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Today, this very day, forty-six years ago, Betty and Barney Hill drove down U.S. 3, right past my house and into history. They were about to become Patient Zero for Alien Abductions with Weird Medical Experiments, Missing Time, and Big-Eyed Extraterrestrials. The first and (we are told) best documented case of Alien Abduction Evah. There was a book. There was a made-for-TV movie. Magazine articles. Mentions in other books. Close Encounters of the Third Kind. X-Files.
So what happened out on Route 3?
Here’s Paranetinfo.com’s brief summary:
Synopsis: In the early morning hours, Betty and Barney Hill were returning from a vacation in Montreal, Canada. As they traveled down Highway 3, just outside of Colebrook, New Hampshire, Betty first noticed a star that appeared to be moving. Bringing Barney’s attention to it, they watched it as they continued to drive. They realized that the star was moving and keeping pace with them as they negotiated the mountainous terrain.
Somewhere, outside of Indian Head, NH, they decided to stop the car and use binoculars to attempt to see what the object was. Barney left the road and moved through the woods to get a closer look. By this time, the Hills’ realized that the star was a pancake-shaped object which had moved to a position in front of their car at tree-top level. As Barney got closer to it, he observed two fin-like objects with blinking red lights that appeared to detach from the fins, as the fins began coming out of the sides of the object.
Through binoculars, Barney could see humanoids standing in a large window looking at him. As he observed, all of the men except what Barney called the “leader”, turned and began operating levers and controls on a wall behind them. The leader continued staring at Barney and Barney could detect that the leader was telling him not to be afraid and that they were going to come down for him and bring him onboard.
Barney was filled with absolute terror and found that he could not take the binoculars away from his face. He claimed that the leader’s eyes just bored into his head. Tearing the binoculars away from his eyes so hard that he broke the strap around his neck, he ran hysterically back to the car screaming to Betty, “They are going to capture us!!”
Barney jumped into the car and began driving wildly. Shortly after this, the Hills’ heard a series of beeping sounds and this is where their memory of the experience ends. Later, they hear another series of beeping sounds and when they return to consciousness, they discover that they have traveled 35 miles from where their memory fails them. When they return home they also realize that 2 hours are unaccounted for.
Following this, the Hills’ are treated by a Boston psychiatrist, Dr. Benjamin Simon, and, under medical hypnosis, they recall the terrifying 2-hours of missing time.
This story is told in detail in a book by John Fuller, “The Interrupted Journey” and was made into a television movie by the same name.
I’ll be looking at Fuller’s account in some detail, but this will be long so I’ll put it below the cut.
Watch this space. More to come—
Let’s start out with the only absolutely objective data we have: Time of sunrise, sunset, moonrise, moonset, from the Naval Observatory.
The following information is provided for Lancaster, Coos County, New Hampshire (longitude W71.6, latitude N44.5):Time of transit is when the moon is due south. 19SEP61 would have been during Daylight Savings Time, so lunar transit would have been at 2038 local, moonset at 0134 local. Actual observed moonset would have varied depending on exactly where they were—in the mountains the moon could have gone behind a mountain and vanished from sight a half-hour or more before astronomical moonset.
19 September 1961 Eastern Standard Time
Begin civil twilight 5:00 a.m.
Sunrise 5:30 a.m.
Sun transit 11:40 a.m.
Sunset 5:50 p.m.
End civil twilight 6:19 p.m.
Moonset 11:30 p.m. on preceding day
Moonrise 2:45 p.m.
Moon transit 7:38 p.m.
Moonset 12:34 a.m. on following day
The following information is provided for Portsmouth, Rockingham County, New Hampshire (longitude W70.8, latitude N43.1):
20 September 1961 Eastern Standard Time
Begin civil twilight 5:00 a.m.
Sunrise 5:28 a.m.
Sun transit 11:37 a.m.
Sunset 5:44 p.m.
End civil twilight 6:13 p.m.
Phase of the Moon on 19 September: waxing gibbous with 70% of the Moon’s visible disk illuminated.
First quarter Moon on 17 September 1961 at 3:23 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.
This part of the story follows Fuller, with no original reporting. It will serve as a summary for when I go through Fuller’s first chapter (the relevant one) below. That will be lengthy. In this brief recap, please notice the bit about leaving the main road.
It was September 19, 1961, and the weather report predicted a hurricane along the New Hampshire coast, so Betty and Barney Hill cut their long weekend in Montreal short and headed back to Portsmouth in their 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air.
They stopped at a restaurant in Colebrook, where Betty ate a piece of chocolate layer cake and Barney ate a hamburger. At 10:05 p.m. they were back on Route 3 heading toward the White Mountains.
The sky was clear, and just past Lancaster Betty noticed a bright light close to the nearly full moon. As it got closer and brighter, she pointed it out to Barney, a World War II veteran who knew something about planes. He assumed it was a satellite, perhaps off-course.
Their dachshund, Delsey, was getting antsy, so they pulled over to let her out. Betty took binoculars from the car. With hyperbolic finesse, Fuller described the moment this way: “Betty put the binoculars up to her eyes and focused carefully. What they both were about to see was to change their lives forever, and as some observers claim, change the history of the world.”
Afterward, Barney was disinclined to discuss what he had seen, but Betty did so in a letter she wrote soon after to the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena. “He did see several figures scurrying about as though they were making some kind of hurried type of preparation. One figure was observing us from the windows … and seemed to be dressed in some type of shiny black uniform,” she wrote. “At this point, my husband became shocked and got back in the car, in a hysterical condition, laughing and repeating that they were going to capture us.”
Back in the car, Barney drove wildly in an effort to escape. Past Franconia Notch they left Route 3 and headed down a smaller road.
Betty Hill said recently she was more curious than afraid at the time. “I understood something’s going to happen and I don’t know what it is, but I’m ready for it. At that point I rolled down the window and waved hello to the craft,” she said, laughing into the crook of her arm. “At this time I was sure it was a flying saucer, but I didn’t say so.”
Suddenly a cluster of beings was blocking their way. Barney stopped the car, but could not restart it. The men came toward them.
