The Hill Case — Part 5

What We Know And How We Know It, Part 5.

What We Know:  Betty and Barney Misidentified the Jack O’Lantern Resort as a Flying Saucer

How We Know It:

The Jack O’Lantern Resort has been located on US 3 in Woodstock, NH, since the 1940s.  Its logo is a large, stylized jack o’lantern.  In the 1960s there was a billboard down along the road, and a large, lighted jack o’lantern on the roof of the main building.

The next bit isn’t actual knowledge on my part.  This is supposition, but it’s far more solid than the supposition that Betty and Barney were abducted by space aliens, because we know that the Jack O’Lantern existed (and still exists) but the “flying saucer” didn’t.  In Fuller’s book we read, “Both recalled very faintly a large, luminous moon-shape, which seemed to be touching the road, sitting on end under some pines.”  That could be a description of the billboard, as their headlights swept momentarily across it.

Jack O'Lantern Resort, Woodstock, NH, 1960s

The jack o’lantern on top of the Jack O’Lantern Resort

Betty and Barney were already thinking of the “flying saucer” as a glowing red-orange orb, ever since they misidentified the moon as a flying saucer back there by the Old Man of the Mountain.  So when they saw another red-orange orb, it became the same flying saucer in their minds.  A little bit farther on, they came to a place where the red-orange glowing orb of the jack o’lantern on top of the motel came in view.   This too became the same flying saucer in their memories.  It is my belief that this was where they stopped the car and ran around an otherwise empty field, where they looked with binoculars into the jack o’lantern’s eyes and mouth and called them windows, and all the other garish things they remembered the next day.  They conflated the memory of this object with the memory of the moon that they had seen back a few miles farther north in Franconia. When, some weeks or months later, they tried to find in daylight the place where they had stopped at night, they missed it.

In between sighting the moon in Franconia, and sighting the Jack O’Lantern Resort in Woodstock, was the portion where the flying saucer flew directly above them.  They didn’t see this, of course – the car roof was in the way – rather they believed that it must be true: they could no longer see the lights in the sky (the moon had set, the beacon was obscured by the mountain).  But they still felt they were being watched and followed (the paranoia due to sleep deprivation).  So, where was the flying saucer?  By elimination it had to be directly above them.

After the sighting of the Jack O’Lantern Resort (where “…Barney was near hysteria. He jammed the car into first gear, spurted off down the road, shouting that he was sure they were going to be captured…”) they had no more experiences with strange lights (until the recovered memory sessions over a year later).  May I suggest that Barney wasn’t “near” hysteria:  he was all the way there. Even so, even then, he still didn’t believe they had seen a flying saucer: “In those first few moments of consciousness, Betty remembers faintly saying to her husband, ‘Now do you believe in flying saucers?’ And he recalls answering: ‘Don’t be ridiculous. Of course not.’”

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The Hill Case — Part 4

What We Know and How We Know It, Part 4

What We Know: Betty and Barney misidentified the moon as a flying saucer.

How we know it: A few minutes after stopping at the foot of Cannon Mountain and about a mile and a half south of the place where Betty and Barney observed their UFO and the lights on the tramway (which we now know was the beacon on the lookout tower on Cannon Mountain and the tramway), the UFO vanished behind the mountain at the same moment the tramway station lights vanished.  Betty supposed that the tramway lights had been suddenly switched off, but, in fact, they were hidden at this point by the shoulder of the mountain, as was the beacon.  The Hills supposed their UFO was actually flying and thus had flown to a different location.  But where had it flown to?  Moments later, as they passed the south edge of the cliff where the Old Man of the Mountain rock formation was located and they had a clear view of the western sky, they saw their flying saucer again, this time as a red-orange glowing orb the size of a dinner plate.

The moon illusion -- a setting moon.

A setting moon

That is to say, they looked in the direction of moon set, and saw something that looked just like the setting moon.

Some may object that the moon is not, in fact, the size of a dinner plate. Due to the well-known Moon Illusion (an optical illusion that has been noted and described since antiquity—Google it) in which the moon looks larger the nearer it gets to the horizon, the setting moon can certainly appear to be the size of a dinner plate.  A dinner plate is nothing: It can appear to be the size of a wagon wheel.

Why were the Hills unable to recognize the moon, an object they were perfectly familiar with and had been seeing all their lives? A) They were heavily fatigued, and B) they were scared out of their wits.

