Thursday, August 27, 2015

UFO Cases In New Hampshire Remain Credible and A Mystery 50 Years Later

Fifty years ago this September, UFOs came to Exeter. They haven’t left.

The history of unidentified flying objects in the skies of New Hampshire is long, varied and weird. It includes two hugely celebrated cases that caught the popular imagination and served as harbingers of hundreds of other encounters occurring across the decades and around the globe. New Hampshire sightings have attracted the attention of journalists, true believers, skeptics, schoolchildren, movie producers and conspiracy theorists. They have even inspired an annual festival in Exeter that brings together some of the biggest names in the field of UFO studies.
I’ve certainly been influenced by Granite State UFOs. I’ve seen one myself.

It was a clear summer night in the early ’80s. I was hanging out with two friends, Ken and Tom, at Odiorne State Park in Rye, when one of them pointed to a bright, white light over the bathhouse. It seemed like nothing more than a beacon to keep nighttime visitors from stubbing their toes.
And then it suddenly dimmed. And moved. Silently. In a fashion unlike any kind of vehicle we’d ever heard of. It rose above the bathhouse and danced in strange patterns. Then it turned, flew higher and headed out to sea and out of sight.
From the Dinnerhorn Restaurant back in Portsmouth, Ken called Pease Air Force Base and reported what we had seen. The person on the telephone took the information, said someone would be in touch if they had any questions. Nobody ever made any further inquiries.
As sightings go, mine is not outstanding. It was not frightening, merely weird and mysterious. It was definitely a UFO, literally a flying object we could not identify.
A minor sighting. But one that fits neatly into the pattern of great New Hampshire UFO stories.
The first great New Hampshire UFO sighting, the so-called Exeter Incident, began in the early morning of September 3, 1965.
As recounted by journalist John G. Fuller in his best-selling non-fiction book, “Incident at Exeter,” at 2:24 a.m. 18-year-old Norman Muscarello burst into the Exeter police station, white-faced and shaken. Muscarello told Patrolman Reginald “Scratch” Toland that he had been hitchhiking along Rte. 150, on his way home from Amesbury, Mass. He was in Kensington, about a half mile away from Exeter, when he encountered what he called “The Thing.”
Muscarello claimed that this “Thing,” an airborne object as “big or bigger than a house,” came at him and hovered silently above him. Red lights pulsed around its rim as it floated, yawed and wobbled. Afraid he was about to be hit, the teenager dove for the road’s shoulder and watched as the object moved to hover over the roof of a nearby house. Muscarello ran to the home and banged on the door, getting no answer. He went back to the road and flagged down a passing automobile, which took him to Exeter.
 After listening to Muscarello’s story, Toland called Patrolman Eugene Bertrand, who revealed that he, too, had heard about flying objects that evening. Hours before, Bertrand had come across a car parked on the Rte. 101 bypass. The female driver said that a “huge, silent airborne object” had trailed her from Epping. She, too, mentioned flashing red lights.
Muscarello insisted that someone should go with him to where he had seen the object, and he and Bertrand headed back to the field along Rte. 150. Bertrand tried to tell the boy that he must have seen a helicopter, but Muscarello didn’t buy that theory. Suddenly, the dogs and horses at the farm started to go crazy. Then Muscarello yelled, “I see it! I see it!”
What he saw was rising behind two pine trees: “a brilliant roundish object, without a sound.” White light bathed the area. Bertrand called on the radio. “My God. I see the damn thing myself!”
The object seemed to be about 100 yards away and above them. It featured red lights that “seemed to dim from left to right, then from right to left, in a 5-4-3-2-1, then 1-2-3-4-5 pattern, covering about two seconds for each cycle.”
The object moved erratically, darting back and forth, turning sharply and decelerating quickly.
At this point, Exeter Patrolman David Hunt arrived, and he witnessed the object as it moved out of sight and headed toward Hampton and the ocean.

Left to right: 18 yr old Norman Muscarello, who first
reported the UFO, patrolman David Hunt and Eugene
Betrand and dispatcher (seated) "Scratch" Toland
At 3 a.m., an upset man in a Hampton tollbooth called the Exeter police. He hung up before he could give many details about what he had seen. Patrolman Toland in Exeter called the Hampton police, and they in turn alerted Pease Air Force Base in Portsmouth.
The official investigation was underway.
It’s thanks to the efforts of journalist, filmmaker and television producer/director John G. Fuller that the Exeter Incident has become such an integral part of UFO history. Eleven days later, while looking for fodder for his Saturday Review column, Fuller examined a clip from the New York Times about authorities in Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Kansas being “deluged” by reports of unidentified objects flying in the sky. A call to the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP) in Washington put him touch with Assistant Director Richard Hall, who mentioned what had gone on in Exeter a little over a week before.
NICAP representative Raymond Fowler filed an 18-page report of the incident (Editor's note: Learn more about Raymond Fowler here with extra material we couldn't fit in print). When he met with Fuller, he told him what set the incident apart from other sightings: “Both the officers are intelligent, capable and seem to know what they’re talking about. The sighting was near, and it was low. Bertrand’s experience in Air Force refueling makes him capable of discriminating between a UFO and anything else in the air, commercial or military.”
Fuller’s first article about UFOs appeared in his “Trade Winds” column for Saturday Review. The story was expanded into a feature for Look magazine, then condensed for Reader’s Digest. Eventually, Fuller journeyed to Exeter to interview the various participants and commentators. The tale was turned into the book, “Incident at Exeter,” published in 1966.
From the perspective of 50 years later, flying saucer investigator Stanton Friedman sees the case as a kind of milestone. In a phone conversation from his home in New Brunswick, Canada, he says, “It was treated very seriously by the local people and the police. I mean, [Muscarello] comes in and tells you a crazy story, and you send a cop back with him, and son of a gun, he was right!”
While researching the Exeter sightings, Fuller stumbled upon another case, one that would become even more famous after he wrote about it in “The Interrupted Journey.”
Betty and Barney Hill’s mysterious event had occurred four years earlier, on September 19, 1961. He, a Postal Service employee and she, a social worker, the Hills were coming home from Canada when they stopped at a restaurant in Colebrook. When they left, they noted that the clock over the restroom read 10:05.    
On Rte. 3 in Groveton, Betty spotted a strange light in sky, and Barney brought out a pair of binoculars.
The object looked like “a huge pancake.” The oddest part, however, was a band of light around the base. Through his binoculars, Barney spotted a “row of structural windows,” and saw within them what he took to be bipedal crew members.
Barney returned to the car and drove off. The object moved up and out of sight, over the roof of the car. The Hills reported hearing electronic beeping and feeling an odd tingling sensation. It was at this point, Fuller wrote, that “their memory was blocked completely for a two-hour period of total amnesia.”

