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A Strange Light In The Sky
May 3, 2012 2:48 PM   Subscribe

In the wee morning hours of September 20th, 1961, Betty and Barney Hill drove down New Hampshire's Route 3, through the Franconia Notch, and into the UFO history books. Five years later, John G. Fuller's account of their story, The Interrupted Journey, became the most well known alien abduction case of all time. Fuller's book was adapted into a made-for-TV movie in 1975. The book and movie brought the "Greys" into the public consciousness as the quintessential UFO occupants, although it has been alleged by skeptics that the Greys themselves were inspired by an episode of the TV show The Outer Limits. Last year, the state of New Hampshire erected a historical marker at the site of the alleged abduction. Skeptics and believers have been debating the case for decades now. Interestingly, a UFO enthusiast named John Oswald published an account in 1980 that claimed "Mrs. Hill was unable to 'distinguish between a landed UFO and a streetlight'", which even included a photo of said streetlight. It was not until 2007 that a science fiction writer who lives in the area where the "abduction" took place published an article which reveals the real "UFO" and puts forward a plausible explanation.

Previously.
posted by smoothvirus (32 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
I was just reading about this case yesterday. The article at (ahem) Cracked pinned the whole thing down to an episode of "Outer Limits" followed by a bad nightmare of Betty's, followed by hypnosis.
posted by ShutterBun at 2:52 PM on May 3, 2012


I *koff* wrote an article about The Interrupted Journey a few years ago. This helps explain why it's suddenly been getting a bunch of hits on my academia.edu page.
posted by synecdoche at 2:56 PM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


The book and movie brought the "Greys" into the public consciousness

Whoa. Not cool. They prefer the term "Zeta Reticulans".
posted by Greg Nog at 2:58 PM on May 3, 2012 [10 favorites]


So is the UFO thing still as big a deal as it was in the 80s and 90s? Or has it died off some? I figured it would pick up what with Youtube and everpresent video cameras making it easier to post videos (fake or otherwise) but haven't heard much about it.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 3:01 PM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


No one is looking at the sky any longer; we are all looking at our phone screens.
posted by seanmpuckett at 3:03 PM on May 3, 2012 [9 favorites]


No one is looking at the sky any longer; we are all looking at our phone screens.
Which is when they will make their move...
posted by Thorzdad at 3:06 PM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I always point people to this book, which does a remarkable job looking at all the different sociological aspects of the UFO myth. Watch the Skies, by aviation historian Curtis Peebles.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:08 PM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have always believed the Hills were sincere. Wrong. Utterly wrong. But sincere.

This is a great post, and that Making Light link is tremendous.
posted by anastasiav at 3:17 PM on May 3, 2012


Last year we drove the route to re-create their experience. We came to the same conclusion. Dark, mountain roads (think what it was like 50 years ago!) + oddly placed lights+ impressionable observers= abduction story.
posted by pentagoet at 3:22 PM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Anastasiav - while researching this post I actually found a post I had made six years ago, on the Bad Astronomy forum, where I called Betty Hill a "loony". I feel bad about using that perjorative term now. Everything I have read about the Hills indicates that they were a nice couple, and friendly people.
I believe Barney was the more rational one. The best I can come up with for Betty is that she was "eccentric". I don't believe they were actually abducted but I think they truly felt it was a real event.
posted by smoothvirus at 3:30 PM on May 3, 2012


Everything I have read about the Hills indicates that they were a nice couple, and friendly people.

Indeed! My mom briefly worked with Betty Hill, and said she was quite nice. Of course, when I found this out as a tween obsessed with UFO lore, I was all, "WHAT THE HECK MOM JEEZUM CROW DID YOU FIND OUT EVERYTHING ABOUT HER CONTACT WITH THE ZETA RETICULANS?"

