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In the murky waters of the UFO mystery, there are very few things to be found that are crystal clear. One of those things is that the modern narrative of what we refer to as ‘alien abductions’ can be definitely traced back to a single case, involving an interracial American couple who abruptly jumped into the spotlight in the 1960s, despite their initial wish to remain anonymous: I am talking of course about Betty and Barney Hill.

What I personally find to be most interesting about this ‘ur-abduction’ is not so much the description of the events, as they have been documented by both John Fuller in the classic Interrupted Journey, or later by Betty’s niece Kathleen Marden and her colleague Stan Friedman in Captured! The Betty and Barney Hill UFO Experience. No, to me what I’ve always found to be the most intriguing aspect of this case is Barney himself. Watching James Earl Jones giving one of the greatest performances of his career by playing the part of a terrified Barney –in the TV movie The UFO Incident (1975) –who is reliving the events of that fateful night of September 19th, 1961 while under the hypnotic suggestion induced by Dr. Simon, left a huge impression in me –who could have thought Darth Vader could sound so scared?

Which is why this black-and-white video clip showing Barney participating in the old TV show ‘To Tell the Truth’ — a very popular nighttime CBS series that originally ran from 1956 to 1978– is incredibly interesting to me, and I’m sure students of the UFO phenomenon will find it very useful as well. This rare historical jewel was dug up by television producer, director and writer Bryce Zabel, who co-wrote the book A.D. After Disclosure with Richard Dolan. This episode was broadcast on December 12, 1966 (5 years after their alleged UFO encounter and abduction):

What we have here was perhaps one of the first times the concept of alien abduction was publicly addressed on American national television, and although the setting of a game show was not exactly ideal, it’s important to note how receptive both the audience and the show host were to Barney’s account. There is a total absence of the ‘giggle factor’ which has later accompanied the subject, ever since it was discovered and exploited by pop culture in the 1990s –anal probes, anyone?

I’d also like to bring to your attention the short, succinct responses Barney gives to the participants’ questions. I guess he wasn’t overtly eager to go into the details about the warts that appeared on his groin they days subsequent to their close encounter…

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Getting back to the Hill case, once I managed to learn more about it –the pros and cons, the Star Map and the skeptics’ arguments, etc– I kept feeling Barney always remained a secondary character in the narrative. Even in how they are traditionally referred to (“Betty and Barney Hill”) I believe has less to do with political correctness, than a tacit acknowledgement of how Betty was the one carrying the baton while Barney was following her lead; to the point that most skeptics end up embracing with Dr. Simon’s original assessment of the case when he proposed Barney’s recollections of the event was the result of Betty’s dreams (before the hypnosis sessions) influencing his subconscious. Even Barney’s granddaughter Angela “Overkill’ Hill –a professional UFC fighter– referred to Betty on the Mind Cemetery podcast as a ‘witch’ who had cast a spell on her late grandfather(!).

And yet to conclude Barney was a ‘submissive’ supporter of his wife’s fantasy would be a great disservice to the man, I feel. Here’s an individual going through both personal and circumstantial events that brought inordinate amounts of stress into his life: being a black man married to a white woman after divorcing his first wife and the mother of his two sons, this during a time of explosive racial tensions in America; having to drive extremely long daily commutes between their home in N. Hampshire and his work as a city carrier for the US Post Office in the city of Boston –oh and let’s not forget a little thing called The Cold War that was transpiring in the background…

All this daily-life anxiety, combined with the post-traumatic stress induced by the anomalous events they suffered on that night of 1961 took a toll on poor Barney’s health. He died at the early age of 46 from cerebral hemorrhage.

“Why then,” one might ask, “would someone suffering from all that emotional tension decide to appear in front of a live TV audience?”

Make no mistake: Barney was NOT a wimp. He was a WWII veteran and also an active supporter, along with Betty, of the civil rights movement. He served as legal redress for his local chapter of the NAACP and on the Governor’s Council of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. As told by Kathleen Marden on Captured! “he worked side by side with Betty and community leaders to found the Rockingham County Community Action Program, and served as its first executive director.” Such prominent civil positions would no doubt have made Barney accustomed to addressing large audiences. Marden also mentions that he and Betty appeared on radio and television programs –of which To Tell the Truth was evidently one of them– and spoke on college campuses all across the United States. If at first the Hills had resented the public spotlight they found themselves into after their story was leaked to the press –read Captured! to learn about the details– eventually they played along with it in order to make their case known to the public, perhaps in the hope to discover what really happened to them on that lonely road near Indian Head, New Hampshire.

 

(H/T Mike Clelland)