Extraterrestrial encounters | Office for Science and Society

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Let’s play the word association game.

“Little green men.”

Chances are, you answered “aliens”. Since there’s a good chance you’ve never seen a little green man from Mars, or anywhere else, why should this association come to mind so easily? Because popular culture pierced him in there. As early as 1912, Edgar Rice Burroughs referred to “green men” in his first sci-fi novel A Princess of Mars and over the following decades Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon often fought green aliens. When stories began to circulate about aliens recovered from a crashed flying saucer in Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947, aliens were generally described as having green skin. Then the image of a green alien was further enhanced by a curious, high-profile event on a Kentucky farm in 1955.

Members of the Sutton family and a few friends showed up at a police station clearly terrified. It is an indisputable fact. They recounted how a “shiny silver object with an exhaust of all the colors of the rainbow” landed and humanoid creatures with “an oversized head and arms extended almost to the ground” emerged. When one of them approached the back door, two guys grabbed their guns and shot the “little man” who seemed unresponsive to the bullets, “flipped” and rushed into the room. ‘darkness. Police investigated the next day but found nothing apart from the shell casings. After the police left, the creatures claimed the Suttons.

The media loved the story and many versions were published, often with drawings of the creatures described by witnesses. Big heads, big ears, about three feet tall, shiny eyes, slender legs, and talons instead of fingers. Aliens have never been described as green, their bodies have been said to “give off a strange shimmer as if they were made of silver metal.” But a reporter from the Evansville Courier thought the story needed a bit of color and used a touch of journalistic licensing. The aliens have become “little green men”. Other media followed suit and the legend of the “Seat of the Little Green Men” was born. What really happened that night remains a mystery, but no trace of an alien encounter has ever been found.

Kentucky aliens weren’t described as having particularly large eyes, so where did our most common depiction of an alien with large oval eyes come from? For that, we go back to September 1961 and what should have been uneventful driving for a New Hampshire couple. Barney and Betty Hill had been on a late honeymoon and were on their way home when they noticed a bright light in the sky. They didn’t pay much attention to it until the light seemed to follow them, getting closer and closer. Betty looked through binoculars and described what she saw as a “spinning disc” in the air. Barney initially dismissed this as an imaginative thought, but when the light seemed to hover over them, he stopped the car, grabbed a pistol under the seat (he was American after all), got out and pointed the binoculars at the strange light. Indeed, he saw a giant spinning disc, but more than that. Through his windows, kinds of beings dressed in uniform stared back at him!

When Barney tried to raise his hand with the gun, he found he couldn’t. He panicked, ran to the car and the couple hit the road. As they later recounted, the drowsiness caught up with them and by the time it passed they had walked for miles with no memory of having done so. When they got home, they realized that the trip had taken two hours longer than it should have. How could two hours have disappeared?

Something strange had obviously happened. Betty found a tear in her dress that she couldn’t explain, Barney’s shoes had been scuffed, their watches had stopped working, and a compass needle held near their car began to swirl uncontrollably. The next day, Betty reported the event to the local Air Force base and a report was made. Convinced that they had experienced an alien encounter, she voraciously searched the local library for books on UFO sightings. Whether due to her readings or the real-life experience, she quickly began to have disturbing dreams of being taken aboard a spaceship where she and her husband were invited, in a accentuated English, to lie down on examination tables where they were probed and pushed. in various ways. Strands of their hair were pulled out, nail clippings removed and needles inserted into various body openings.

The Hills first spoke publicly about their experience in their church in 1963, two years after the event, and followed with discussions in local UFO study groups. Due to sleep and anxiety issues, Barney began seeing a psychiatrist who referred him to a colleague, Dr. Benjamin Simon, who specializes in hypnosis. Perhaps under hypnosis the couple could remember what really happened and their anxieties could be resolved. Over several sessions, the two gave similar, but not identical, accounts that mirrored Betty’s dreams. This did not surprise Dr Simon as it was clear that the couple had discussed the dreams in detail. Although he concluded that the kidnapping was a fantasy, he believed the Hills were being honest in their beliefs. In any case, the sessions had put an end to the anxieties of the couple in the face of the supposed kidnapping.

The Hills weren’t really interested in the publicity, and their story would have vanished if a reporter from the “Boston Traveler” hadn’t heard about it. He learned about the hypnosis sessions and managed to obtain a tape of a lecture Hills had given. In 1965, his compelling story was picked up by United Press International, propelling the Hills to fame which was bolstered by a book, “The Interrupted Journey,” detailing their version of the alien encounter. Since then, many expert critics have refuted Hills’ account, pointing to the possibility of false memories surfacing during hypnosis, the ease of mistaking an airplane warning beacon for a UFO, and Betty’s story changing to every time it was told. After Barney’s death, she became a dedicated ufologist, claiming constant harassment by UFOs.

While the veracity of the Hillside Third Kind’s close encounter is suspect, there is no doubt that the publicity the supposed event ultimately received spawned a plethora of reports of alien abductions. The aliens in these adventures are generally described as having lean bodies and large heads with oval eyes, as is an image drawn by Barney under hypnosis of the leader of the aliens who had kidnapped him and Betty on this lonely road in 1961. Today a sign on New Hampshire Route 3 marks the spot where the alleged incident occurred, noting that this was the “first widely reported UFO abduction in the United States.”

So now we understand why the most popular image of an alien is a giant-headed, greenish creature with oval eyes. This mental image arose out of a few dubious human narratives inflated by the imagination of an exuberant media vying for attention. The only alien I have seen in real life is indeed such a creature. Unfortunately, it turns out he’s only a foot tall, made of rubber, and shows up in “Alien Anatomy,” a game based on performing an alien autopsy. This toy hit the market shortly after the release in 1995 of a video billed as an authentic autopsy of an alien recovered from the 1947 saucer crash at Roswell. It quickly turned out to be a hoax. I suspect the only alien whose innards I will ever be able to examine is the one that entered my game, which is no longer available and, according to eBay, is a true collector’s item. There may be yet another form of green associated with my little green guy.


@JoeSchwarcz

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