Belief  /  Book Review

The UFO Story of Betty and Barney Hill: Why Their Fight To Be Believed Was An American Tragedy

Betty and Barney Hill lost three hours on a New Hampshire highway in 1961. They spent years trying to understand it.

After the modern UFO age began with Kenneth Arnold’s sighting of nine metallic craft flying near Mount Rainier in 1947, there were various individuals who asserted that they had made contact with extraterrestrials. One was George Adamski, whose 1953 book Flying Saucers Have Landed detailed a meeting in the California deserts with a man from Venus who had long, sandy-brown hair and a brown suit, and who telepathically communicated a concern about mankind’s nuclear weapons. Other contactees quickly followed suit, many of them making the same claim that the Venutians wanted us to stop making nuclear weapons. For a secular atomic age, writers who met such extraterrestrials placed them in the same role as God: bearing an unimpeachable command that transcended politics and nation and had to be obeyed.

But it was Betty and Barney Hill, an interracial couple living in New Hampshire, whose strange experience on the night of Sept. 19, 1961, would become the first truly credible story of an alien encounter. Driving south on Route 3 through the White Mountains, they saw a light in the sky sometime after 10 p.m. They followed it for a while, stopping to get a better look. They continued driving, getting home around 5 a.m. They shouldn’t—given the trip’s distance—have been home any later than 2:00, but neither could explain the lost time. Though at first reluctant to talk about what happened, Betty slowly began to tell people that they had seen an alien spaceship. Eventually, the Hills underwent hypnosis with the aid of psychiatrist Benjamin Simon, and would come to believe that at some point they had made contact, been taken aboard the alien ship, and had separately been probed and examined by their captors before being released.

Nearly everything we know—or think we know—about alien abductions begins with Betty and Barney Hill. They were the first people to claim that they had been abducted by aliens, the first people to describe aliens as not looking like science fiction’s men in jumpsuits (they were, the Hills reported, short, with gray skin), and the first to be widely believed.