My close encounters

Starry Nights

Imagine a starry night, so many diamonds sparkling in the blackness. Your soul reaches out to them. You wonder what’s out there. The billions of galaxies, planets, the vastness. There must be other intelligent life, and you wonder if they are here, today, watching us.

Ever since second grade I’ve wondered.

I remember seeing this movie with huge Martian goons controlled by a head in a bowl with tentacles. It was creepy. In fifth grade, I made a paper model of Explorer One, the first American satellite. Its picture and dimensions were reported in our Weekly Reader, so I was able to scale it to actual size. They hung it at the school entrance, and I was chosen to be on a kid’s radio show during which I said that someday I was going to the moon. I got an ice cream cone too, for answering a question about the solar system.

Explorer I

A year later, after reading Willy Ley’s Rockets, Missiles and Moons, which discussed life on other planets, I passed a shop on a side street near my home. In the display window was Space Age magazine. It looked perfect for my scrapbook of missiles and satellites, its photos even better than those in Life magazine. In college, I wrote my first term paper on UFOs. It planted the seed for what would happen.

During the next decade, I bounced from job to job and got married. I was trying to figure out what to do with my life. I never thought about UFOs, but one night I saw the made-for-TV movie about Betty and Barney Hill, played by James Earl Jones. I recalled reading about them when I did my term paper.

They claimed they were abducted in 1961 by small gray aliens with big heads and bulging eyes. It was a terrifying experience. While they remembered seeing a UFO, their memory of the abduction had been blacked out. They realized, however, that there was missing time between when they saw the UFO and when they should have arrived home, about three hours. They were disoriented and distraught. Barney thought he remembered seeing some beings but their memory of what happened was mostly missing; he also noticed a rash in his groin that had suddenly manifested.

Both of them experienced health problems: Barney become so exhausted he needed to take a leave of absence from work and Betty had a series of nightmares during which she recalled the abduction. Finally, they sought the help of a psychologist, who used hypnosis to awaken their memory, two years later.

The movie made their story come alive for me. How could someone make this up?

Three years later in 1978, divorced and working as an itinerant waiter, I had become fascinated by the haunting music from the new movie, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. I had a cassette recording and listened to it over and over. But that night as I was driving home after visiting a friend, I turned off the cassette player and turned on the radio.

I heard the staticky voice of a woman; it sounded like she said “aliens.” I adjusted the dial. It was Betty Hill. She was claiming that UFOs were landing in various locations near her residence in New Hampshire, and that on any night, she could take people out to see them.

My brain snapped. Really? I had to contact Betty Hill and see if she’d take me!

The next day, I called directory assistance and got the phone number of “a Betty Hill” in Portsmouth, NH.

“Is this the Betty Hill?” I asked.

She chuckled. Yes, she said but she was no longer taking anyone to see the UFOs. It was decreasing the frequency of the landings. She asked me to write her a letter and promised to write back with directions. And she did!

The sites “were about ten miles from the ocean, Pease Air Force Base and the city of Portsmouth; near corn fields, swampy areas, railroad tracks and power lines; and in deserted areas with few houses,” she wrote.

I wanted to go at once. I couldn’t miss the chance to see a real UFO. I read every UFO book I could find. By summer, I was ready. I used topographical maps to pinpoint the suggested sites, outfitted my car with a CB to communicate with them, if it was at all possible, and composed a message called “Ode to the Aliens.”


Behold, the sparkling diamonds,

Glistening in the blackness of infinity.

We too seek the answer to our purpose,

To communicate

To live in peace.

Incomprehensible beings

Yield your secret to us.

Reach out over

The lonely space of darkness

And let us share friendship.

We await your answer.

Listening across

The eons and eons and eons.

I quit my waiter job, and on August 6, 1978, with the music from Close Encounters blasting from my stereo, I drove to the New Hampshire seacoast more than 200 miles away. Zooming along superhighways through the Berkshires and other mountainous roads, I imagined encounters with little, bug-eyed big-brained beings and lizard-like creatures, wondering what this next adventure in my life would bring.

