Barney And Betty Hill: The First UFO Abduction?

By Grace Taylor

UFO over Mojave Desert, California. (Joe McBride/Getty Images)

A couple drives through rural America in the dead of night, only to be confronted by a strange, bright white light in the sky. They stop to look at the unusual light, but then it moves closer and they see that it's not a star but a gigantic ship shaped like a saucer with multicolored lights that hovers above them silently. Then the lights grow brighter and the couple loses consciousness, finding themselves in their car two hours later, remembering nothing of what just occurred until they begin having dreams of strange, inhuman visitors who performed odd examinations on them inside the metal hull of the foreign ship.

Sounds like your run-of-the-mill U.F.O. abduction story, right? Well, back in the early '60s, there was nothing typical about it. In fact, much of the imagery common to modern U.F.O. abduction stories can be traced back to one reported incident, which was said to have happened on September 19, 1961 in Lancaster, New Hampshire to Barney and Betty Hill. According to the married couple, the immediate aftermath of the encounter was marked by strange occurrences, such as traveling more than 30 miles with no memory of it, finding their luggage in the wrong location after they returned home, and noticing tears in each other's clothing that they swore weren't there when they put them on. They also claimed their watches stopped working.

A roadside marker on Daniel Webster Highway (Route 3) in Lincoln, New Hampshire commemorates the incident. (Kenneth C. Zirkel/Wikimedia Commons)

Despite not fully understanding what had occurred, Betty thought the odd ship was reason enough to alert the authorities. She reported the strange lights to the nearby Peace Air Base in New Hampshire but was told it was likely just the planet Jupiter, which looked particularly bright in the night sky. They might not have appeared to take her report seriously, but the government certainly did, even passing the information along to Project Blue Book, the secret project run by the U.S. Air Force that tracked and analyzed U.F.O. data for national security.

Still, Betty felt dismissed, so she reached out to Marine Corps Major Donald Keyhoe, who had written a book on his own studies of U.F.O. sightings, and one of his colleagues suggested she see a mental health professional about her strange dreams. Betty and Barney each underwent hypnosis over the course of many sessions under the care of psychiatrist Benjamin Simon, who concluded that they were both suffering immense stress due to their status as an interracial couple in the '60s, which manifested as anxiety-provoking dreams influenced by their exposure to U.F.O. stories, especially an episode of The Outer Limits that aired between the supposed event and the hypnosis sessions, that convinced them they had been abducted.

The couple disagreed with the conclusion, citing the fact that both of their families approved of their marriage and insisting that their memories were too detailed and similar to have been generated by separate dreams. Despite some media attention to the story after Dr. Simon published a study about his work with the couple, they never sought fame or money and went back to their lives as best they could, although Betty did become notable within the U.F.O. community.

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Grace Taylor

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