For almost three years, their memories would stop at that scene, only to pick up sometime later that night, when they found themselves driving south near Ashland.
Actually, their memories didn’t stop. We’ll get to that anon. One important point to remember: Not Fuller, not Hynek, not Klass … not even Betty and Barney themselves as they attempted to retrace their steps … ever personally tried driving down Route 3 late at night.
Here’s a more recent work (July 23, 2007), with my commentary:
By Stanton T. Friedman and Kathleen Marden
“With the publication of this book, the skeptics’ ‘wiggle room’ has shrunk to zero.” —from the Foreword by Dr. Bruce Maccabee, author of Abduction In My Life
From Chapter 9 (pp. 99-100)
[UPDATE: Note: All but 150 words of the fair use quote from Captured! removed at the request of Kathleen Marden.]
An Unconventional Craft Approaches
As Barney drove south on Route 3, Betty rode silently, observing her surroundings. This Great North Woods area of northern New Hampshire was dotted with sprawling farm homes, acres of cornfields, and yards full of logs waiting to be milled. They passed through a valley edged with small, tree-covered mountains along a two-lane highway lined with railroad tracks and skirted by the Connecticut River. After they had traveled approximately 27 miles south of Colebrook they passed Groveton, elevation 884 feet above sea level.
Correcting an error from Fuller’s book.
Eight miles south of Groveton, at an elevation of 867 feet, lay the village of Lancaster and its well-known fairground.
On March 7, 1964, Dr. Simon probed Betty’s detailed memory of her trip through northern New Hampshire. She stated she was somewhat startled by a truck that passed, dragging…
About where Jupiter would have been.
They mean they left a wide valley with rolling hills. From Lancaster south the road is narrow, winding, and very hilly. The Connecticut River valley is behind and they won’t reach the Merrimack valley for quite a while.
They could be observed briefly (at one point in the swamp just north of White Mountain Regional High School) if you know exactly where to look and the leaves are off the trees. After that the next spot you can see the Presidentials is in Twin Mountain.
That’s an interesting feature there. More when we get to John Fuller’s book. This clue is all you need to figure out what happened.
Here’s an explanation for the object’s apparent motion: it was considerably closer than Jupiter, and was objectively getting closer and larger. And it really was moving in relation to the star field behind it.
Have no fear, Betty: It wasn’t Jupiter.
September in the White Mountains is the cruelest month.
Doyle read this aloud as we made our way down Route 3—me, Doyle, and our born-and-raised-in-New-Hampshire daughter Pip—following Betty and Barney’s trail. And as soon as she had spoken it, all three of us in the car burst out laughing.
No one had told John Fuller about January or February, perhaps, when a pot of boiling water thrown into the air turns to ice by the time it hits the ground and walking to the end of your driveway to get the paper can be life-threatening, or about Mud Season in March and April. September is heavenly, with bright blue skies dotted with puffy white clouds, cool days and crisp nights, the trees just beginning to show a tinge of color.
The gaunt hotels, vestiges of Victorian tradition, are shuttered, or getting ready to be; motels and overnight cabins flash their neon vacancy signs for only a few fitful house before their owners give up and retire early. The New Hampshire ski slopes are barren of snow and skiers, the trails appearing as great, brownish gashes beside the silent tramways and chair-lifts.
The ski slopes are still brilliant green, while the hotels are recovering from the Summer People and getting ready for the Leaf Peepers who will arrive in just a couple of weeks. It is true that the motels shut down early, but if you call ahead they’ll leave a key out for you.
The Cannon Mountain tramway runs 365 days a year, and has been doing so since 1938 when it became the first aerial tramway in North America. That tramway will be important later in our story.
The Labor Day exodus has swept most of the roads clear of traffic; very few vacation trailers and roof-laden station wagons straggle toward Boston or the New York throughways. Winter is already here on the chilled and ominous slopes of Mount Washington, its summit weather station clocking the highest wind velocities ever recorded on any mountain top in the world.
Highest wind velocities ever recorded anywhere on the surface of the earth, outside of tornadoes. Still this is a glorious time for hiking Mt. Washington. Just remember to tell folks when you’re expected back and what route you’re taking, and pack for an overnight blizzard (good advice in July and August as well).
Bears and red foxes roam freely. In a few weeks hunters in scarlet or luminous orange jackets will be on the trails, intent on deer or ruffed grouse, or anything legal in sight.
Not to mention road signs, barns, cows, and each other.
The skiers follow later, their minds on powder snow and hot buttered rum, as they bring back the gay holiday mood of summer. Once again the White Mountains will take on new life.
Ah, for a simpler time when a gay vacation only meant a cheerful one. We have to make our own fun in Colebrook. What we generally do is go out to The Balsams and watch the New Yorkers drink doubles.
It was in the doleful mid-September period of 1961—September 19, to be exact—that Barney Hill and his wife Betty began their drive from the Canadian border down U.S. 3, though the White Mountains, on their way home to Portsmouth. It was to be a night drive, brought on by a sense of urgency. The radio of their 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air hardtop made it clear that a hurricane coming up the coast might cut in toward New Hampshire, an event that in previous years had uprooted trees and spilled high-tension wires across roads.
The Great Hurricane of ‘38, to be precise.
They had failed to bring along enough cash to cover all the extras of their holiday trip, and their funds had dwindled sharply as they had driven leisurely up to Niagara Falls, then circled back through Montreal toward home.
Ah, the real reason why they were making a forced march is revealed. They didn’t have enough money for a motel so they’d decided to pull an all-nighter.
They had cleared through the U.S.-Canadian custom house at about nine that evening, winding along the lonely ceiling of Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, a section of the state that is said to have threatened to secede not only from Vermont, but from the United States as well.
I don’t know about the Northeast Kingdom threatening to secede from the United States, but the town of Pittsburg, New Hampshire, was a separate country into the beginning of the 19th century—The Republic of Indian Stream. To this day there’s an eighteen-inch section between the US and Canadian customs houses on Route 3 in Pittsburg that doesn’t belong to either country, the result of a surveying error in 1842.
