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The Grounding of Betty Hill



The Dow line digs to the core of Hampton history. Henry Dow, the first Dow born in America in 1640, practically invented the town. Betty tells the story of Hampton's founder with her familiar deep voice, honed to talk show perfection by a lifetime of chain smoking. Her source is the weighty "History of Hampton" by Henry's 19th century descendant Joseph Dow. The Dows, despite their motto, appear eminently sane. One branch of the family turned a dye-making business into Dow Chemical. Another parlayed a small newspaper job into Dow Jones, now owners of the Wall Street Journal.

The male half of Betty Hill's gene pool appeared on the scene in the nick of time. It seems Betty's mother Florence Rollins was afraid of the water, but her sister braved the waves at York Beach in the summer of 1914, only to be pulled under by the dangerous undertow. Enter Raymond Barrett, a strapping young athlete who rescued one Rollins girl and wed the other.

The Barrett wing turns out to be the Johnny-come-lately relations, arriving in America from Galway, Ireland among the first wave of Potato Famine immigrants in 1847. Outside of Great Aunt Mary, a Gold Rush girl who painted her three-story house solo at the age of 94 and made national headlines, the Barrett line appears relatively normal.

"But what about me?" Betty jokes. "I'm a Barrett!"

Betty & Barney HillBetty and Barney Hill The interview has taken nearly two hours, the same time missing from Betty and Barney's watches after their close encounter in the New Hampshire mountains. The cats are beginning to assemble in the parlor now. They stare wide-eyed from around the room. Something is afoot, so Betty quickly trims the final branch of her family tree.

"No one knows how the first Trafton came to the New World," she says. "There are no records. It's a little mysterious." When the first settlers arrived in nearby York, Maine, there he was, right on the beach where Florence and Ray would meet 300 years later.

The longer Betty talks, the more grounded she appears. Her history is accurate, filled with rich detail and supported by scads of research. Sitting in her Victorian chair, surrounded by hungry cats, chatting in her old Portsmouth home, she might be a famous historian, say Barbara Tuchman or Doris Kearns. But they never got to write "A Common Sense Approach to UFOs" like Betty did. They never got to take the big ride.

"Did I tell you how I got interested in genealogy?" Betty asks, and fires into another anecdote like a lit bottle rocket. It is the energy that makes everything she says so compelling, boundless energy compounded by a child-like sense of wonder, a sense we all remember and of which, if we are honest with ourselves, we cannot help but grieve the loss.

"About ten years ago I went to the Yucatan and I went to some Mayan ruins. The Mayans were telling me how their ancestors came here in a space craft back around 3,000 B.C. from their home planet."

Nothing in her demaenor indicates that Betty has just crossed the reality barrier; there are no speed bumps of doubt, no warning bells of fiction. This tale is as real as the last, and the listener, despite himself, is drawn into the vortex of Betty's animated perception.

It's true, Betty insists. Anthropologists think the Mayans came from Siberia, but they're wrong. The Mayans have a unique physique, unlike any other people on Earth. They only grow to five feet and all have round heads.

Come to think of it, sitting in that high-backed chair, surrounded by almond-eyed cats, Betty looks a little Mayan herself, despite all the Rollins, Trafton, Barrett and Dow in her blood. The reporter interrupts with a question and asks, just for the record, how tall she is. Betty knows where this journey is going.

"I'm five feet tall," Betty says proudly, as if she would consider no other height. She pauses, seems to wink, then launches into laughter.

Article and photo by J. Dennis Robinson
Copyright © 1999, All rights reserved.
Originally published February 5, 199 on

All rights to this article are reserved. It may not be copied in whole or in part without contacting to inquire about re-print use rights and fees. If you wish to refer to this article, please use the author's full name and the name of the web site. Web site references should include a link to this page. All other use is a violation of US copyright law.

Photo of Betty and Barney used by permission of Betty Hill from "Interrupted Journey" by John G. Fuller, Dial Press, 1966


FURTHER READING: Tales of an Exeter-Terrestrial


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