The Hills expected to see a flying saucer, so they perceived one, so they remembered one.  We, knowing that it was really the moon, can calculate from the known time of moon set that they had already lost at least 30 minutes and possibly an hour of the famous missing two hours in their interrupted journey, long before their supposed abduction.  Nor is this loss of time surprising:  they had stopped at various places along the road to walk the dog and to observe the mysterious (to them) light in the sky, and they reported deliberately driving slowly in order to continue to observe that light during portions of their trip.

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The Hill Case — Part 3

What We Know and How We Know It, Part 3

What we know: Betty and Barney misidentified the aircraft warning light on the top of Cannon Mountain as a flying saucer, continued.

How we know it:

The first time Betty and Barney observed the UFO was when their car crested the shoulder of Mount Prospect just south of Lancaster. The first time the aircraft warning light on Cannon Mountain is visible from US 3 south (the road Betty and Barney were driving), is when the road crests the shoulder of Mount Prospect just south of Lancaster.

Looking south on US Route 3 at Mt. Prospect in Lancaster NH

Cresting the shoulder of Mt. Prospect, Lancaster, NH. In 1961 this would have been two lanes and the parking area on the right would have been missing. This is the first point where the light on the lookout tower on Cannon Mountain is visible — and the first point where Betty and Barney Hill saw their UFO.

The UFO first appeared as a “shooting star that fell up.”  As soon as US 3 crests the shoulder of Mount Prospect, the road plunges steeply down a 9% grade for the next half mile; the beacon on Cannon Mountain subjectively appears to move straight up.

The UFO appeared first on one side of the road, then the other, at various altitudes.  The beacon on Cannon Mountain appears first on one side of the road, then the other, at various altitudes.

The UFO appeared to get larger, brighter, and closer as the Hills continued their trip.  The beacon on Cannon Mountain objectively is getting larger, brighter, and closer as one drives south toward Franconia Notch.

In Franconia Notch the UFO passed up the right side of the car.  The beacon on Cannon Mountain appears to pass up the right side of a car traveling south through the notch.

These, by themselves, even without the Hills’ positive identification of the beacon as a UFO (see Part 2), prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that the UFO was actually the beacon on Cannon Mountain.

Taken together, the one-to-one mapping between the UFO and the beacon, and the Hills’ identification of the beacon as the UFO when they reached Franconia Notch, the conclusion is inescapable: the Hills mistook the beacon on Cannon Mountain for a flying saucer.  The true believers have absolutely no wiggle room.

Here is the question that anyone who thinks Betty and Barney saw a flying saucer  must answer: If what they saw was really a flying saucer where was the Cannon Mountain light that whole time?

A note here on observation and memory:  The human mind isn’t a video recorder.   (See, e.g.  ) There is no such thing a continuous memory; if there were no one would ever lose their car keys.  Short-term memory stores the Good Parts edition, and only parts of that are moved to long-term memory.

What we see is mediated through what we expect to what we perceive. What we perceive is what we remember.  The Hills expected to see a flying saucer, therefore what they perceived was a flying saucer, and what they remembered was a flying saucer.  It’s important to note that Betty was already a believer in flying saucers even before this event, and she spent a good part of the later portions of the trip trying to convince Barney that what they were seeing was a flying saucer.   False memories are remarkably easy to implant.  See:

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The Hill Case — Part 2

What We Know and How We Know It, Part 2

What we know: Betty and Barney misidentified the aircraft warning light on the top of Cannon Mountain as a flying saucer.

How we know it:

When Betty and Barney arrived in Franconia Notch, with Cannon Mountain on the west and Mount Layfayette on the east, they had been watching what they supposed was a UFO ahead of them for over an hour.  They stopped in Franconia Notch and this is what they observed:

Cannon Mountain, Franconia NH, as Betty and Barney Hill would have seen it.

The top of Cannon Mountain from US 3.  Photo taken September 19th, 2007.

They saw the lights on the upper station of the Cannon Mountain Tramway, and, above  those lights, the UFO.  What you or I would have seen, standing at that same location on that same date at that same time, would have been the lights at the upper station of the tramway, and the aircraft warning beacon on Cannon Mountain.  The beacon, then and now, appears above and to the left of the tramway station.   So:  in physical reality there are two lights visible on Cannon Mountain at this point, the light on the tramway station and the beacon.  What Betty and Barney saw, however, was the light on the tramway station and the UFO.  They are looking at the aircraft warning beacon, they are pointing at the aircraft warning beacon, and they’re saying, in effect, That’s it!  That’s the UFO!