The Hills made it home to Portsmouth. They didn’t come busting into a police station like Norman Muscarello. But they arrived two hours later than they thought they should have, with no recollection of the intervening time.
Ten days after the sighting, Betty began having vivid dreams for five successive nights. Barney didn’t mention any dreams, but the weeks went by and he had difficulty sleeping. Dealing with a number of health problems, he eventually consulted a psychiatrist, who referred him and Betty to Dr. Benjamin Simon in Boston. Although he claimed to be neutral on the issue of UFOs, Simon planned to use hypnosis to pierce the walls of their amnesia regarding those missing two hours.
What the Hills revealed to Simon was what would become the classic alien abduction scenario, complete with strange exams and probes of their reproductive organs, administered by big-headed, big-eyed, non-human life forms. Under hypnosis, the Hills related further details recovered from their “lost” time, including entering the craft, meeting the visitors and being medically examined. Betty also drew a “star map” that supposedly showed the routes the visitors followed during their peregrinations around the galaxy.
Kathleen Marden, Betty’s niece and literary executor and the co-author with Stanton Friedman of “Captured: The Betty and Barney Hill UFO Experience,” stresses the uniqueness of the high-profile case: “It was very well-documented and investigated. A formal report was made to Pease Air Force Base. It was reported to a police officer. It was reported to NICAP and it was reported to a team of scientists. This was all done confidentially. This story was never to be made public.”
Nevertheless, in November 1963, the Hills spoke with an amateur UFO study group about their experience, and an allegedly unauthorized audiotape eventually made its way to John H. Luttrell, a newspaper reporter for the Boston Traveler. On October 15, 1965, the front page of the Traveler sported the headline “UFO Chiller: Did THEY Seize Couple?” and the Hills’ not-so-secret tale was out.
The story captured the nation’s imagination, and Fuller’s 1966 book only lent it more notoriety. “The Interrupted Journey” became a 1975 TV movie, “The UFO Incident,” starring James Earl Jones as Barney Hill and Estelle Parsons as Betty. Barney died of a stroke in 1968, and Betty passed away in 2004 at age 85.

This rare photo of Betty Hill at the site of her reported abduction was taken by NICAP investigator
John Paul Oswald, who became Betty Hill's driver after Barney's death in 1969. later accompanying
her on many UFO expeditions. 
What are we supposed to make of New Hampshire’s UFOlogical legacy? Are they craft piloted by beings from other planets? Are they the result of atmospheric phenomena? Could they be terrestrial aircraft mistaken for something otherworldly? Are they the products of mass delusion?
Paranormal investigator Joe Nickell is the “Investigative Files” writer for Skeptical Inquirer science magazine. In 2011, he and James McGaha, an astronomer and former military pilot, combined their expertise to construct a solution to the mystery at Exeter. In a special report for the November/December edition of theSkeptical Inquirer, they focused their attention on the five red lights that Muscarello had reported flashing in sequence.
“The five flashing red lights … are pretty much unique in the history of UFOlogy, if not the history of the world,” Nickell says in a telephone interview. “We don’t know of another case like that.”
McGaha recognized the lights as those on a US Air Force KC-97 refueling plane. A trip to an aerospace museum confirmed his recollection. Nickell and McGaha wrote: “Like seeing an old friend, [McGaha] gazed on a mothballed KC-97 tanker whose fuselage is arrayed with a row of five red sequencing lights. These would reflect onto the refueling boom … which (according to the flight manual) when lowered is inclined at 64 degrees.”
McGaha and Nickell hypothesized that the extreme brightness of the lights would have rendered “other features of the object indistinguishable from the ground.”
“Skeptics, of course, accepted [the theory] at face value,” Nickell says. “Believers in UFOs were just beside themselves — ‘How dare us!’ They implied we were wrong on several levels.”
“I think it is a credible sighting,” Marden counters. “As in the Hill case, there have been debunkers who have come out and falsified information to try to write this off as a false case or a hoax or a plane refueling mission. It does not fit the evidence. When you look at that evidence carefully, when you examine the facts in this case and throw out all the false information that has been disseminated by naysayers, you have a solid case here of a UFO sighting at close range.”                              
During September, half a century after the original Incident, virtually anyone who comes to Exeter is likely to see an extraterrestrial, at least one that’s day-glo green, inflatable and decorating the town bandstand. Read more detail about the Exeter UFO case here.

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