There were three possible places for Barney to have crossed from Canada into Vermont: Norton, Canaan, and Beecher Falls. The border crossing in Norton is 22 miles from Colebrook, Canaan is 10 miles, Beecher Falls is 9. In the hypnotic sessions we learn Barney took Route 114, but where he got on it, whether at Norton or Canaan, isn’t specified.
The traffic was sparse; few other cars appeared on the road before the Hills approached the welcome lights of Colebrook a half an hour later…
Time and distance estimations will be important in this story, and we’ve just reached our first one. If Betty and Barney reached Colebrook in a half hour, they didn’t cross at Norton: even today, an ambulance traveling with lights-and-sirens can’t make it from Norton to Colebrook in a half hour. The road is too narrow, steep, and winding. In 1961 it was all of those, and a dirt road to boot.
If the Hills crossed at Canaan then they were averaging twenty miles an hour rather than the fifty to fifty-five that they will later estimate. A look at the road as it would have appeared then (this is a bit that was cut off when the road was straightened some years later) makes a 20-MPH speed seem more likely.
The last major town they’d have passed in Canada would have been Coaticook, Quebec, thirty miles north of the border. The land between there and Colebrook is farming country, with few lights and fewer cars.
…an ancient New Hampshire settlement founded in 1770, lying in the shadow of Mt. Monadnock, just across the river from Vermont. The lights of the village, though a relief from the endless turns of the narrow two-way road they had been traveling, were few. A forlorn glow came from the windows of a single restaurant, and realizing that this might be the last chance for any bracing refreshment for the rest of the trip, they decided to turn back even though they had driven past it.
The lights of the village would have appeared when they crested Cooper Hill, just up from my house. There were three possible restaurants they could have stopped at, all on Main Street (as Route 3 is called in Colebrook): Howard’s, at the corner of US 3 and NH 145 (still in operation; I recommend the pie), The Legion (now called The Wilderness—they open early for the farmers, truckers, and hunters), and the Speed Chef (where Bouchard’s apparel is now located).
Both Howard’s and The Legion closed around 9:00 pm, but Speed Chef (owned by Lawrence Kelsea, since deceased) stayed open until one or two in the morning, making it the most likely place for them to stop.
The restaurant was nearly deserted. A few teen-agers gathered in a far corner.
“A few teen-agers” is how you’d describe The Entire Senior Class at Colebrook Academy.
Only one woman, the waitress, in the quiet restaurant seemed to show any reaction at all to the fact that Betty and Barney Hill’s was a mixed marriage:…
“Not from around heah, are ya?”
…Barney, a strikingly handsome descendant of a proud Ethiopian freeman whose great-grandmother was born during slavery, but raised in the house of the plantation owner because she was his own daughter; Betty, whose family bought three tracts of land in York, Maine, in 1637, only to have one member cut down by the Indians….
[And so on for a bit. We return from a lengthy digression to their roadtrip, already in progress….]
But what was to happen to them this night of September 19, 1961, had nothing whatever to do with their successful mixed marriage, or their dedication to social progress. Nor was there any hint of what was to happen as they sat at the paneled restaurant counter in Colebrook, Barney unceremoniously eating a hamburger, Betty a piece of chocolate layer cake. They didn’t linger too long at the counter, just long enough for a cigarette and a cup of black coffee before they continued down U.S. 3 toward home.
Had They But Known! I’m interested in exactly how you go about ceremonially eating a hamburger. But never mind that now. Fuller is fond of his adverbs.
The distance from Colebrook to Portsmouth is a hundred and seventy miles,…
178.4 miles from the site of Speed Chef in Colebrook to the Portsmouth Traffic Circle, by actual measure following Betty and Barney’s itinerary.
… with U.S. 3 remarkably smooth and navigable in the face of the deep mountain gorges it must negotiate. Further south, below Plymouth, nearly thirty miles of four-lane highway—more than that now—invite safe speeds up to sixty-five miles an hour. For the other roads, Barney Hill liked to drive between fifty and fifty-five, even if this should be a shade above the limit.
Even today, in good weather and daylight with the road straightened and widened since 1961, it’s hard to make that speed, and it is considerably above the limit most places once you’re south of the Notch. It’s also well above Sane for those mountain gorges. I think that Barney may well have been overestimating his speed (see above, Canada-to-Colebrook).
The clock over the restroom in the Colebrook restaurant read 10:05 when they left that night. “It looks,” Barney had said to Betty as they got in their car, “like we should be home by 2:30 in the morning—or 3:00 at the latest.”
That’s a wildly optimistic estimate. But they’d already decided that they were going to drive home that night. They were on the tail end of a twelve-hundred-mile trip, had run out of money, and were committed to pushing on.
Please note that time tick, though: 10:05 EDT at Colebrook. That’s the last hard piece of data we’ll have until they arrive home at dawn the next day.
Betty agreed. She had confidence in Barney’s driving, even though she sometimes goaded him for pushing too fast. It was a bright, clear night with an almost-full moon. The stars were brilliant, as they always are in the New Hampshire mountains on a cloudless night, when starshine seems to illuminate the tops of the peaks with a strange incandescence.
“Strange incandescence,” check.
The car was running smoothly through the night air, the road winding effortlessly along the flat ground of the uppermost Connecticut River valley, an ancient Indian and lumbering country, rich in history and legend. The thirty miles south to Northumberland,…
Fuller is working from maps and tourist brochures, not from an actual visit. Had he checked it out for himself he’d have discovered that the town is called Groveton, though the police cars have “Town of Northumberland” on their doors. (He might also have found out that Groveton, then and now, is a speed trap; Barney wasn’t going fifty-to-fifty-five through town.)
… where Rogers’ Rangers made their rendezvous after the sack of St. Francis, passed quickly. Betty, an inveterate sight-seer, enjoyed the brilliance of the moon reflecting on the valley and the mountains in the distance, both in New Hampshire to the east and over the river to Vermont in the west. Delsey, the Hills’ scrappy little dachshund, was at peace on the floor by the front seat at Betty’s feet.
One wonders what Delsey made of the space aliens. One also wonders what the space aliens made of Delsey: “Nice people, but woo! is their kid ugly….”