This is sufficient in and of itself to prove that they had mistaken the aircraft warning beacon on Cannon Mountain for a flying saucer.

But … this is not everything we have.

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The Hill Case — Part 1

What We Know and How We Know It, Part 1:

What We Know: Betty and Barney were sleep deprived on the night of 19/20 September 1961

How We Know It: They were on the back side of a twelve-hundred mile road trip on two-lane blacktop.  It is possible, though I sincerely doubt it, that they were well-rested at 10:00 am on the morning of September 19, but their event didn’t happen on the morning of September 19th.  Twelve hours later, and three-hundred-plus miles farther down the road, at 10:00 pm, they were just leaving Colebrook, NH, for what would turn out to be another seven hours on the road.

They should have stopped for the night two hours earlier, but they didn’t.  Fuller (in his book Interrupted Journey) makes it clear that the reason they didn’t stop was because they had run out of money and couldn’t afford a motel, so they decided to pull an all-nighter.

If they were tired by 10:00 pm, which common human experience suggests they must have been, by five the next morning they would have been reeling.

How else do we know that they were sleep deprived?  They were showing signs and symptoms of sleep deprivation.

One symptom of sleep deprivation is paranoia, the feeling that someone is watching or following you. Betty and Barney felt that someone was watching or following them.

Another symptom of sleep deprivation is not being able to remember the last several miles driven.  Betty and Barney were, during one part of their journey, unable to remember the last several miles driven.

A third symptom of sleep deprivation is a feeling of “missing time.”  Betty and Barney felt they had missing time.

A fourth symptom of sleep deprivation is irritability. During this part of the trip Betty and Barney were getting irritable with each other.

Fuller reports they felt an “odd tingling drowsiness” and a “haze.” This is consistent with sleep deprivation.


See:  See:

As to why I doubt that the Hills were “well-rested” when they started the morning of the 19th of September, 1961, we have the following facts:


First, Barney was a night-shift worker.  He worked nights and slept days.  Yet on this road trip he drove days and slept nights.  His sleep schedule was severely disrupted the moment he pulled out of his driveway on the morning of September 16th.

Common human experience tells us that road trips, with successive nights in unfamiliar beds in a series of motels, can result in less-than-restful sleep.

Further, I reference this:  “Nearly a Third of Americans are Sleep Deprived.”
While the study mentioned there, a 2012 study by the CDC, isn’t contemporaneous with 1961 (and there have been some significant changes in things affecting Americans’ sleep since 1961, including but not limited to the Internet, smart phones, DVD movies, 24-hour cable TV, and LED lights) and therefore I’m not hanging my hat on it, some of the findings are interesting and perhaps relevant:  For example, that around 30% of Americans are chronically sleep deprived.
Who are the folks most likely to be chronically sleep deprived?  People who work night shifts (Barney worked the night shift) and people in the age range 30-44 (Betty, age 42, and Barney, age 39, fall into that range).

Based on that alone, it is very likely that Betty and Barney were chronically sleep deprived.

Therefore, I consider it proved that, by the time they had their experience on the night of 19/20 September 1961, Betty and Barney were in fact fatigued and sleep deprived.

Please, friends, if you are driving and notice that you can’t remember the last few miles, or if you have a sense of missing time … pull off at the next motel, or at least pull over and take a nap.  Your night in a motel will cost far less than a day in a hospital, or a funeral.

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I For One Welcome Our Alien Overlords

Space alien from Earth vs the Flying Saucers (1956)

Why are they grey?  Perhaps because Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956) was in black-and-white….

Check out PodcastUFO, where I’ll be talking about my take on Betty and Barney Hill’s abduction, on Wednesday, 29 November.

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Nashua, This Weekend

The Nashua Holiday Stroll will take place this coming Saturday, 25 November 2017.

Jim Macdonald at the Nashua Holiday Stroll, 2016

Jim Macdonald at the Nashua Holiday Stroll, 2016

So why do I care?  I live at the entire other end of the state from Nashua.  Well, because Granite State Magicians will appear (poof!) at 30 Temple Street, Main Level, Nashua, from 7:10 to 8:10 pm (1910-2010).  And I will be among them.

