It was late one Thursday morning, and Peter Geremia had to keep his comments brief. An old friend was going to be buried in Exeter in a short while, and he didn’t want to be late for the service.
“Betty Hill was a great lady,” said Geremia, director of the New Hampshire chapter of the Mutual UFO Network.
“She had a way about her that credibility not only to her own UFO experience, but to the entire UFO phenomenon.”
Hill, 85, a Portsmouth resident who died recently after a battle with lung cancer, became an international celebrity in the early 1960s when she and her husband Barney claimed to have been abducted by aliens in the White Mountains while returning home from a trip to Canada. Their story became public when a Boston newspaper published transcripts of her encounter related while she was under hypnosis.
Geremia said that despite Betty Hill’s credibility, he doubts whether her death will have an impact on whether people believe in UFOs.
“Her abduction gained a great deal of notoriety, but there have been many other UFO incidents — many of them right here in New England.”
On July 24, 1951, 10 years before the Hills’ alleged encounter, New Hampshire’s first recorded UFO sighting took place in Portsmouth when two military personnel reported seeing a gray, 200-foot-long tubular object with fins at one end flying at 2,000 feet at a speed of approximately 1,000 miles per hour.
Over the course of the next 50 years, at least 50 more sightings were reported in the Granite State, none more famous than the one that took place in Exeter on Sept. 3, 1965.
Details of the incident were recorded in Project Blue Book, a 21-year Air Force documentation of the UFO phenomenon. Starting in 1948, the group investigated 12,600 reports, eventually assuming the role of official debunker of UFO’s for the U.S. government before disbanding in 1969.
During its existence, Project Blue Book was unable to explain 701 reports, including the Exeter sighting, which later became the subject of the book, “Incident at Exeter” by John G. Fuller.
At approximately 2 a.m., 18-year-old Norman Muscarello was hitchhiking home when he first noticed an unusual light in the sky. As the light drew closer, Muscarello could see an elliptical-shaped object he later described to authorities as being 90 feet in diameter with a row of red lights around it.
As the object hovered above him, Muscarello took the opportunity to run to a nearby house. Finding nobody home, Muscarello flagged down a passing car driven by a middle-aged couple who drove him to the Exeter Police Station.
At about 3 a.m., Muscarello and Exeter Police Officer Eugene Bertrand returned to the scene where the incident began. As the two men walked into an open field in the direction of a horse corral, an object began to rise from behind two pine trees, lighting the whole area with a reddish hue.
After hovering for a short period of time about 100 feet above the ground, the object suddenly took off at a rapid rate of speed and disappeared in the blink of an eye.
Bertrand, who had been in the Air Force for four years and knew military aircraft, would later insist the object was like nothing he had ever seen before.
Neighboring Maine and Massachusetts have had their fair share of UFO sightings as well. Dating back to March 1945 through 2001, 64 sightings were reported in Maine to the National UFO Reporting Center, none of which were adequately explained by authorities.
In nearby Newburyport, Mass., two sightings were reported in recent years, neither of which were explained.
On Dec. 23, 1998, a witness reported seeing two green fireballs— one directly above the other—that descended perpendicular to the horizon before disappearing below the tree line.
Ten months later, another witness reported having observed a very bright light over the water where the Merrimac River meets the Atlantic Ocean. The light, which the witness described as being three times brighter than the brightest star in the sky, moved slowly from left to right about 30 degrees above the horizon before suddenly vanishing.
Are each of these sightings evidence that alien civilization exists and is visiting earth?
That depends on who you ask.
Kenneth Olum, a research professor at the Institute of Cosmology at Tufts University in Medford, Mass., says he’s skeptical about any reports from people who claim they’ve observed a UFO.
“These reports should not be treated as reliable evidence. Effects in the atmosphere can create these odd sightings, and in many cases, that’s what people are seeing.”
But the scientist in him won’t allow Olum to categorically say that aliens don’t exist.
“On the contrary, the mathematical odds would strongly suggest there are alien civilizations out there, but they’re not here observing us,” he said.
Meet the new boss
David Jacobs would disagree. He’s never met Betty Hill, but has interviewed many like her.
An associate professor of history at Temple University, Jacobs began researching the controversy over unidentified flying objects in America back in the mid 1960s.
The author of numerous books on the subject, Jacobs has conducted more than 900 hypnotic regressions with individuals who claimed to have been inducted.
In an interview with Omni magazine several years ago, Jacobs discussed his third book, “The Threat: What the Aliens Really Want and How They Plan to Get It.”
In the book, Jacobs concludes through feedback he received from his subjects that aliens are not only visiting earth, but are here on a specific mission.
“What we have here is an abduction program, a breeding program, which accounts for all the reproductive activity that we see, and a hybridization program, which is why people (in regression hypnosis) see hybrids all the time —as babies, as toddlers, as adolescents, and then as adults.
“And then finally, I think this is all leading to an integration program in which ultimately these hybrids, who look very human, will be integrating into this society. And who will eventually, I assume, be in control here because they do have superior technology and superior physiological abilities that we do not have. We would therefore become sort of second class citizens.”
As sure as Jacobs is of his theory, other experts believe regression hypnosis is unreliable at best, and offer no proof that aliens exist.
In a recent telephone interview, Pamela Freyd, executive director of The False Memory Syndrome Foundation in Philadelphia, said people can sincerely and truly come to believe things that may or may not be true.
“Our findings suggest alien abductions are the product of similarly based practitioners who ask their clients leading questions during therapy.
“Memories are reconstructed from bits and fragments and reinterpretations; they’re not videotape. In other words, hypnosis is not a reliable tool and memory is not a fixed thing . People can recall what they want to recall or what they’re encouraged to recall, even if the events never occurred.”
Having said that, Freyd said she would never totally discount the possibility of the existence of alien life.
“I think it would be wonderful if it were true. Unfortunately right now, science fiction movies are our best bet for a close encounter.”
The search goes on
Actually, the best hope for a conclusive answer may lie in the research being done at the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute in Mountain View, California.
In the past there have been several unexplained intriguing signals detected in SETI experiments.
The most famous of these was the “Wow” signal picked up at the Ohio State University Big Ear Observatory on the night of Aug. 15, 1977.
As on every other night, Big Ear was searching the skies for an alien signal and recording its observations. But as he was going over the printout sheet, Jerry Ehman, a professor at Franklin University in Columbus, Ohio, noticed a string of characters and numbers reading, “6EQUJ5.
Not only was the signal extremely strong, researchers concluded it almost certainly came from outside the Earth.
In the ensuing 27 years, numerous attempts to relocate the “Wow” signal have been made but to no avail. But that won’t dissuade scientists from continuing the search.
In a 2002 issue of the Astrophysical Journal, veteran UFO signal hunter Robert Gray had this to say when asked about the possibility of life being, “out there.”
“Over the last half century, scientists have developed a theory of cosmic evolution that predicts that life is a natural phenomenon likely to develop on planets with suitable environmental conditions. Scientific evidence shows that life arose on Earth relatively quickly, suggesting that life will occur on similar planets orbiting sun-like stars.
“Additionally, one should keep in mind that we are only one planet around a very ordinary star. There are roughly 400 billion other stars in our galaxy and nearly 100 billion other galaxies. It would be extraordinary if we were the only thinking beings in all these enormous realms.” JAMES BAKER, Foster’s Sunday Citizen