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08 June 2013

on a lonely New Hampshire highway / I wanna go! / Drake equation / cue cheesy theremin music

Click images to enlarge.
e-mail to my old Army buddy what lives in the USA state shaped like a right-hand mitten, who'd just sent me a photo of this roadside historical marker
Either you know all about this, or else you never heard a thing about it -- but this here roadside marker tells the tale of The Most Famous UFO Alien Abduction Encounter Ever.
I know that part of New Hampshire really well. When Aliens aren't landing their saucer and probing the locals or the tourists, it's all mountain and forest and leaf colors and great skiing and quaint twisting 2-lane state highway. Hundreds of miles of beauty and nature and serenity, every 30 miles or so a gas station with a bathroom.
My teenage mutant brain had already begun picking The Wrong Magazines from the newsstand rack, and one I'd become habituated to was The Saturday Review. (My folks subscribed to The Saturday Evening Post, you may be familiar with the guy who did a lot of the covers.)
Saturday Review had a Very Credible, Very Interesting columnist called John Fuller. He was very Sensible and Factual and Smart and Clear. He began cranking out books, they got wide distribution and interest, the first one I read was "The Day of Saint Anthony's Fire." A perfectly true, well documented account of a town in France, Pont-Saint-Esprit, where one day in 1951 the entire population just went loopy, mass hallucinations, mass erratic public behavior. Clearly Fuller just thought this was the screwiest thing ever, and wrote a rivetting, 100% True Fact account of it.
It was the bread -- a fungus, ergot, in stored rye that had gone damp. And if you get That Fungus in the grain, it squirts out an alkaloid with almost exactly the same neuro properties as LSD. (Unlike most acid I've bumped into, this stuff also gives you gangrene in your feet.) 
So the baker baked the bread, everybody in town ate the bread, for about a week everybody went upside-down woopee. It happens hither and yon and now and then, and they call it Historical Ergotism, and used to call it Saint Anthony's Fire.
But Fuller's big breakout book, that had started with a string of columns in Saturday Review, was "Incident at Exeter." On 3 September 1965 -- well, every sober, sane adult in Exeter, New Hampshire, including the town constables in the patrol car, saw and bumped smack into an unexplained fancy-flying outer-space machine. It's the most factually documented wtf encounter ever, the one most difficult to explain away. Fuller didn't discover UFOs, but it was the first mass-published mass-read mass-discussed Event that everyone felt compelled to take quite seriously, without giggling.
Now Fuller was indisputably The Leading & Sole Credible Journalist Expert in national media on UFO stuff, certainly UFO stuff in northern New England. This was not The Amazing Kreskin rappin about Alien Saucers in titanium-lamé capes with cheesy theremin music in the background. This was a Straight, Credible print journalist with an impeccable zero-scandal rep.
He started getting whisper rumor phone calls about a Boston psychiatrist treating a fairly ordinary Boston couple. On the way home from their Canada vacation, several night hours on this NH highway were just unaccounted for. They knew they'd been troubled, sick, disturbed, frightened ever since, but couldn't remember why. 
The shrink specialized in, and eventually zapped Betty and Barney with hypnosis to try to recover their lost night highway hours.
The way I heard it, the shrink and the Hills were trapped into cooperating with Fuller, because a more Tabloidy Geraldo-y reporter was threatening to Go Public with the rumors he'd collected, so the Hills and the shrink wanted the story told by The Recognized High-Class Journalist Expert on this kind of thing. And that book became The Great Classic of Encountering Outer-Space Aliens, "The Interrupted Journey."
I don't know exactly what it all means to me, but ever since I moved to Massachusetts -- I'm about 4 hours south-ish from where whatever happened happened -- Fuller's very expert sense of Telling A Really Screwy wtf Story has been singing to me to make time one Autumn to go up there. Every year there are wire stories and Boston Globe stories about dozens or scores or a few hundred Fans of Betty & Barney who assemble at the starting point of their Lost Hours. 
I'd really like to go. Even if a UFO doesn't carry us aboard and probe us, it's the perfect Autumn Leaf season -- and I just want to meet and chat with This Bunch, try to grok sup with all this. (And buy the t-shirt, I know somebody's selling t-shirts in the scenic overlook parking lot.)
Just 2 nights ago I was muttering all this to S.W.M.B.O. She is less enthused than I to meet the One-Eyed One-Horned Flying Purple People Eater, but considering it's close, and it's Gorgeous Leaf Peeper Season in the White Mountains, and she has a certain fondness for nearby Screwy, and likes to indulge some (though not all) of my Odd Interests, she grunted that if it could all work out, she'd go with me this upcoming September 19. To see what we can see. To see what we can see.

B****** was the first -- maybe the only -- guy I know who had MUFON stuff, books, literature. He may have contaminated you and others in the barracks with it, he has been MUFON forever, and of course he's from Boston, so the Betty & Barney Experience is like very close and famous. He gave me a crude brief explanation -- pretty much "If you want the sanest, most trustworthy Alien UFO experience available, MUFON are your go-to folks."
btw The Most Pretentious Movie Ever Made was on last night -- I always have to watch bits of it, like slowing down to rubberneck a bad highway wreck -- Jodie Foster in "Contact." (When we finally meet Them, They'll look and talk just like Dad -- They do that so They won't spook us or freak us out.)
Let me rewind to before I got probed. 
Right after I got out of the Army I wound up with an old gf in Northern California, she was taking a community college course, and I read her super-thick textbook, "Intelligent Life in the Universe," by Sagan and Schlovskii. Read the whole thing, it was rivetting, startling, and I'd never known any of this stuff. 
This was the first I'd ever heard about the Drake Equation [see image at top of post] which looked scary at first, but actually it was pretty simple and easy. How many ingelligent civilizations are there in the Milky Way? There's the number of stars, the rate of star formation, the likelihood a star has planets, the likelihood of planets not too far or too near the star, yadda yadda -- and these are all well-known values from astronomical observations -- until finally we get to
L = Once a civilization invents radio
....(so they can communicate 
....with other intelligent civilizations) long will the civilization last?
We invented radio around 1900. We invented the A-bomb 45 years later, and the H-bomb about 7 years after that. We can only guess about the typical case from the one civilization we know, so Signs Point To Not Lasting Long. In which case, there'll be very few, or zero, other intelligent civilizations in the galaxy.
But if a typical post-radio civilization does the Group Hug and gets a grip, and lasts thousands of years or longer, then N just might be Lots and Lots of other intelligent civilizations, all sending beep-beep in all directions, and the likelihood is high that if we keep aiming and listening, eventually we'll make Contact.
(Sagan wrote the sci-fi novel from which the Jodie Foster movie was uhhhh baked.)
Okay, that's it, your Historical Highway Signpost has pushed me over the edge, I'm a-goin' this September! Meet the Fans of Betty & Barney! Get the t-shirt and maybe the snowglobe!
(Cue cheesy theremin music.)

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