Through Lancaster, a village with a wide main street and fine old pre-Revolutionary houses—all dark now on this September night—U.S. 3 continues south, as the Connecticut River swings westward to widen New Hampshire’s territory and narrow Vermont’s. Here the smooth, wide valley changes to a more uncertain path through the mountains, with the serrated peaks of the Pilot Range, described lushly by one writer as “a great rolling rampart which plays fantastic tricks with sunshine and shadow, and towards sunset assumes the tenderest tints of deep amethyst.”
The mountains there are indeed called the Pilot Range on the map, but I don’t know about serrated. I’d say more rounded as if they’d been ground down by an ice sheet about a thousand feet thick. The Pilot Range has nothing more to do with this story—like Lancaster’s wide main street (Lancaster is particularly proud of that; it’s in all the brochures) it’s just there to provide local (amethyst) color.
The important point to note is that the road here becomes steeper and more winding as it leaves the Connecticut valley and heads for Franconia Notch and the headwaters of the Merrimack river.
There was no sunshine or amethyst now, only the luminous moon, very bright and large, and a black tarvia two-lane road which seemed totally deserted. To the left of the moon, and slightly below it, was a particularly bright star, perhaps a planet, Betty Hill thought, because of its steady glow.
There were no streetlights, either. In the shadows of the trees and mountains at night US 3 is blacker than the Earl of Hell’s weskit. And the road didn’t just seem deserted—it probably was deserted. One of Colebrook Academy’s class reunion parties featured a volleyball game with the net strung across Route 3.
The planet to the left of the moon was Jupiter. The planet to the right of the moon was Saturn. The moon had transited at 8:38 p.m. local time while Betty and Barney were still in Canada and was now setting in the southwest. The moon and planets would have been visible from the straight stretch just north of Lancaster before the junction with US 2.
Just south of Lancaster, the exact time she cannot remember, Betty was a little startled to notice that another star or planet, a bigger one, had appeared above the other. It had not been there, she was sure, when she looked before. But more curious was that the new celestial visitor appeared to be getting bigger and brighter. For several moments she watched it, said nothing to her husband as he negotiated driving through the mountains.
Just south of Lancaster, as US 3 heads away from the Connecticut, one goes steeply up hill over the shoulder of Mount Prospect. On the peak of that mountain stands Weeks State Park, a fire tower, and the John Weeks House (hosting a museum that has in its collection a bull moose shot by Teddy Roosevelt himself). On the right as one crests the shoulder of the mountain there’s a Scenic Turnout. But there’s one thing more important still: As one comes over that crest line the top of Cannon Mountain (AKA “Profile Mountain” because it was the site of the Great Stone Face) suddenly appears dead ahead, bearing 199 magnetic. (Yeah, I know the road is four lanes at this time. I remember when it was widened, too—before then you could get stuck forever behind a truck laboring up that slope.)
At night, Cannon Mountain is invisible.
But, on top of Cannon Mountain there’s an observation tower, and on top of that observation tower is an all-around white light.
Here’s the description of that light from when it was put into operation in 1959:
1/1/1959 by CGS (FIRST OBSERVED)
DESCRIBED BY COAST AND GEODETIC SURVEY 1959 (HRL) STATION IS LOCATED ABOUT 11 MILES SOUTHWEST OF TWIN MOUNTAIN AND ABOUT 5-1/2 MILES SOUTHEAST OF FRANCONIA ON THE HIGHEST POINT OF PROFILE MOUNTAIN. STATION IS ABOUT 35 FEET TALL, CONSTRUCTED OF WOOD AND IS SUPPORTED BY FOUR LEGS. THE POINT INTERSECTED WAS THE WHITE LIGHT ON THE ROOF OF THE TOWER WHICH IS JUST TO THE EAST OF CENTER OF THE ROOF. TO REACH STATION FROM THE JUNCTION OF U.S. HIGHWAYS 3 AND 302 AND STATE HIGHWAYS 10 AND 115 IN TWIN MOUNTAIN GO WEST AND SOUTH ON U.S. HIGHWAY 3 FOR 12.0 MILES TO THE AERIAL TRAMWAY AT FRANCONIA NOTCH AND END OF TRUCK TRAVEL. RIDE THE TRAMWAY TO THE TOP AND THEN FOLLOW THE FOOTPATH FOR ABOUT 5 MINUTES TO THE SUMMIT AND STATION AS DESCRIBED.
Betty would have lost sight of the moon and its accompanying planets as the car went up hill along the side of Mt. Prospect, heading nearly due south. As they crested the rise, the moon and planets would reappear, only now there were two lights to the left of the moon.
The light on Cannon Mountain, at that range on a clear night, is as bright or brighter than Jupiter. On a clear night stars appear below the peak of Cannon Mountain to the right and left.
Up above we heard the Hills, in a different interview, relate, “it first appeared to be a falling star—only it fell upward.”
Immediately after cresting the shoulder of the mountain, Route 3 plunges down a 9% grade for the next half mile. The road is pointed directly at Cannon Mountain at this time. Subjectively, at night, I can report of my own direct observation, the light appears to head rapidly straight up.
Perhaps Betty could not recall the exact time, but I can calculate it: Driving south from Colebrook along Rt. 3, doing 55 MPH from Colebrook to North Stratford and 50 MPH south of there (per the speed limit these days, using cruise control for accuracy) with 30 MPH in the towns of North Stratford, Groveton, and Lancaster, Betty and Barney would have crested that rise at 10:53 p.m. local time. Had they driven more slowly, they’d have gotten there later; that’s the earliest they could have arrived.
Finally, when the strange light persisted, she nudged Barney, who slowed the car somewhat and looked out the right-hand side of the windshield to see it. “When I looked at it first,” Barney Hill later said, “it didn’t seem anything particularly unusual, except that we were fortunate enough to see a satellite. It had no doubt gone off its course, and it seemed to be going along the curvature of the earth. It was quite a distance out, meaning it looked like a star, in motion.”
How a satellite might go off course is never explained, but that the light was following the curvature of the earth is very perceptive.
