Why is there an alien-themed gas station in New Hampshire?

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“If you hear about UFOs or are interested in UFOs, eventually you’ll hear about the Betty and Barney Hill abductions.”

“Junior,” the bust made to look like the aliens Betty and Barney Hill claimed they saw during their 1961 abduction, went on exhibit in 2009. Scott LaPierre/Boston Globe Staff, File

The gray-skinned, lanky figure stands in the middle of a painted road, a flying saucer hovering over one shoulder and an extraterrestrial hand outstretched as if to say, “Greetings, earthling.”

The cosmic mural is out of this world — almost enough to forget you’re standing at a gas station in the middle of the White Mountains. And the alien painted outside Lincoln, New Hampshire’s Notch Express is just the beginning. 

Inside, among the Chex Mix and beer, there’s a treasure trove of photos and newspaper clippings all about martians, space oddities, and of course, Betty and Barney Hill.

After all, the gas station stands along the same stretch of Route 3 where the Hills said a UFO descended from the night sky and abducted them in 1961. 

It was, as the mural outside Notch Express proclaims, among the first documented close encounters of the third kind.

What’s the story behind the alien memorabilia in Notch Express?

It’s unclear exactly how long Notch Express has been paying homage to intergalactic interlopers.

Town property records indicate the gas station was built in 1971, and the current owners inherited the clippings — which used to hang in the unisex bathroom — when they bought the place about a decade ago, owner Falguni Patel said in a phone interview.

Visitors had a habit of removing clippings from the bathroom walls and taking them home, so Notch Express moved the exhibits to the main section of the store where everybody could enjoy them, Patel said.

“People are fascinated,” she explained. “They ask us the story, they read about all the materials.”

These days, the shop also sells a variety of alien-themed souvenirs, and Patel said travelers tend to enjoy their visits. 

“I think it’s pretty positive,” she said of the general reaction. “They think it’s real, it’s believable. And the kids think it’s really cool.”

Betty and Barney Hill: The ‘template’ for UFO abduction stories

For Betty and Barney Hill, however, the drive down Route 3 was less enjoyable. As the story goes, the Hills were driving home from a vacation in Canada on Sept. 19, 1961, when they saw lights hovering in the nighttime sky. 

In this Sept 16 1966 file photo Barney Hill and Betty Hill of Portsmouth New Hampshire are shown The Hills claimed to have been abducted by UFO extraterrestrials in New Hampshires White Mountains on a return trip from Canada on Sept 19 1961<i> AP Photo File<i>

“Through binoculars, Barney claims to have spotted non-human figures in a cigar-shaped craft that hovered over their car,” according to the University of New Hampshire, which houses the Betty and Barney Hill Collection

The couple later arrived home in Portsmouth with a two-hour chunk of time missing from their memories. A narrative of those lost hours emerged as they underwent hypnosis, The New York Times reported in 2004. 

“They recounted many times that a group of short gray-skinned beings stopped their car and took them aboard a waiting spaceship,” the Times reported. “There, the Hills said, they were subjected to rigorous medical examinations that included inserting a long needle into Mrs. Hill’s navel.”

Barney Hill died in 1969. Betty Hill continued to research UFOs until her own death in 2004.

Betty Hill was concerned that her collection might fall into private hands and become inaccessible for further research, and so UNH received the collection upon her death, explained University Archivist and Interim Special Collections Librarian Elizabeth Slomba.

Today, the university houses a collection that includes photographs, papers, the dress Betty Hill wore on the night of the abduction, and a bust she commissioned to look like the aliens she claimed she saw (nicknamed “Junior”). 

“He’s more on the gray side,” Slomba said in a phone interview, describing the bust. “He’s kind of gray-green, not like the ‘little green men.’” 

She said the university regularly hears from a variety of people interested in the collection, including casual looky-loos, serious scholars, and those doing their own personal UFO research.

Once, UNH opened the collection and found that the reading room was split down the middle between New Hampshire-based UFO believers and skeptics, she recalled. 

@gardenmartian Notch Express 367, Rt.3 in Lincoln NH. closest thing you can get to the abduction site of Betty and Barney Hill from Sept. 19, 1963 (since they removed the plaque from the actual site). #ufo #bettyandbarneyhill #uap #nh #alien ♬ original sound – Dylan Reid

“If you hear about UFOs or are interested in UFOs, eventually you’ll hear about the Betty and Barney Hill abductions,” Slomba said. 

She described the Hills’ tale as the “Ur” of alien abduction stories, noting that it came just before a booming UFO phenomenon in the United States.

“I think the Betty and Barney Hill UFO abduction story is one of the UFO abduction stories that really resonates,” Slomba said. “It’s one of the original ones. … It’s seeped into our consciousness because there was a lot that was written about it in the ’60s.”

She added: “I think that it set a template for what other UFO abduction stories are like.”

Slomba also noted that today’s approach to aliens is different than it was in the ’60s, as embodied by Notch Express and the viral 2019 event that called on people to storm Area 51

Whatever your stance on extraterrestrials, Patel said she’s always ready to greet those willing to make the trek to check out her alien-themed gas station.

“I’m just going to keep my aliens as long as I have the store, and I’m ready to see anybody who wants to come down and stop and ask questions,” she said. “We will always be there to answer it.”

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