Refer back, polite reader, to the two epigraphs with which I prefaced the previous installment of this post. Particularly the one from Philip Klass. “As I listened to Barney reliving his UFO encounter, I could agree completely with the doctor that Barney had indeed seen ‘something,’ and it had been a terrifying experience.”
Readers of this blog will be familiar with Phil Klass as arch-debunker of UFOs, from the late 1960s to his death in 2005. The man who dismissed UFO abductions as “foolish fantasies.” If Klass could agree with the (equally skeptical) Dr. Benjamin Simon that Barney Hill saw “something”—well, Barney saw something.
Certainly not an extraterrestrial spaceship. In my previous post I referred to Jim Macdonald’s persuasive demonstration that the light, that Betty and Barney Hill saw following their car, was in reality an electric light on an observation tower. But if this is the solution to the apparent mystery of the Hills’ UFO, it’s just the prelude to the real mystery of their abduction. Misidentified lights are not usually the stuff of which “terrifying experiences” are made.
Seeing that light must have triggered something within Barney that was genuinely terrifying, that was there inside him long before he walked into Dr. Simon’s office. And long before his night journey through the New Hampshire mountains.
Might we guess the “something” is linked to what you’ve surely noticed from the photo of the Hills? Namely, that they were a perfectly ordinary couple except for one thing, which would have stood out jarringly in this country fifty years ago. (And today … ?)
He was black, she was white.
A circumstance certainly on Barney’s mind as they began their drive home from Canada on the evening of September 19, 1961.
“ … I turn around and go back to a restaurant I have passed—and I park—and we go in. There is a dark-skinned woman in there … and I wonder—is she a light-skinned Negro, or is she Indian, or is she white?—and she waits on us, and she is not very friendly, and I notice this, and others are there and they are looking at me and at Betty, and they seem to be friendly or pleased, but this dark-skinned woman doesn’t. …
“My thoughts keep going back to Canada. … I can’t park close to this restaurant, so I park on the street and we must walk to the restaurant. And everybody on the street passing us by is looking. And we go in to the restaurant, and all eyes are upon us. And I see what I call the stereotype of the ‘hoodlum.’ The ducktail haircut. And I immediately go on guard against any hostility. And no one says anything to me … and we are served …
“I was thinking that I should get hold of myself, and not think everyone was hostile, or rather suspect hostility, when there was no hostility there. It was a very pleasant restaurant. The people were friendly … why was I ready to be defensive—just because these boys were wearing this style of haircut.”
Are they friendly? Or hostile? It’s impossible to read these paragraphs—taken from the transcript of the hypnotic session of February 22, 1964, quoted at length in John Fuller’s book The Interrupted Journey—without realizing the fantastic courage it took for this man, this couple, to do the most ordinary of everyday acts, like going to eat in a restaurant. And to keep their heads high and act natural, while they were doing it.
Lest we forget: this was hardly more than six years after Emmett Till was lynched in Mississippi for allegedly trying to flirt with a white woman. True, Canada and New England weren’t Mississippi. But still …
When Barney first described (under hypnosis) the humanoids he saw inside the UFO, they weren’t exactly our conventional picture of intergalactic visitors. “One person looks friendly to me. … And he’s smiling.” And when the doctor asks, “What was his face like?” Barney replies:
“It was round. I think of—I think of—a red-headed Irishman. … I think I know why. Because Irish are usually hostile to Negroes. And when I see a friendly Irish person, I react to him by thinking—I will be friendly. And I think this one that is looking over his shoulder is friendly.”
But a moment later:
“He looks like a German Nazi. He’s a Nazi … a black scarf around his neck, dangling over his left shoulder.”
I repeat: not the physiognomy of extraterrestrials. But Barney sees a “red-headed Irishman,” expecting such a person normally to be hostile. He sees “a German Nazi,” surely knowing what Nazi-style hostility had done to another ethnic minority some twenty years earlier.
And then he and Betty are taken aboard the alien craft. Strange things are done to them—but not the same strange things. Barney experiences a suction cup placed over his genitals—obviously related to the circle of warts that appeared (before his hypnosis with Dr. Simon) in that same area. Betty experiences a long needle pushed down through her navel.
I wish I could remember who it was who first pointed out that both ordeals are related to the terrors that were part of the Hills’ daily awareness, interwoven with their being man and wife. The suction cup over the genitals is suggestive of castration; the needle, a sure way to kill whatever fetus the black man has planted in Betty’s womb. Emmett Till, six years earlier, does not appear to have been castrated (at least according to Wikipedia). But his murder must have evoked for the Hills memories of the gruesome lynchings of the late 19th century, in which grisly mutilation was the standard.
And the suction cup was there, inside Barney, long before the hypnotic sessions that were to evoke it. The mysterious warts prove it. It wasn’t extraterrestrial; it wasn’t “real” in the way the UFOlogists think of reality. It had a reality of its own, every bit as significant as any spacecraft.
And I think there’s something still deeper operating here:
I don’t know how Barney’s ancestors came to this country. But it’s a fair guess they were abducted in the middle of the night and taken to a waiting ship. An alien ship, I’ll say—not meaning, of course, from Betelgeuse or Zeta Reticuli. What could have been more alien than a European slave ship, to the experience of those “abductees” shackled aboard it?
This is what I meant when I wrote in my last post that the tower light was the light the Hills saw. But it wasn’t the UFO. The UFO came from inside—from deep within Barney’s history, individual and collective. His trauma, ancestral and personal, was its terror.
Frightening him almost beyond bearing, when it emerged in Dr. Simon’s office.
Killing him five years afterward.
(To be concluded, next week.)