In a moving car, at night, in the mountains, the illusion that the car is stationary while the world is moving outside is strong. And the light on Cannon does appear to move against the star field.
They drove on, glancing at the bright object frequently, finding it difficult to tell if the light itself were moving or if the movement of the car were making it seem to move. The object would disappear behind trees, or a mountain top, then reappear again as the obstruction was cleared. Delsey, the dog, was beginning to get slightly restless, and Betty mentioned that perhaps they should let her out and take advantage of the road stop to get a better look. Barney, an avid plane watcher who sometimes liked to take his two sons (from a former marriage) to watch Piper Cub seaplanes land and take off on Lake Winnipesaukee, agreed, and pulled the car over to the side of the road where there was reasonably unobstructed visibility.
“…finding it difficult to tell if the light itself were moving or if the movement of the car were making it seem to move.” That too is a very perceptive comment. The next obvious question would be, “What made you think that the light was the thing that was moving?” Subjectively, driving on that road at night, the light does appear to move up and down, to the right and left of the road, appearing and disappearing between trees and mountains. Even if you know what it is, it’s weird to watch. It vanishes over here, it reappears over there … spooky.
There are several places along US 3 between Lancaster and Whitefield where the light on Cannon Mountain is easily visible.
At this point we come to the first of several stops of unknown duration that Betty and Barney will make during their trip to Portsmouth. Whether or not they maintained their estimated speed, these stops must have added up.
There were woods nearby, and Barney, a worrier at times, mentioned they might keep an eye out for bears, a distinct possibility in this part of the country. Betty, who seldom lets herself get concerned or emotional about anything, laughed his suggestion off, snapped the chain lead on Delsey’s collar, and walked her along the side of the road. At this moment, she noted that the star, or the light, or whatever it was in the September sky, was definitely moving. As Barney joined her on the road, she handed Delsey’s leash to him and went back to the car. She took from the front seat a pair of 7x50 Crescent binoculars they had brought along for their holiday scenery, especially Niagara Falls, which Betty Hill had never seen before. Barney, noting that the light in the sky was moving, was now fully convinced that it was a straying satellite.
Betty put the binoculars up to her eyes and focused carefully. What they both were about to see was to change their lives forever, and as some observers claim, change the course of the history of the world.
Betty and Barney will spend a lot of time laughing off each others’ suggestions before the night is out. Barney should have put worries about bears out of his mind. We used to say that there hadn’t been a bear-related fatality in New Hampshire in over 200 years. But, just recently, a guy saw a bear, ran, and had a heart attack.
Back to the light in the sky: It’s very hard to tell if a point light source against a dark background is moving. Tiny eye movements, if nothing else, create the illusion. Keeping a pair of binoculars that you’re holding in hand steady on an object is very difficult. The object will jump all over the place, thanks to muscle tremors.
Barney expected to see the light moving; he thought it was a satellite. Betty too expected to see it moving. She thought it was a flying saucer (as will shortly be revealed).
At this point there’s a line break and Fuller drops back to a wide-ranging digression.
The holiday trip had been a spontaneous idea, originating with Barney. For some time now, he had been assigned to the night shift at the Boston post office, where he worked as an assistant dispatcher….
And so on for several pages. We learn that:
a) Barney commuted 120 miles every day.
b) Barney worked nights and was bored with his job.
c) Barney decided to drive out to Niagara Falls on the evening of 14 September, told Betty about it on the morning of the 15th, and planned the trip that same morning.
d) “But trip money was not in the budget.”
The digression then digresses further to provide quite a bit more detail about Betty’s family, how she grew up during the Depression, her college career, and her dedication to Civil Rights.
We’re still on the 15th of September, four days before Betty and Barney traveled down Rt. 3, as we return to our story already in progress….
The planning of the trip that was to have such a profound impact on their lives was brief and relaxed. The shortage of immediate funds was partially compensated for by Betty’s idea of borrowing a car-refrigerator from a friend. In this way, the expense of too many meals in restaurants would be reduced. Barney, momentarily ignoring the diet for his ulcers, drank a glass of orange juice, ate six strips of bacon and two soft-boiled eggs, as he plotted the course of the trip on a few Gulf road maps. They would drive leisurely, avoiding the throughways, pay a brief visit to Niagara Falls, then circle through Montreal, and back to Portsmouth. While Betty shopped for food, Barney took a nap to recover from his all-night work at the Boston post office.
That is to say, his sleep schedule is already disrupted. The total distance of the trip would be on the order of twelve-hundred miles, and they would be going on secondary roads.
They finished most of their packing that afternoon, filled the car-refrigerator with food and put it in the deep freeze. By eight o’clock that evening they were in bed with the alarm set for four the next morning.
Barney, an inveterate early-riser, was up first, but in moments Betty had coffee percolating, and the last-minute packing process began….
Her sleep schedule is disrupted too. We’re now on the morning of Saturday, the 16th. Skipping ahead a bit, as Fuller goes into their last-minute packing process in more detail than you’d expect….
It was a clear, crisp New Hampshire morning as they drove off, noting the mileage on the speedometer only to lose the slip of paper later—an ingrained habit of Barney’s. They drove out on Route 4, toward Concord, in a festive mood. Barney, at the wheel, burst into a hoarse version of “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning.” Betty, who liked to hear Barney sing, smiled. Barney, who liked to please Betty, smiled back. There was no hint at all of what was about to happen later; nor could there be. No such event would be so thoroughly documented.
Barney likes to please Betty. Check. Thoroughly documented. Check. Lost the slip with the mileage. Check.
We return from that pages-long digression via a line-break to find:
The object they saw in the sky near Route 3 four nights later, south of Lancaster, New Hampshire, continued its unpredictable movement as they passed through Whitefield and the village of Twin Mountain. They stopped briefly several times, and by now Barney was frankly puzzled.
Okay, we have one stop north of Whitefield and “several” through Whitefield and Twin Mountain. (Need I mention that the light on top of Cannon Mountain is visible at various points along this entire route—sometimes high, sometimes low, sometimes to the right of the road, and sometimes to the left?)