Finally, as the land flattened out, the fishiness of the salt air grew, the horizon widened, and lines of car preceded me, I slowly drove up to sun-stroked Hampton Beach. Two solid miles of blue-green-white foam sea fizzing along smooth tan sands, and the smell of fried dough, pizza, hot dogs, caramel corn, fudge, and cotton candy. Adding an otherworldliness to the scene was the huge platform that resembled a rocket launch pad looming into the horizon from out on the ocean. It was here that they were working on the huge pipelines that would bring the cooling waters of the Atlantic to the reactors of the Seabrook Nuclear Powerplant then under construction.

Having visited Hampton Beach during my honeymoon, I knew my way around and soon found an inexpensive room in an old hotel which I rented for the week across from the beach. Then I went to the employment office located in the 1950s ranch style white stone “Casino” complex at the center of the beach. There was an immediate opening at Giovanni’s restaurant.

Downstairs was a nightclub and upstairs the restaurant. The building was only a year old. Everything clean, pristine. Upstairs was a huge dining area with picture windows in front overlooking the beach, and behind it more than 150 checkerboard tables (red and white in the front; blue and white in the rear). Its décor was marked by a plush red rug changing to blue in the rear; large leafy plants; and white Roman statues with wall montages depicting Italy.

I met with the owner, a middle-aged lady, who coincidentally was from my hometown. She told me I could start the next day. I also called Betty Hill and told her that I had come to the beach to work, that I would be going to her locations and would let her know if I saw anything.

A week later, I moved into a rooming house and began days at the beach, evenings at the restaurant, parties after work, interspersed with nights in search at Betty’s locations. Many nights I drove to sites, with friends or co-workers at the restaurant, and we watched shooting stars streak into oblivion sometimes mistaking them with the planes from nearby Pease Air Base. Sometimes, I read my appeal over the CB, calling out to them. But we witnessed nothing but celestial bodies and planes.

Labor Day came, most of the crew left for college, and the beach emptied out. I found a cabin and moved out of the rooming house. It had its own kitchen, living room, bedroom, new furniture, appliances, and dinnerware. It was close to the beach, and a roomy parking lot affording a full view of the Seabrook construction site lit up at night.

Business at the restaurant was still good on weekends, and one Sunday afternoon Betty came. I had gone home on a break, having worked lunch, and was scheduled to come back to work dinner. There was a knock on my cabin door. It was a friendly, little, gray-haired lady older than I expected—Betty Hill. With her was a pudgy, young man, Bill, who I learned shared the flat upstairs in Betty’s home with another guy. Both claimed to have been abductees like Betty.

It wasn’t long before the discussion turned to aliens. Betty described them as short, under five feet, and horribly ugly, with no lips or nose, and mere slits for a mouth. She said they communicated telepathically and would soon land in every major city, proclaiming their existence. She seemed uncertain about what would happen next, only that it was necessary for the world’s salvation. Bill was even more bizarre, saying he was undergoing psychiatric treatment for his suspected UFO abduction when he was a child. He said that UFO encounters had been occurring in his family for generations and believed that the government was surveilling Betty.

Before they left, I received an invitation from Betty to visit her at home and view her slides and movies of UFOs!

A couple of weeks later, I went with a friend from work to see Betty. She lived in a quaint and comfortable-looking, gray house surrounded by foliage. She greeted us warmly while her tiny dog barked with fear and retreated into a back room. Animals have been known to exhibit anxiety during UFO encounters.

Betty Hill

I joked to Betty that her dog sensed us to be aliens, considering we were both very short, my friend less than five feet. Shortly after, she turned on the slide projector. Most of what we saw looked like photos of planes at night, their lights silhouetted against the sky. There was one of interest, though, of these small balls of light that were flying around some trees.

A movie followed. It was shot with a Super-8 camera, and to catch glimpses of the barely flickering points of colored light she claimed were UFOs, we had to sit with our noses in the screen. Her explanation that the fleeting quality of the images was due to their fantastic speed was difficult to accept. It was like a film of the night sky with bits of light being picked up from planes passing into the distance. When we left, she promised to take me to her secret spot.