The most she could tell me was that their co-workers were just like, "Oh, yeah, Betty's nice enough. Don't get her started on the UFO stuff, though, she'll talk your ear off." And of course I was all, "WHY DIDN'T YOU LET HER TALK YOUR EAR OFF OH MY GOD MOOMMMMMMMM"
posted by Greg Nog at 3:34 PM on May 3, 2012 [7 favorites]


a UFO enthusiast named John Oswald published an account in 1980 that claimed "Mrs. Hill was unable to 'distinguish between a landed UFO and a streetlight'"

Later Mrs. Hill would start the greatest Fark thread of all time.
posted by dirigibleman at 4:03 PM on May 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


As the other customer said about Sally "I'll have what she's having".
posted by Cranberry at 4:28 PM on May 3, 2012


Wow, synchronicity city. I love all this stuff, and was reading about the Montauk Project, which led me to the iron skeptic:

"More than 110 years ago a book was published called Meda: A Tale of the Future by a Mr. Kenneth Folingsby. The book described tiny gray men with heads shaped like hot air balloons, some of who needed sandbags strapped to their small bodies to keep them from floating away."

There are some pictures on the page that someone has donated showing newspaper cartoons of the large-headed grey aliens.

Iron Skeptic on Betty Hill.
posted by marienbad at 4:44 PM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, this History Channel documentary is good. It is about when pilots encounter UFO's, and allegedly contains tower/plane transmission recordings.
posted by marienbad at 4:54 PM on May 3, 2012


If you want to watch something relatively credible, here you go. Anything with Bill Birnes, Linda Moulton Howe, Whitley Streiber or any of the other usual suspects is just total noise. The vast majority of the material on this subject is weak entertainment fodder, and there is little to no credible research going on in these areas.

I know that there is a very healthy, skeptical and intelligent audience here, but I also know that there is a genuinely anomalous phenomenon at play in a very small minority of reported events, and while I have some serious issues with the B&B Hill case, there are other cases which are far more compelling. Some of these are in the linked video.
posted by dbiedny at 5:21 PM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]



So is the UFO thing still as big a deal as it was in the 80s and 90s? Or has it died off some? I figured it would pick up what with Youtube and everpresent video cameras making it easier to post videos (fake or otherwise) but haven't heard much about it.

What? It's bigger than ever. There are more reports than ever and footage of "things" in the sky, whatever they are, probably military craft. I know this because I find the topic interesting, and I follow podcasts, books etc. But I guess you could miss it if you're not paying attention to it.
posted by Liquidwolf at 5:44 PM on May 3, 2012


I know that there is a very healthy, skeptical and intelligent audience here

Yes.

but I also know that there is a genuinely anomalous phenomenon at play in a very small minority of reported events

Here's where it goes off the rails. Anomalous != aliens.

In fact, if you stack-ranked all the things that could be bounded by "anomalous," the list would be impossibly enormous, and "aliens" would be literally the very last thing on the list, in a last-place tie with "magic."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:53 PM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


The thing about ufo culture online is the profusion of cheap cameras had g given more opportunities than ever to have blurry shots of birds and balloons hyped as ufo discoveries. Add to that the ease of making fraudulent movies and the ufo culture is stronger and more zealously religious than ever.
posted by happyroach at 6:08 PM on May 3, 2012


At no time did I use the word "aliens" in conjunction with "anomalous". I have always been particularly cautious of doing that, I already know where that leads for the majority. I have zero interest in engaging in a public debate about the merits of the UFO phenomenon and other anomalous topics, I've already played that game for four years in a highly public fashion, and all it did was create a lot of grief for me. I've done my part in trying to create some more objective, level-headed and rational discussion around these topics, and my experience indicated to me that it can't be done. When you've seen stuff in your own life, with others, things that are not supposed to be possible, you're already past the point of arguing viability. We simply don't know enough to even reasonably discuss sourcing of the objects that fly around that are not made by humans. You want to debate that last sentence, that's fine, but I'm already on to the next level of the mystery. Simple-minded "UFOS = ALIENS" stuff is for hobbyists. I've publicly debunked obviously bogus cases, explained away reported UFO photos (with some cred to do so), taken ridiculous abduction and contactee cases to the edge and exposed them, so when you offer an opinion about the topic, just know I'll take your level of interest and understanding into consideration. I'm looking for the kind of answers most people could not handle, nor potentially comprehend, and that probably includes me as well. The difference is that I have a horse in this race, and not by choice.
posted by dbiedny at 6:08 PM on May 3, 2012 [7 favorites]


