Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Mr. (and Mrs.) Hills' Wild Ride

The alleged "UFO abduction" of Betty and Barney Hill on Sept. 19, 1961 was the first such report of its kind in the United States, and one of the most famous alleged UFO encounters of all time. I will not attempt to relate in detail this extremely complicated story. For a detailed account of it, see chapter five of my book UFO Sightings. For even more details and all kinds of viewpoints on the case, pro, con, or simply confused, see Encounters at Indian Head .

I just recently happened across a very interesting paper written in 2007 by James D. Macdonald,  a former Navy navigator and  science fiction writer who lives in Colebrook, New Hampshire (not to be confused with the late atmospheric physicist and UFO proponent Dr. James E. McDonald.). He lives right along the path of the Hills' famous journey, on U.S. Route 3. Performing a careful line-by-line analysis of the account of the Hills' Wild Ride in John Fuller's Interrupted Journey and also scrutinizing the recent book Captured by Kathleen Marden and Stanton T. Friedman  (Marden is Betty Hill's niece), Macdonald notes that "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." Exactly.

As quoted by Fuller, Barney Hill told Betty while in Colebrook, NH shortly after 10 PM, “It looks like we should be home by 2:30 in the morning—or 3:00 at the latest.” Macdonald says, "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." In fact, "By the time they reached home they’d been driving for around twenty-one hours. They’re lucky that being abducted by space aliens was the worst that happened to them: Others who’ve tried similar trips have run into trees." Or a deer. Or a moose. In fact,  the National Sleep Foundation has proclaimed November 6-12 as Drowsy Driving Prevention Week® 2011. The AAA's Foundation for Traffic Safety lists as the top "warning sign" of the driver who is too drowsy to drive safely as "The inability to recall the last few miles traveled."  The Hills could be the poster children for this traffic safety crusade. 

The moon, Jupiter, and Saturn (bottom) as seen from the White Mountains at midnight, Sept. 19-20, 1961 (moon and planets enlarged, not to scale) 
I was the one who suggested, back in the 1970s, that Betty Hill's description of the "UFO" and a "star" near the moon matched up quite well with the known positions of Jupiter and Saturn, respectively. (It was much more difficult to calculate celestial positions for a specific time and place back then, without computers, than it is today.) This was published in the now-classic Official UFO magazine in 1976. But I knew that this was not the whole story. As the Hills passed by tall peaks like Cannon Mountain and went though the Franconia Notch, the Moon and Jupiter would have been too low to see in the west behind the mountains. So surely they must have been looking at something else. But what?

The light at top of Cannon Mountain: is this the "UFO" that abducted the Hills? (Photo by James D. Macdonald)
Driving the route late at night, Macdonald noted that "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." A bright light on the lookout tower at the top of the mountain was installed in 1959, and shines all night long. Macdonald says,
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...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... 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 Hills reported what appears to be a second Close Encounter with the light atop Cannon Mountain on April 2, 1966: "As we were returning through the Franconia Notch in the general area of the tramway and Cannon Mountain, one [UFO] moved around the mountain about 50 feet from the ground, in front of us. Its lights dimmed out and we could see the row of windows before it became invisible. It just faded out of sight and then just reappeared with different lighting behind us... On the opposite side of the highway was a second one, which also faded out. ” (Marden, p. 208-209).

The final spot where the Hills stopped and had a "close encounter" (where Barney says he saw "Nazi" spacemen in his binoculars) was just south of Indian Head. Barney and Betty took UFO researcher Walter Webb to that spot to re-enact the sighting in 1964, and in 2000 Betty Hill took those of us participating in the Indian Head conference there. It's near the location of the now-defunct Mountaineer Motel on Rt. 3 in Lincoln, NH, whose sign stands just north of Exit 33 of  I-93 (which was not yet built in 1961). After they drove off from that site, in something of a panic, they never saw the UFO again. Macdonald notes, "2.1 miles south of Indian Head is the last time the Lookout Tower Light is visible from Rt. 3."

Macdonald continues:
"There's another possible object they may have seen: the Jack O'Lantern Resort in Woodstock which, at the time, had a large billboard with their logo (a stylized jack-o-lantern) down by the road. That would certainly appear to be a "large, luminous moon-shape, which seemed to be touching the road, sitting on end under some pines." This is well out of town; no other features are nearby."
That is a very interesting suggestion. As Kathleen Marden describes it, at this point the Hills vaguely remembered "seeing a huge fiery red-orange orb resting upon the ground." I was not able to find any photo of the Jack O'Lantern resort's giant, unlighted billboard, but I did discover some old postcards with photographs of the giant orange pumpkin that used to sit on the motel roof. Judging from the cars out front, the photo would seem to be from the 1960s. And if the pumpkin were illuminated but the motel lights were out, the "orb" might seem to rest on the ground. In any case, the Hills must have driven past this giant pumpkin on Rt. 3, just minutes after they were frightened out of their wits near Indian Head.