While disappointed at our meeting, I kept in touch with Betty by phone and continued my search, people at work supplying information. I was told about sightings in Hampton Falls and Kingston, New Hampshire, as well as Rockport, Massachusetts. One co-worker who had lived in Exeter all his life, was there during the famous UFO encounters in 1965. His stepfather had one of the sightings, seeing something hover over some trees, all lit up like Christmas. But his stepfather was a heavy drinker, and so was the young guy who had the first sighting, Norman Muscarello, who had since left town.

On October 28, 1978, about nine o’clock EST, I was coming home from work. I was sober and clear headed if a bit tired. It was a cool night, full of stars. I was marveling at them and stopped outside my cabin, continuing to stare at the sky above the Seabrook construction site. I noticed a tiny, solitary, green light the size of a star.

A week before, an Australian pilot had disappeared after seeing such a green light. It had been reported in the news. My eyes latched onto it, following its quickening pace. Suddenly it swooped down and transformed into two huge beams of light, soundless, streaming over my head.

I gasped, and before I realized it, I was running, shouting at its fleeting image as it streaked over the beach and ocean, and vanished into the night sky, like steam dissipating into the air.

laser-like beams

Come back! Come back! I shouted as it dematerialized.

My heart heaved. Energy surged through me. I ran to Gio’s and downstairs into the bar— “I saw a UFO! I saw a UFO! I saw a UFO!”

While it looked similar to the Northern Lights, what I saw flashed across the horizon and swooped down overhead. I checked with an astronomer, who said that atmospheric conditions at that time that could cause the Northern Lights that far south made it unlikely that it was such an astronomical event.

It happened. I had come, I had seen, and once again, I was hopeful.

At the time I had my sighting, I didn’t know the details about the incident involving the Australian pilot. In fact, I learned only recently that this incident has become celebrated in UFO lore. The pilot, Frederich Valentich, was only 20 years old and inexperienced. He was flying solo in a single engine Cessna 182, a 125-mile jaunt across the Bass Strait from Australia to Tasmania. At about 4,500 feet, around 7 pm, he noticed something following him. It flashed over him at tremendous speed then returned and hovered over. It had four bright lights. His last words to the control tower were, “It’s coming for me, right now, hovering on top of me, and it’s not an aircraft.”

Cessna plane

My sighting never hovered. It flashed over me. However, it took my breath away and reinvigorated me. The next day, after calling Pease Air Force Base and learning there was no air traffic in the area at that time, I reported it to Betty. At her suggestion, I made several vigils to the Newmarket area and learned of a sighting in nearby Wenham, Massachusetts.

One night out with friends from Gio’s, we spotted lights in the distance upon railroad tracks looking much like one of Betty’s photos of an alleged landing. But it was no landing. It turned out to be only a train at rest. I tried other locations and took a trip to Maine, where I had heard about sightings and a story about a hypnotist, Bud Hopkins, who had investigated an encounter involving a Betty Hill-like abduction and who had been visited by an alien in an overcoat who threatened him if he continued to investigate.

In Portland, Maine. I visited the local television station. UFO reports were widespread in September, one sighting by the teenage daughter of a station cameraman. Then I went to the Portland Press-Herald and found an extensive UFO file. I not only learned of repeated sightings in early September by police and the Coast Guard – September 8 the date of highest activity – but came across a more detailed account of the UFO abduction and hypnotic regression involving Hopkins. In 1975, David Stephens from Norway, Maine, was allegedly taken aboard an alien craft and examined. He only recalled the experience after undergoing hypnosis with Hopkins.

I also visited Gloucester, Massachusetts, where two fishing boats were lost that month near where UFOs had been sighted in Rockport, Massachusetts. I talked with the Coast Guard and local fishermen about the possible connection between the missing boats and UFOs, mentioning the one near Rockport. No one knew of any, and they referred me to the Gloucester Times details.

At the Times I read the accounts of the disappearances of the Captain Cosmos and the Alligator. The first was more intriguing. “Failure to find any trace of the vessel or its crew,” one report stated, “has led to speculation among some fishermen that whatever happened, happened very quick!”

The boat was the first to disappear in sixteen years and equipped with the best survival gear and fully provisioned. Its last location had been 180 miles east of Cape Cod when it encountered a violent storm. This was on September 8. The same date UFO activity had reached its peak in Maine.

