LINCOLN, N.H. - Fifty years after Betty and Barney Hill reported seeing a flat, cigar-shaped craft hovering over them in the White Mountains, the state has put up a historical marker noting their close encounter with a UFO.
On Sept. 19, 1961, the Hills arrived home in Portsmouth puzzled by stains and tears on her dress, scuffs on his shoes, and shiny spots on their car. Their watches weren’t working.
They realized they had “lost’’ about two hours of time. They reported the event to Pease Air Force Base in Portsmouth the next day.
Barney Hill, who had binoculars, later told investigators he could see figures on the craft. The couple also reported seeing a fiery orb. In 1964, they underwent a series of taped hypnosis sessions - recalling they had been abducted and physically examined by “men’’ who did not appear to be human. Paintings and a sculpture of their descriptions depicted them with large, bald heads, slanted eyes, and gray skin.
“They dragged me, kicking and screaming,’’ Betty said in a 1986 interview.
In 1965, their story, known to only a small circle of investigators, close friends, and family, was leaked to the Boston Traveler newspaper. Their experience was described in a best-selling book in 1966, “The Interrupted Journey: Two Lost Hours Aboard A Flying Saucer,’’ by John Fuller; a 1975 television movie starring James Earl Jones and Estelle Parsons, “The UFO Incident’’; and numerous speaking engagements. Last week, Hollywood writer-producer Bryce Zabel, who developed the UFO conspiracy series “Dark Skies’’ in the 1990s, said he is planning to make a film about the couple’s experience.
In July, the state erected a marker in Lincoln near cabins at the Indian Head Resort on Route 3, one of the last places the couple recalled seeing that night.
The resort is the site of a conference Sept. 23-25 devoted to what the state marker describes as “the first widely-reported UFO abduction report in the United States.’’
Kathleen Marden, the Hills’ niece, will give a guided tour of places they stopped at during their encounter.
“How many states have courage enough to do something like that? Even the state of New Mexico hasn’t put up a plaque for Roswell,’’ asked Stanton Friedman, a nuclear physicist who was the first civilian investigator of the Roswell, N.M., incident, a purported UFO crash in July 1947. The military later declared it was a top-secret weather balloon.
Friedman has authored papers and books on his UFO research, including one coauthored in 2007 with Marden, “Captured! The Betty and Barney Hill UFO Experience.’’
Friedman said the state marker gives some credibility to UFO sightings and research.
The Indian Head Resort is dedicating its own bronze plaque to the Hills next weekend. It’s also having fun with the event - the gift shop has alien-themed green golf balls, lollipops, “UFO Crossing’’ signs - even a juicer shaped like a flying saucer.
“One of the things we’re hoping to do with this event is to explore the potential for this being a UFO ‘destination,’ similar to the area around Roswell,’’ said Stew Weldon, the resort’s marketing manager.
The Irving Notch Express gas station on Route 3 in Lincoln also pays tribute with a mural of an alien and a flying saucer. It sells alien-themed hats and balloons and summarizes what happened in what it says is the “First Rest Room Museum Dedicated to Alien Abduction.’’
The gas station is at the site of what used to be a farmer’s field and apple orchard where Barney Hill had said the UFO descended, hovering less than 200 feet above him and his wife.
Marden, who lives in Clermont, Fla., said the couple were not seeking attention:
“They never wanted this to be released to the public. It would be the worst thing that could have happened to them. They were prominent citizens in the state of New Hampshire and in their community.’’
The interracial couple - he was a Postal Service worker, she was a social worker - were actively involved in civil rights causes.
Marden said they were afraid of losing their jobs - which did not happen - not to mention their reputations. But after meeting with family members, they decided to speak publicly.
Betty Hill died in 2004 at age 85; her husband died in 1969 of a cerebral hemorrhage at age 46.
In 2009, the University of New Hampshire held an exhibition and seminars devoted to the Hills. Betty Hill’s dress and other artifacts are part of UNH’s special collections. She was a 1958 graduate.
“I think that she wanted to make sure the materials were available for serious study,’’ said David Watters, director of UNH’s Center for New England Culture. “She said to me that she wanted the dress to be preserved, so that when our science caught up with alien science that it would be able to determine what the chemicals were on her dress, for example. Or the star chart that she made under hypnosis - some day she thought it would be possible to have that confirmed through astronomy.’’
In 1991, Betty Hill said she was retiring from making public appearances because of her age and her “disappointment in the way the UFO field is headed.’’ She said too many people with “flaky ideas, fantasies, and imaginations’’ were making UFO reports.
“If you don’t know the answers to something, you can always dream them up, whether they are true or not,’’ she said.