The UFO Legend Lives On
“When the legend becomes fact, print the legend,” said the newspaper editor, Maxwell Scott, in “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.” Those words took on new meaning for me as this issue, with a focus on UFOs, came into existence.
I know because he told me so in a recent interview for a sidebar to our cover story.
I can’t disagree with his concern. Once a story has been publicly told, however badly, that version becomes a foundation and a reference point. Our history is so full of embedded inaccuracies, many dating back to source documents from decades and centuries past, that it’s reasonable to say anything you think you know about the past is probably wrong — at least in the details.
My goal in pulling together another story on the UFO phenomenon was to simply refresh memories in such a heady time for all lovers of the unknown, all gazers at the night sky, and all fans of “The X-Files” and its spinoffs. This year, the Twittersphere and Redditiverse are abuzz with hints and rumors suggesting that 75 years of official brush-offs, psyops, ridicule and cursory investigations (since the Roswell, New Mexico, “crash”) are about to end. Disclosure of what the government knows (or what it can admit) is at hand.
Indeed, it won’t take much to turn this story into the biggest news in human history. Just one irrefutable item of evidence — say a piece of advanced technology made by someone (or something) nonhuman — would open the floodgates for every discipline of science, politics, religion and philosophy.
The term “extraterrestrials” that’s usually applied to whoever is piloting the UFOs is morphing into a much more flexible and provocative title, “ultraterrestrials.”
But something about the study of UFOs (I know, the goverment calls them UAPs now, but so what?) seems to always lead into twisty-turny passages or into dark, uncharted waters or simply off into the shifting maze of government bureaucracy where the point gets lost and the players all start to feel a little foolish, or deceived.
And, as a result of so many years of downplay, dismissal and outright mockery aimed at those who study the UFO phenomenon, it’s easy to see why respectable scientists and journalists (and politicians) have steered clear of the topic entirely.
What prompted my call to Zabel was his attempt to correct the official record for one of New Hampshire’s (and the world’s) most famous UFO cases: the Interrupted Journey of Betty and Barney Hill — two Portsmouth residents who got pulled over by a flying saucer on Route 3 near Lincoln while returning from a honeymoon in Canada. That “official” record was not carved in stone, but it was cast in metal as a New Hampshire Historical Highway Marker. It’s hard to accurately capture a moment of history in just 92 words, but Zabel thought he could do better and offered a rewrite.
He explained that his main motive was to remove any suggestion that the original story of the Hills’ abduction was somehow “leaked,” when, in fact, it was the tenacious, shoe-leather investigation of reporter John Luttrell that confirmed the Hills’ accounts and revealed a story unlike any told before. Saturday Review columnist John G. Fuller swept in later and wrote what has become the definitive account of that episode. (He also, coincidentally, penned “The Incident at Exeter,” a book on our state’s other world-famous UFO encounter.) But in Fuller’s reporting, there were factual errors imposed, says Zabel, by editorial choice. The words “anal probe” hadn’t yet become acceptable party talk in those days, so they were omitted, and the image of Barney grabbing a gun from his car (Fuller substituted a tire iron) may have seemed untoward for a Black man in the 1960s.
Corrections to the marker are underway, so wherever the UFO story takes us in the coming months and years, it will be good to look back on all the misinformation and outright deception it’s endured and say, well, at least we got one thing right.