I mean, I get it. I’ve noted over and over in these articles that History Channel’s Project Blue Book is a drama that only uses the touchstones of certain “real” UFO investigations to help drive the narrative. But with a case as important to the history of UFO research as the Betty and Barney Hill alien abduction, the first of its kind ever reported in North America, isn’t it a little damaging to play so fast and loose with actual history?
Maybe most importantly, it wasn’t just Barney (“Thomas Mann,” as the character is named in the “Abduction” episode of Blue Book) who was taken, but Betty as well. The couple was separated by their captors and “examined,” in what’s become traditional abduction lore. Crucially, it was Betty who most pushed the abduction narrative in the intervening two years between their encounter and the first hypnosis sessions.
That’s right, as long as Thomas Mann had to wait for Allen Hynek to put him under, the Hills waited even longer. During that time, Betty obsessively wrote down accounts of what she said were “dreams” of what happened on board the craft. Undoubtedly she shared these with Barney, surely influencing him, despite Barney during all that time thinking nothing really extraordinary happened that night in 1961, assuming the light they saw was a plane.
Still, once under hypnosis, the separate stories varied widely. Betty had described short, dark-haired men with big noses in her dreams, but Barney spoke of thin, gray-skinned, big-headed beings with “wraparound” eyes, the template for the modern “grey” alien. It’s an image that coincidentally (???) resembles the alien in an episode of The Outer Limits TV show, “The Bellero Shield,” which had aired just 12 days before Barney’s first session. At this point, Betty abandoned her previous descriptions and fell in line with the proto-greys.
That’s the problem with hypnosis. Decades of bad television and Vegas stage acts have convinced us it’s an infallible memory recovery tool, and once under, no one can lie or misremember. If anything, it’s the exact opposite. No one really understands what the hypnotic state is, but people in it are highly suggestible. You can’t make someone cluck like a chicken when fed a secret word, but leading statements like Hynek’s “the moment you encountered the craft” sure can kick off a fantastic tale. For what it’s worth, psychiatrist Benjamin Simon, who conducted the Hills’ hypnosis sessions, called their accounts a “psychological aberration.”
The “star map” that Betty (not Barney) described wasn’t of a “mirror image” of the Pleiades star cluster, which would honestly be pretty boring and hard to identify. It was even better, potentially! Betty had always spoken of a three-dimensional image of the aliens’ “trade routes,” and she finally sketched out a dozen or so connected dots upon Simon’s request.
Ohio schoolteacher Marjorie Fish saw the “map” in a popular book on the Hill abduction, The Interrupted Journey, and decided to build a simulation of the Milky Way in her living room, with beads and string, to figure out where the aliens were from, based on this perspective. After years of doing this, Fish finally decided the abductors were from the Zeta Reticuli binary star system. It’s honestly surprising it took her THAT long to identify a location. People are really good at finding patterns in random data; look at the Bible code, for instance.
And there wasn’t any alien implant, for Christ’s sake! It was almost the 1980s before you started to hear much about that particular twist. The “implants” reported sure as hell don’t behave the way the one in Project Blue Book did, either. Most have pretty easily been identified as bits of broken glass or splinters of metal (not unusual for people who work in industrial jobs).
You wanna know the weirdest, cringiest thing Project Blue Book changed? Yes, Barney Hill was black, but Betty Hill was white.
While that kind of bending is fine in fiction, when a character’s race doesn’t really impact their personality, changing the race of the real life Betty Hill changes the whole story. This was an interracial couple in 1961. New Hampshire isn’t exactly Alabama, but that kind of thing wasn’t really accepted anywhere at the time, and any discussion of the Hills’ lives and how people perceived them can’t be conducted honestly without mentioning it.
Barney died of a cerebral hemorrhage only seven years after the “abduction,” and Betty’s life never settled down until her own death in 2004. Whether from the trauma of the incident, her husband’s death or otherwise, Betty’s attachment to reality continued to deteriorate, as was clear even to other UFO buffs, unavoidably calling into question her original account. As reported by skeptical investigator Robert Shaeffer,
I was present at the National UFO Conference in New York City in 1980, at which Betty presented some of the UFO photos she had taken. She showed what must have been well over two hundred slides, mostly of blips, blurs, and blobs against a dark background. These were supposed to be UFOs coming in close, chasing her car, landing, etc. … After her talk had exceeded about twice its allotted time, Betty was literally jeered off the stage by what had been at first a very sympathetic audience … In 1995, Betty Hill wrote a self-published book, “A Common Sense Approach to UFOs.” It is filled with obviously delusional stories, such as seeing entire squadrons of UFOs in flight and a truck levitating above the freeway.