrying about" and a figure wearing a shiny black uniform "observing us from the windows" of the craft.

Barney, who died of a stroke in 1969, became hysterical and drove away quickly, convinced they would be captured. The beings appeared before them in the road, and that’s when their memories – at least the conscious ones – trailed off.

Kathleen Marden, the couple’s niece, was 13 when the abduction occurred. She said yesterday that she was skeptical at first, but she changed her mind after analyzing a series of recorded tapes, also on display, in which the Hills were hypnotized separately by a well-respected Boston psychiatrist.

What finally convinced her, she said, weren’t merely the similarities in each one’s story recounted from that night, but the differences neither could have known about.

One example, said Marden, who’s written a book on the subject, is that when both were hypnotized, they each remembered Betty staying behind and arguing with the leader while the crew took Barney and put him back in the car, where he remembered grabbing a gun under the seat in the car and sitting on it until she returned.

Both were hesitant to tell their story publicly for fear of ridicule, Marden said. It would’ve remained a secret had it not been leaked.

"They thought they’d lose their jobs and standing in the community," she said.

Betty, who graduated from UNH in 1958, was as a social worker, and Barney, an African-American from Boston, was a postal worker. Both were politically active, involved in the NAACP, various literacy programs and registered voters to help elect Lyndon Johnson.

Marden, who became a social worker, remembered being invited to Washington, D.C., with her aunt and uncle for Johnson’s inauguration.

Barney was also appointed by the state’s governor to serve as an adviser to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. It was a big deal at the time, Watters said, because many areas on the Seacoast were still segregated.

"At a time in New Hampshire’s history when things were very segregated, they both actively committed to civil rights," Watters said. "I think it was difficult for (Barney) in some ways; he was afraid that they would become laughingstocks. He thought it would take away from the work they were trying to do."

Creating a legitimate outlet for people to discuss UFOs and abductions became an important issue to them, particularly to Betty after Barney passed away.

"She was really concerned that these materials be available for people who wanted people to take her seriously," Watters said. "She thought the university could make that happen."

Marden said that each would like to be remembered for their political and social work, rather than solely being known for the abduction.

"It’s ironic that they were remembered for this one night in their lives, and they never wanted to have it known publicly," Marden said, adding that Betty, in later years, became an unfair target for debunkers. "That’s why it was so important to set the record straight. Their story should be told."

The forum, "Betty and Barney Hill: Tales of Alien Abduction and Civil Rights Activism in New Hampshire," begins at 1 p.m. in the Memorial Union Building, Room 334/336

Concord Monitor – More than abductees