Could this be the "huge fiery red-orange orb" that the Hills remembered seeing as they sped away from the "Close Encounter" site, just a few miles away?

 Macdonald concludes:
What do they remember south of Indian Head?
a) The Lincoln/Woodstock road marker
b) Downtown North Woodstock
c) (Possibly) the billboard for the Jack O'Lantern Golf Course & Resort in Woodstock
d) Downtown Plymouth
e) Downtown Ashland
f) Entering the superhighway
g) Concord
h) Portsmouth

In short, they remember every single town they passed through. The rest of the trip is past dark lakes, rivers, fields, and woods. I’ve driven that route more than once, and I don’t remember much more than that myself. Not only isn’t there any missing time, there aren’t any missing memories.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Doomsdays of Yesteryear: Toutatis Threatens Totally, 2004

From my column Psychic Vibrations   in the Skeptical Inquirer, 

Volume 28.4, July / August 2004

Toutatis Threatens Totally

Heads up—the End of the World is coming again! This time it’s the asteroid 4179 Toutatis, which, according to no less an authority than the celebrated Swiss UFO contactee Billy Meier, is in danger of slamming into Earth on September 29, 2004 (see Billy Meier’s Warning of a Catastrophic Impact Event Threat). According to NASA, Toutatis will make a close approach to Earth on that date, passing within approximately one million miles, which is nothing on a cosmic scale (see http://echo.jpl.nasa.gov/asteroids/ 4179_Toutatis/toutatis.html).

 But Meier is in contact with the space people from the Pleiades (he calls them “Plejarans”; I suppose that “Pleiadeans” sounds too unwieldy). And according to Michael Horn, who says he is the officially authorized media representative of Meier in the United States (which so far as I know Meier has never disputed), the Plejarans have warned that when Toutatis is closest to Earth, it will suddenly veer off course and head straight toward us. Horn says that it will require a “pre-emptive nuclear strike” to keep this multi-kilometer-sized asteroid from slamming straight into Earth. Before you dismiss this prophecy as the ravings of a demented man, be forewarned that Meier claims a long list of successful predictions (no doubt selectively culled from a much longer list of unsuccessful ones—Meier reportedly has written thousands of pages of predictions). Horn says that Meier predicted back in 1987 that Islamic fanatics would destroy the World Trade Center in New York. If true, this information will be of great interest to the current Congressional investigation into the September 11 attacks: What did Meier know, and when did he know it?
Others are also starting to sound alarm bells. The Web site of the conspiracy-oriented radio host Jeff Rense carries similar warnings (see www.rense.com/general50/sep29th2004.htm). There is even a claim of a secret government missile program to save us from disaster on September 29. And the biblical prophecy expert Arnie Stanton suggests that the encounter with Toutatis indicates that the Second Coming will be just a few months away. Stanton also warns that a larger, as-yet undiscovered asteroid will definitely smack into Earth sometime in 2006.
This is the first time to my knowledge that the world is ending in 2004. The world most recently ended in May of 2003, when a mysterious Planet X, inhabited by Zetans, was reported to be on its way to a disastrous close encounter with Earth, moving the poles and flooding entire countries. The Web site www.zetatalk.com is still there. It talks a lot about the disasters expected in 2003 but says nothing about there being a year 2004; as near as I can tell, their claim is that a disastrous planetary encounter did occur in 2003, but was covered up by NASA. Before that, the “planetary alignment” of May 5, 2000, was threatened as a trigger for all manner of earthly havoc. And of course, society as we know it ended on January 1, 2000, when every major computer system in the world not only failed, but became contagious, infecting even computers that did not suffer from the Y2K bug. The next scheduled major world-ending is in 2012, when, according to a number of reliable experts, the Mayan Calendar simply “runs out,” apparently making it impossible for time to continue.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Are You Going to CSICon in New Orleans?

It's coming up in just a few weeks: the first CSI(COP) conference in several years, to be held in New Orleans on Oct. 27-30: http://www.csiconference.org/ .

"The conference dedicated to scientific inquiry and critical thinking.
Separate history from legend and science from voodoo by joining the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) for four days of fun, mystery and reason, in New Orleans's famous French Quarter."

I will be there to speak about UFO Conspiracy Theories, on a panel with astronomer and UFO skeptic James McGaha, moderated by physicist Leonard Tramiel. I will be discussing how UFO conspiracy theories are put together, from the most plausible-sounding, to the most extreme. James will be talking about new developments in the claimed UFO landing at Bentwaters AFB / Rendlesham Forest in the U.K.

So, please come and spend Halloween with us in New Orleans, meet some skeptical celebrities like James "The Amazing" Randi, Eugenie Scott, Phil Plait, and chat about really interesting stuff. And don't forget to bring your Halloween costume! I won't tell you yet what mine is going to be.