His only alternate theory, aside from a satellite, was that the object was a star, a theory he immediately discounted because they had proved that it was in movement, changing its course in an erratic manner. At one of the stops, a few miles north of Cannon Mountain, Betty had said, “Barney, if you think that’s a satellite, or a star, you’re being absolutely ridiculous.”
The light on Cannon does indeed move against the starfield as you drive south. Betty’s right: it isn’t a satellite or a star.
With his naked eye, Barney could tell that she was right. It was obviously not a celestial object now, he was sure. “We’ve made a mistake, Betty,” he said. “It’s a commercial plane. Probably on its way to Canada.” He got back in the car, and they continued driving on.
Betty, in the passenger seat, kept it in view as they moved down Route 3. It seemed to her that it was getting bigger and brighter, and she kept getting more and more puzzled and more curious. Barney would note it through the windshield on occasion, but was more worried about a car coming around the now frequent curves of the road. His theory that it was a commercial airliner headed for Canada soothed his annoyance at the fact that he might be confronted with some unexplainable phenomenon.
The light on Cannon does indeed keep getting bigger and brighter. One question that you’d have to answer in order to show this was a flying saucer is, “If what you saw was a space ship, where was the light on Cannon while all this was going on?”
The road was completely deserted; they hadn’t seen a car or truck in either direction for miles now, which left them alone in the deep gorges late at night. Some natives of northern New Hampshire prefer never to drive through these roads at night, through long-standing custom and superstition.
In winter, an informal group known as the Blue Angels patrols the roads for cars frozen or broken down. It is too easy to freeze to death in these lonely stretches, and the State Troopers cannot possibly cover the wide territory frequently enough. Barney, his concern growing in spite of his comforting theories, hoped that he would soon see a trooper or at least another car driving by which he could flag and compare notes with.
Blue Angels? I suppose it’s possible. Before my time. But it is easy to freeze to death up here, and traffic is light. One night I drove to Littleton and didn’t see one single other vehicle on the road between Colebrook and Whitefield. We’ll see in a bit exactly how eager Barney was to talk with someone about what they were observing.
Around eleven o’clock they approached the enormous and somber silhouette of Cannon Mountain, looming to the west on their right.
No they didn’t. Around eleven o’clock, even if they hadn’t stopped to walk the dog, even if they’d been driving fifty-to-fifty-five miles an hour the whole way, they would have still been north of Whitefield.
Later on, Fuller will make a big deal about how, the next morning when they arrived home, Betty and Barney discovered that their watches weren’t running. What this tells me is that, if this was based on Betty or Barney looking at their watch, that watch had already stopped.
After they leave Colebrook there are no good time-ticks.
Barney slowed the car down near a picnic turnout that commanded a wide view to the west and looked again at the strange moving light. In amazement he noted that it swung suddenly from its northern flight pattern, turning to the west, then completing its turn and heading back directly toward them.
South of Twin Mountain you have a couple of choices, but the only one that matches this description is the picnic turnout at the foot of Mt. Cleveland. (Beaver Brook is up a sideroad and doesn’t have a good look at the sky. The turnout at the top of the Franconia Notch trails already has a good view of the Aerial Tramway.)
Barney braked the car sharply, turning off into the picnic area.
Ah, so at the moment he saw the unknown object swing in a circle and head back toward them the car was still in motion. That is a pretty fair description of the Cannon Mountain light’s apparent track, too, right about there. You come to the Mt. Cleveland picnic area directly out of a set of S-bends.
“Whatever you’re calling it, Barney,” Betty said, “I don’t know why, because it’s still up there, and its still following us, and if anything it’s coming right toward us.”The light is objectively considerably bigger here than it is when you can first spot it outside Lancaster. And, when you stare at a point source against a dark background, it will appear to grow in size (approach you). Try it with a random star and see for yourself.
“It’s got to be a plane,” Barney said. They were standing in the picnic area now, looking up at the light which was growing bigger still. “A commercial liner.”
“With a crazy course like that?” Betty said.Unless an aircraft is very close and very low, you wouldn’t hear a sound anyway, and sound does get lost in the mountains. Still air at the surface is no guarantee of still air aloft—those high winds on Mount Washington aren’t far away. But in any case, if it was indeed the light on Cannon Mountain that they were seeing, there wouldn’t be a sound.
“Well, then it’s a Piper Cub. That’s what it is. With some hunters who might be lost.”
“It’s not hunting season,” Betty said, as Barney took the binoculars from her. “And I don’t hear a sound.”
Neither did Barney, although he desperately wanted to.
“It might be a helicopter,” he said as he looked through the binoculars. He was sure that it wasn’t, but was reaching for any kind of explanation which would make sense. “The wind might be carrying the sound the other direction.”
“There is no wind, Barney. Not tonight. You know that.”
Through the binoculars, Barney now made out a shape, like the fuselage of a plane, although he could see no wings. There also seemed to be a blinking series of lights along the fuselage or whatever it was, in an alternating pattern. When Betty took the glasses, the object passed in front of the moon, in silhouette. It appeared to be flashing thin pencils of different colored lights, rotating around an object which at that time appeared to be cigar shaped. Just a moment before it had changed its speed from slow to fast, then slowed down again as it crossed the face of the moon. The lights were flashing persistently, red, amber, green and blue. She turned to Barney, asking him to take another look.Through binoculars Barney would have been able to make out the edge of the roof on the lookout tower, illuminated by the light above it.
As to the color changes, I have no explanation, other than that by now Betty and Barney must have both been reeling with fatigue.
“It’s got to be a plane,” Barney said. “Maybe a military plane. A search plane. Maybe it’s a plane that’s lost.”Barney is starting to get cranky. And we’re now told that Betty is a true believer in flying saucers. The description of her sister’s UFO encounter runs on for a bit. When we return to Betty and Barney in the picnic area….
He was getting irritated at Betty now, or taking out his irritation on her because she was refusing to accept a natural explanation. At one time, several years before, in 1957, Betty’s sister and family had described seeing clearly an unidentified flying object ….
Beside them, the dachshund was whining and cowering.Perhaps noticing that Betty and Barney were getting tense and angry with one another.