I'm not saying that Betty and Barney are lying, but I'd like to know what Fred and Wilma think about this.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:19 PM on May 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


My wife and I had a similar "lost time" experience in the winter of '86, driving from our house in Utah to Boise, Idaho. She had never seen the bridge over the Snake River at Twin Falls, and I was anxious to show it to her. We were driving and talking, and I remember mentioning the exit to Twin Falls wasn't far ahead, then the next thing either of us knew we were thirty miles past it.

This was in the middle of December in the early afternoon, in weather so cold we were bundled up inside the car and still freezing our asses off.

It was weird, but not "alien-abduction" weird.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 7:02 PM on May 3, 2012


So is the UFO thing still as big a deal as it was in the 80s and 90s? Or has it died off some? I figured it would pick up what with Youtube and everpresent video cameras making it easier to post videos (fake or otherwise) but haven't heard much about it.

What? It's bigger than ever. There are more reports than ever and footage of "things" in the sky, whatever they are, probably military craft. I know this because I find the topic interesting, and I follow podcasts, books etc. But I guess you could miss it if you're not paying attention to it.


There might be a ton of reports pouring in still, but clearly the high-water mark of public obsession was from the late 1980s through the late 1990s, starting with Whitley Strieber and continuing through the fake alien autopsies and then X-files. In fact, I would say the X-files made it too complicated and dumb and kinda killed it as a mass-market meme. Thanks, X-files.
posted by Camofrog at 10:11 PM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I haven't been keeping track as far as what the "high water mark" might have been, but in the wake of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and Project Blue Book coming to light, the late 70's were most definitely a high period of activity for me and my fellow 4th graders making up the "Orange County UFO Watchers Club" that summer, after one too many viewings of "In Search Of..." on TV.

Fortunately, after a few afternoons of sitting in lawn chairs staring at the sky and discovering the mystery of "eyeball floaters", we quite sensibly disbanded and focused our efforts on the local chapter of the "Otter Pops Fan Club," which at least produced tangible results. (I only wish I had saved all of those "Rip van Lemon" pops we were given by the company)
posted by ShutterBun at 3:02 AM on May 4, 2012


dbiedny - I skimmed through that video you linked to last night. There really wasn't anything in it I had not heard about before.

The Rendlesham Forest Incident has been done to death on TV ever since Unsolved Mysteries broke the story in the early 1990's. My personal opinion is that the case was debunked years ago. It's a combination: I think Col. Halt is sincere but mistaken, and just got caught up in the hysteria that night. Some of the other stories about the incident, in my opinion, are flat out lies cooked up by persons who would like to be "UFO celebrities" and maybe make a little $$ on the side.

The photographer in the Belgian UFO case has admitted he hoaxed the photo with a Styrofoam model.

Rather than go on and on, I will defer to the good commentary on the History Channel Show on the blog I've been linking to.

I do consider myself a UFO "skeptic" but there are a couple of cases that leave me scratching my head. That does NOT mean I think "unknown=aliens", I just haven't seen a plausible explanation yet. A good example is the "Illinois Triangle" case. I think the witnesses saw something, but I seriously doubt it was a visiting alien spacecraft. I would not be surprised if even that one turned out to be some kind of hoax, like a big balloon with lights on it.

Now the cases that really get my interest are ones that lead me to believe that what was reported was not an alien spacecraft, but instead, some kind of unknown or extremely rare natural phenomenon. For example, for years, pilots had reported flashes of light appearing above thunderstorm clouds. These reports were dismissed as being illusions or mirages. It wasn't until the 1990's that a scientific study proved the existence of upper atmospheric lightning.