Finally, I phoned MUFON (Mutual UFO Network) Investigator Ray Fowler, who referred me to a UFO investigator in the village of Hampton, less than five miles from the beach. I called and asked if I could interview him. He gave me directions to his apartment behind a sleepy motel on the outskirts of the village.

John Paul Oswald was tall with thick glasses. He resembled Stephen King but never even cracked a smile. His apartment was a shabby, one-bedroom. Piles of magazines and stacks of books littered the floor, one a three-foot edifice of old-looking hardcovers. In the middle was his large easy chair where he sat across from the couch where I sat.

He came to this area to investigate UFOs in 1969 after reading about the sightings in Exeter. At the time he was working as an engineer in Wisconsin. He had become so fascinated with UFOs that he left his job and went to work as a factory laborer here to further his investigation. He also was an investigator with MUFON. While in Hampton, he also compiled reports for the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP) and the Center for UFO Studies directed by Dr. Allen Hynek, the astronomer who directed the government’s now renowned Bluebook project.

Oswald emphasized that he was serious and professional. It was his belief that UFO sightings were a rarity, and that if there were three or four genuine sightings in an area in one year, then you have a UFO epidemic or flap.

He was nearing completion of a complex, philosophical work he had been working on for ten years. He was reluctant to reveal his conclusion but when the conversation turned to religion, he noted that the three-foot edifice consisted of old theology books. He also gave me a self-published pamphlet, What You Need to Know. He had concluded that “the comprehensive explanation of the UFO phenomenon” would take time for scholars and scientists to accept.

Something, I don’t know what, seemed to trigger him. His tone changed and he began preaching. His voice rose: “UFOs are manned by angels, and they are preparing for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ!”

. . .

In the coming weeks, I visited the editor of the Portsmouth Herald, who suggested that perhaps I was snooping around in something that was none of my business. Following an interview with a weekly news reporter who had heard about my UFO search, I left New Hampshire.

I returned for four more summers, however, to enjoy the beach and life in the sun. I had given up my search for UFOs, or maybe I should say suspended it.

. . .

Forty-three years later, out of the black-n-blue, when the farthest thing from my mind was a UFO, I had my second sighting in 2021. While they were much different, they had a commonality. Both were near strategic locations, the one in New Hampshire near the never completed Seabrook nuke construction site, the second near the National Security Agency site in Bluffdale, Utah.

The NSA facility is not hidden away. It overlooks a four-lane highway with residential traffic across from Camp Williams, a National Guard military base. But it is obscured by a flurry of wires connected to cell towers, which give it a futuristic look.

UFOs have long have been seen hovering near such sites. Ufologists contend our ascension into the nuclear age prompted alien interest, though evidence of UFO contact dates from antiquity.

My second sighting occurred about 3 a.m. I was in a sleepy stupor when I awoke from the couch in my living room. I was living in Draper, Utah, about seven miles from the NSA site, in a high-rise apartment on the fourth floor. From our living room window, we could see across the valley towards its location.

I glanced out the window and noticed a bright light move. I looked closer; it was not exactly blinking, more like going on, then off, and moving in straight lines vertically and horizontally. Then disappearing. And reappearing. On and off. I watched in wonderment. Maybe just car lights in the distance? But they started coming in tandem two or three at a time. Disappearing. Reappearing.

Bluffdale UFOs

They looked like a recent video I’d seen of observations by Navy pilots. They called them tic-tacs because of their shape and how they darted horizontally and vertically. One of the phenomenon now called UAPs (Unidentified Aerial Phenomena), basically UFOs with a different name.

After about ten or so minutes, I called the Bluffdale police. Dispatch put me on hold and said they would contact the patrol officer. To my surprise, she said he confirmed what I was seeing. They had no idea what it was. They said they would investigate and after the UAPs disappeared, I went back to bed. I never heard from the police or anything else about it, nothing in the news, nowhere, nada.

My meeting with Betty Hill made me skeptical, but once again I got that feeling. Maybe they are real. Maybe Carl Sagan was wrong. I began to review the history that I had known and mostly forgotten. I found there was so much I didn’t know, thousands of unexplained sightings from all ages and life situations, stories from lumberjacks and Presidents, and secret government shenanigans. We know they are real.

The Secret of the Aliens

To Be Continued