Betty gave the binoculars to Barney, took Delsey to the car and got in and shut the door. Barney put the glasses on the object again, again wishing that he could find some comfort from comparing notes with a passing motorist. He wanted above all to hear a sound: the throb of a propeller-driven plane or the whir of a jet. None came. For the first time, he felt he was being observed, that the object was actually coming closer and attempting to circle them. If it’s a military craft, he was thinking, it should not do this, and his mind went back to a few years before when a jet had buzzed close to them, shattered the sound barrier, and cracked the air with an explosion.It looks like Betty’s getting cranky too.
Getting back in the car, Barney mentioned to Betty that he though that the craft had seen them and was playing games with them. He tried not to let Betty know that he was afraid, something he didn’t like to admit to himself.
They drove on toward Cannon Mountain at not much more than five miles an hour, catching glimpses of the object as it moved erratically in the sky.
They’re both tired, and scared.
The distance from the Mt. Cleveland picnic area to the base of Cannon Mountain is 6.4 miles. If Barney really drove it at “not much more than five miles an hour,” there’s one of his missing hours right there.
At the top of the mountain, the only light they had seen for miles glowed like a beacon, appearing to be on the top of the closed and silent aerial tramway, or perhaps on the restaurant there.
They’re in the Notch now, and can see the windows on the restaurant at the top of the Aerial Tramway, elevation 4,077 feet. Although the snack bar there closes around five in the afternoon, the Coke machines and such would have cast a visible light (as they do to this day). Betty and Barney were about a mile from the top of the Tramway at this time, and to the dark-adapted eye even the glow of a cigarette is very visible at that range.
The top of the mountain is 4,180 feet, the light is 36 feet above the base of the tower which sits on that peak. The light on the lookout tower is about 150 feet above the Tramway, and about 250 feet south of it.
There are two separate lights visible at this point: the restaurant at the top tramway station, and the lookout tower. Betty and Barney observed two lights: the restaurant at the top tramway station, and the UFO.
They stopped again near the base of the mountain, momentarily, as the object suddenly swung behind the dark silhouette and disappeared. At the same moment, the light on the top of the mountain went out, inexplicably.
As you move farther south through Franconia Notch, both the light at the tramway station and the light on the lookout tower are occluded by the shoulder of the mountain.
Betty looked at her watch as it did so, wondering if the restaurant were closed.Yes, it was closed. But it didn’t suddenly close Right Then and switch out its lights.
She could not read the dial very plainly in the dashboard light, and never did get an accurate reading. If there were people up there, she thought, they must be getting an exceptional view of the object
Nope, no time-tick.
Here’s a photo of the tramway station from the lookout tower. We’re looking out from the tower toward Lancaster.
No, the folks at the tramway station don’t get an exceptional view of the lookout tower. It isn’t visible unless you’re standing on the tramway’s roof. That’s a bit of US 3/I-93 in the lower center; you can get an idea of where and in what relation someone on the ground would see both structures
And here’s a photo of the restaurant windows on the tramway station. They face toward the road, and can be seen glowing visibly at night (at least these days). According to the nice lady who was running the tram car, there’s always been a snack bar up there.
As the car moved by the darkened silhouette of the Old Man of the Mountain, the object appeared again, gliding silently, leisurely, parallel to the car to the west of them, on the Vermont side of the car. It was more wooded here, more difficult to keep the object in sight as it glided behind the trees. But it was there, moving with them. Near The Flume, a tourist attraction, they stopped again, almost got a sharp, clear look at it, but again the trees intervened.This completely, absolutely, and exactly describes the position and apparent motion of the light on the lookout tower.
Here is a photo from the lookout tower, looking east toward Mt. Layfayette. You can see, on the left, the shoulder of the mountain that occludes the light from the road (where Betty and Barney saw the light vanish), and you can see Rt. 3 to the southeast. The light appears, to a vehicle moving south (to the right in the photo), to follow a path that’s the reciprocal of the curves in the road.
Just beyond The Flume they passed a small motel, the first sign of life they had seen for many miles. The tidy hostelry looked comforting, although Barney, his eyes alternately moving between the curves of the road and the object in the sky, barely noticed it. Betty noted a sign beaming with AAA approval, and the light in a single lonely window. A man was standing in the doorway of one of the cottages, and Betty thought how easy it would be to end the whole situation right now by simply pulling into the motel.Had Barney really been intent on flagging down another motorist or a State trooper, he had his opportunity here. But perhaps his desire to talk to someone else was stronger in retrospect than it was at the time.
As for Betty, one can imagine the dialog had they pulled in, and had she asked the man:
Betty: Do you see it?
Man: See what?
Betty: Over there! [points] The UFO that’s been following us! It’s been watching us since Lancaster!
Man: You mean the aircraft-warning light on Cannon Mountain?
Betty: It’s not an alien spacecraft intent on kidnapping us?
Man: Not from around heah, are ya.
On the other hand, it would have made for a very short book.
Her curiosity about the object had now become overwhelming, and she was determined to see more of it. By now Barney was beginning to irritate her by trying to deny the existence of the object. In fact, he was. He was still concerned about another car coming around a blind curve while he tried to keep one eye on the object as it moved almost directly ahead of them on the road.
Getting crankier by the minute. They’re both over-tired.
It was now apparently only a few hundred feet high, and it was huge. Further off, it had seemed to Betty that it was spinning; now it had stopped and the light pattern had changed from blinking, multicolored lights to a steady, white glow. In spite of the vibrations of the car, she put the binoculars to her eyes and looked again.
She drew a quick, involuntary breath because she could clearly see a double row of windows. Without the glasses, it had appeared only as a streak of light. Now it was clear that this was a structured craft of enormous dimension, just how large she couldn’t tell because both distance and altitude were hard to judge exactly. Then, slowly, a red light came out on the left side of the object, followed by a similar one on the right.
“Barney,” she said, “I don’t know why you’re trying not to look at this. Stop the car and look at it!”
She can see all that with binoculars from inside a moving car? I rather suspect we’re in Recovered Memories territory now.
“It’ll go away by the time I do that,” Barney said. He was not at all convinced that it would.