A good example of this sort of thing is this fascinating video from Youtube. It is presented to us as a "UFO" video, and you can hear the videographer making comments that imply he believes he's filming alien space probes hiding in a storm cloud. Provided this isn't some kind of well-produced hoax, I think it's actually the best footage of ball lightning I've ever seen.
posted by smoothvirus at 7:38 AM on May 4, 2012


smoothvirus - if you think that the commander of a base storing nuclear weapons was somehow "caught up in hysteria" regarding multiple nights of ongoing anomalous activity (being witnessed by more than a couple of the soldiers on that base, a NUCLEAR WEAPONS FACILITY), you're wrong. And I say that from having spent hours talking with Col. Halt, one on one, as well as some of the other witnesses from those three evenings. There are details which have emerged that make the whole thing somewhat murky - especially some of the more recent claims from Penniston - but that does not negate the validity of the case, IMO. I am convinced something very odd happened those three evenings, and I'm not relying on data fed to me by television shows. When people are exposed to the truly anomalous, it messes their heads up, and in the RB case, I suspect that has happened to at least two of the witnesses. That's part of the nature of the phenomenon that is perplexing.

The wave of sightings in Belgium doesn't hinge on a single photograph. For the most part, photographic evidence is relatively useless, especially in the modern era. Corroborating witness accounts, radar data, trace evidence is all taken into consideration for me.

Looking at compressed video on YouTube is an entertaining thing, but of little use in actual research.

Like I've already said, I've put in my time debating the subject with those who would claim that we know what is in our skies, and on our planet, and the whole thing strikes me as ridiculous. Given that no less an expert than E. O. Wilson has stated that we're unfamiliar with the vast majority of species of life that actually share the planet with us, I'll be conservative in my assessment of human knowledge and understanding of anything, much less these topics. I don't claim to have answers to any of this, and don't expect I'd even understand the reality of the situation, even presented with all the details and hard evidence. I'm convinced that we're a lot dumber as a species than we'd like to believe.
posted by dbiedny at 8:36 AM on May 4, 2012


Thanks for replying, dbiedny. I've worked with the military at the very highest levels (all the way to the top, literally) and trust me, the folks running it are just as human as anyone else. I do think Col. Halt is being sincere, but I don't think everyone involved is.

I certainly won't say it's proven that ET has never visited us - simply because you cannot prove a negative. But as for evidence of actual nuts and bolts spacecraft from other worlds visiting Earth, any evidence that's been presented so far seems to fall apart under further scrutiny.
posted by smoothvirus at 8:56 AM on May 4, 2012


Thanks for the replies. I was just curious because I remember watching Sightings and all those UFO ABDUCTION SPECIALS back in the 90s (to say nothing of the X-Files and such). No wonder I don't sleep much.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:23 AM on May 4, 2012


There are entire channels devoted primarily to various UFO and ancient alien nonsense now (I think the ancient astronaut stuff is basically the same thing but with an even lower standard of evidence). Syfy seems to be a big player in this market, but don't count out History or Project Green (it's paranormal Friday!) either and even relatively "serious" networks like Science Channel and Discovery are getting in on it. It's hard to say whether it's more of a trend, but from a "long tail" perspective, enabled by the proliferation of specialty niche TV, etc., I think more people are interested or aware of it as a notion than ever before. A lot of people seem to "feel like something just has gotta give" lately and identify with the concept of extraterrestrial visitation as an outlet for those feelings.
posted by feloniousmonk at 9:39 AM on May 4, 2012


For anyone interested in sorting the signal from the noise, here is a decent place to start.
posted by dbiedny at 9:40 AM on May 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Heh. Here I am getting Betty Hill's autograph in 1978. I knew her story from The UFO Incident. Funny memories.
posted by 2N2222 at 11:17 AM on May 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


For anyone interested in sorting the signal from the noise, here is a decent place to start.

Thanks for this. I love UFO (and ghost) debunking photos.
posted by DU at 7:05 AM on May 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


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