(Immediately following Granite State Magicians there will be a fellow doing a Harry Potter magic show, so plan to stay late.)


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Nanowrimo’s Almost Over

Dr. Doyle's Blog

And so is my Thanksgiving/Winter Heating Season quickie sale, which ends at midnight on Sunday the 26th of November.

As always, you can make the purchase for yourself or as a gift for a friend, and can collect on it either right away or at a future date.

Meanwhile, I have to trundle out and purchase this year’s turkey and all the rest of the traditional Thanksgiving oddments.

And in honor of the season, a reprise of my 2012 posting of The World’s Easiest Cranberry Sauce recipe:

1 bag fresh cranberries

1 cup sugar

1 cup water

Put cranberries into a small-to-medium-sized saucepan. Take a moment to make certain there isn’t a twig or a pebble in there by mistake. (I’ve never encountered one, but everybody says to check, so somebody must have, at least once.)

Add the water and the sugar. Stir to combine. It’s probably a good…

View original post 175 more words

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Mental Health

Mental illness.  It happens, just like physical illness.  If you had the signs and symptoms of a heart attack, you’d get help.  If you had the signs and symptoms of diabetes, you’d get help.  We’ve gone to a lot of time and trouble to make sure everyone knows the signs and symptoms of an awful lot of common diseases (and some not-so-common ones).  Mental illness is pretty darned common.   But tons of people don’t even know the signs and symptoms of mental illness, so they don’t get help.  We’re trying to get the word on the signs and symptoms of mental illness out there.  Tell all your friends.


Here are the signs and symptoms:

Five signs for mental illness

Know the five signs

    Know the five signs:

  • not feeling like yourself?
  • feeling agitated?
  • are you withdrawn?
  • not caring for yourself?
  • feeling hopeless?



  • Recognize the signs of emotional suffering
  • Express concern and offer support
  • Act now and talk to someone you trust — parent, teacher, coach, relative, friend, doctor
  • Care enough to follow through and follow-up.
  • Text SIGNS to 741-741 or call 603-448-4400 (24/7)


Take care of yourself.  Take care of others.  It matters.

(For substance abuse concerns, call 844-711-HELP or visit


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Uncle Tom’s SERE

Was Uncle Tom’s Cabin written by a feminine hand?

No, it was written by Harriet Beecher’s toe.

For years, pretty much all I knew about Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the novel, was that it existed.  Important in the social history of the United States, sure.  Important in American literature, sure.  But the plot?  Nope. All I knew of the plot was what I’d gleaned from watching The King and I.  So, recently, I decided to correct that lack.

(BTW: Spoilers)


Over the course of a couple of trips to Boston and to Burlington I listened to an audio recording of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

The first surprising thing (to me, anyway) was that the scene of Eliza crossing the Ohio on the ice floes wasn’t the climax of the book.  It was an incident in Chapter Seven (out of forty-five chapters).

I hadn’t looked at Uncle Tom criticism beforehand (I don’t read reviews of anything I plan to read or watch, to avoid spoilers), so I was surprised afterward to find that the character Sam on the Shelby farm, early on, was supposed to be a stereotype of the Happy, Lazy Darkie.  I’d taken him to be engaged in a long-running campaign of passive resistance.  But never mind that.  The main thing that caught my attention was the theme of escape, literal escape, and that I haven’t seen commented on in any of the sources I’ve looked at.

When one is engaged in Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape, there are two main strategies for the Evasion and Escape part of the mix.  Either get ahead of pursuit and stay ahead of it, or hole up somewhere in the search area until the searchers get tired of looking for you (or assume that you’ve already gotten out of the area, see strategy one above).  We see examples of both of those strategies in Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

First, we have Eliza.  She uses the first strategy.  Having learned that her master intends to sell her young son down the river (he’s chosen to sell because as a Pretty Young Boy he’ll get a good price; Stowe several times hints as strongly as you can in a 19th century novel that the Basest and Vilest of Men will buy Pretty Young Boys and Girls in order to do Unspeakable Things with them), she puts together a few things and does a midnight flit.  She grabs some clothes, some food, and her child and scrams out of there.  She does pause along the way to tell Uncle Tom what she’s doing, partly to see if he’ll come along (since he too is scheduled to be sold).  He declines, both for thematic reasons and because if he’d gone this would have been a pretty short novel.  It also serves the purpose of letting Stowe clue in the readers about things both Eliza and Tom know perfectly well. [NOTE: One of the things that got Representative Preston Brooks to cane Senator Charles Sumner on the floor of Congress in 1856 was Sumner’s claim that the South would never give up slavery since (among other things) slavery provided an unending supply of pussy for ol’ Massa.]