“Barney, you’ve got to stop. You’ve never seen anything like this in your life.”
He looked through the windshield and could see it plainly now, not more than two hundred feet in the air, he thought, and coming closer. A curve to the left in the road now shifted the object to the right of the car, but the distance remained the same. To the right, not far south of Indian Head, where another historic stone face surveys the mountains and valleys, he saw two imitation commercial wigwams on the site of a closed-down enterprise known as Natureland. Here, hundreds of youngsters swarm with their parents during summer visits. At the moment, it was silent and tomb-like.
Barney stopped the car almost in the center of the road, forgetting in the excitement any problem with other traffic. “All right, give me the binoculars,” he said. Betty resented his tone. It sounded like he was trying to humor her.
Barney got out, the motor still running, and leaned his arm on the door of the car. By now the object had swung toward them and hovered silently in the air not more than a short city block away, not more than two treetops high. It was raked on an angle, and its full shape was apparent for the first time: that of a large glowing pancake. But the vibrations from the motor jostled his arm, blurring his vision. He stepped to one side of the car to get a better look….
At this point we get into a long segment of running around a field trying to get a view of the object, with a great deal of dialog between the two. Most, if not all, of it appears to be memories recovered through hypnosis. The important point to notice is that they have, once again, stopped the car and spent some unknown amount of time looking at the strange object.
Returning to Fuller’s book a page or so later….
Barney was near hysteria. He jammed the car into first gear, spurted off down the road, shouting that he was sure they were going to be captured. He ordered Betty to look out the window to see where the craft was. She rolled down the window on the passenger side, looked out. The object was nowhere in sight. Craning her neck, she looked directly above the car. She could see nothing whatever. The strange craft did not appear in sight. But neither were the stars which had seconds ago been so brilliant in the sky. Barney kept yelling that he was sure it had swung above them.
2.1 miles south of Indian Head is the last time the Lookout Tower Light is visible from Rt. 3.
Betty checked again, but all she could see was total darkness. She looked out the rear window, saw nothing—except the stars, then visible through the window.
The light on top of Cannon Mountain at this point was directly behind them and obscured by trees. It hadn’t swung above them, it had vanished astern.
Then suddenly a strange electronic-sounding beeping was heard. The car seemed to vibrate with it. It was in irregular rhythm—beep, beep—beep, beep, beep—seeming to come from behind the car, in the direction of the trunk.
Barney said, “What’s that noise?”
Betty said, “I don’t know.”
They each began to feel an odd tingling drowsiness come over them. From that moment, a sort of haze came over them.
Drowsiness is about the least they can expect.
Objectively speaking, it’s probably about 1:15 a.m. by now. Moonset is coming up in fifteen minutes. They’ve probably been on their feet and moving for close to eighteen hours straight. Sleep deprivation can produce some strange effects. So can sensory deprivation, and driving through the mountains at night is a pretty close to sensory deprivation. Do you remember those old “Night Driver” video games, where you had to use a steering wheel to keep centered between an endless line of approaching dots that shifted right and left across the screen? Driving Rt. 3 at night is like that.
Some time later, how long they were not sure, the beeping sound repeated itself. They were conscious only that there were two sets of these beeps, separated by a time span they had no idea about—as well as what had happened or how long it had taken.
As the second set of beeps grew louder, the Hills’ awareness slowly returned. They were still in the car—and the car was moving, with Barney at the wheel. They were silent, numb, and sonambulistic. At first, they rode silently, glancing out at the road to see just where they might be. A sign told them they were somewhere in the vicinity of Ashland, thirty-five miles south of Indian Head, where the inexplicable beeping had first sounded. In those first few moments of consciousness, Betty remembers faintly saying to her husband, “Now do you believe in flying saucers?” And he recalls answering: “Don’t be ridiculous. Of course not.”
But neither can remember much detail, other than this, until they had driven on the new highway, U.S. 93. Not long after entering this highway, Betty suddenly snapped out of her semi-wakefulness and pointed to a sign reading: CONCORD—17 MILES.
“Concord—17 Miles” is the very first sign you see on I-93, right after the entrance ramp at Tilton, and Tilton is the very first time Rt. 3 crosses I-93 after Ashland.
“That’s where we are, Barney,” she said. “Now we know.”
Barney, too, remembers his mind clearing at this point. He does not even recall being disturbed or concerned about the thirty-five miles between Indian Head and Ashland, about which he seemed to remember nothing.
They drove on toward Concord, saying little. They did decide, though, that the experience at Indian Head was so strange, so unbelievable that they would tell no one about it. “No one would believe it anyway,” Barney said. “I find it hard to believe myself.”
Betty agreed. Near Concord, they looked for a place to have a cup of coffee, but nothing was open, anywhere.
They lose yet more time cruising around Concord looking for coffee. If “several” means “three” and each diversion took just ten minutes, they’ve lost at least eighty minutes to these stops.
The whole trip, until they reached US 93 (now I-93) at Tilton was on unlighted two-lane blacktop, mostly through woods and beside fields. The change to superhighway is the first real change.
Still groggy and uncommunicative, they ploughed on, now turning east on Route 4, swinging across the state toward the ocean and Portsmouth.
It’s probably close to four in the morning now; they’ve been driving for around twenty straight hours, with time out to eat out of their car-refrigerator and grab that snack in Colebrook. “Groggy” is how anyone would feel.
Just outside of Portsmouth, they noticed dawn streaking the sky in the east. As they drove through the streets of the slumbering city, no one was stirring. The birds were already chattering, though, and it was nearly full daylight when they reached home. Barney looked at his watch, but it had stopped running, and shortly afterward Betty looked at hers and it had also stopped. Inside, the kitchen clock read shortly after five in the morning. “It looks,” said Barney, “like we’ve arrived home a little later than expected.”
They had indeed. The birds would start chattering, and the sky would be streaked with dawn, at the beginning of Nautical Twilight (when the sky is light enough for a definite horizon to be seen, but the brightest stars are still visible). In Portsmouth, on the 20th of September 1961, nautical twilight commenced at 0427. And, finally, we have another time-tick, although it’s a squishy one: “shortly after five.”