So far, so good: Eliza’s got an escape kit, even if it’s a hasty one.  She has a plan: head for Canada.  She does make some mistakes along the way, starting with telling anyone what she’s doing.  Nobody who isn’t traveling with her has a need to know her plans.  (What folks don’t know they can’t betray due to malice, accident, threat, or entreaty.) She also sticks to the road, and she heads for an easily-guessed primary destination: the closest crossing of the Ohio River.

One of the rules of escape (or strong guidelines, anyway) is avoid tactically-significant terrain.  That’s roads, crossroads, bridges, hilltops, towns, houses, dams (I’m looking at you, Dr. Richard Kimble), peel towers (yeah, Flynn from Tangled, you should have paid attention in SERE school) and pretty much everything Owen Wilson does in Behind Enemy Lines).

More through good luck than good judgment she reaches the Ohio ahead of the pursuit launched by her buyer, and makes that famous (and thematically significant Leap of Faith) escape across the ice floes.

After that she falls into the hands of an escape organization that gets her to a steamer across Lake Erie to Canada.

The use of resistance organizations can be fraught.  Remember: their goals and your goals may not coincide.   A word of advice to you, Eliza if (once again due more to good luck than good judgment) you learn of the plans of the slave catcher (confusingly also named “Tom”) who is after you, to take you on a particular piece of road at a particular time on a particular day, make it your business to be elsewhere. This may save you from a desperate gunfight on a wild crag (although it will also prevent slave-catcher Tom’s Fall and ultimate Conversion and Redemption).  At this point in your career you’re interested in reaching friendly territory, not in redeeming the Cossacks who are after you.  Yes, I know that Harriet Beecher Stowe was interested in talking about the Fugitive Slave Act in this part, but hey, Eliza?  You aren’t interested in it, other than getting out from its jurisdiction as fast as you can.

Any contact with the bad guys will give them a definite time/place mark on you, and reset the pursuit to zero, only with you more worn down and with fewer resources than when you started.  (Yeah, Tears of the Sun, you got that wrong too.)

(Also, note for the guy who wrote The Pervading Influence of Uncle Tom’s Cabin in Pop Culture, the minstrel show goes back way farther than the “Tom Shows.”  See half the songs in the 1844 Whig song book.)

At this point I’ll move to the other strategy: hold in place.  Cassie, the former sex-slave (literally) on Simon Legree’s plantation, carries this out when Simon brings home his newer, younger, prettier replacement and she can see how things are going to go for her from that point on.

She takes some time and expends quite a bit of ingenuity in creating a place that everyone knows she would never go, and makes it a place that Simon would never go either (a garret room in the big house that she convincingly makes haunted by ghosts).  She puts together escape kits (one for her, one for the new sex-slave, Emmeline) choses her time, makes it look like she’s gone off into the swamp and instead doubles back to the house, where she stays for months before finally just walking out the front door and down the road one night.

One essential part of her escape kit, and one that should be part of your escape kit, was cash money.  When the time came she  went down to the river, got on a steamer, and sailed to the Free States.  She got away a lot easier than almost anyone (aside from having a history full of horrors, that is). She can’t resist talking, though, before she gets to Canada, which is a mistake.  She should not assume that a white southern slave-owner is her friend.  Even if the author needs it in order to get to the climax (a series of coincidences that would make Charles Dickens blush).

There are a couple of other escapees: George Harris (Eliza’s husband), who finds that a) cash and b) boldness work (although he can’t resist talking and Telling All to a former employer of his along the way, which is a remarkably stupid idea, even if the author does need the dialog to make moral points and tell the reader what happened.  Stay quiet!  Oversharing can be fatal if the guy you told all to decides to repeat it as a funny story over brandy to his friends the next town over.   George (who is quite light-skinned)  is traveling disguised as a Spanish gentleman, accompanied by a darker “servant,” Jim.  The latter had made it to Canada once, and had returned to the south in order to find and rescue his mother.

They do well, and all get away.  Cash helps.






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