Local gas station offers out-of-this-world experience
|The bathroom in the Notch Express Store in Lincoln treats customers to newspaper clippings and documentation of alleged alien abductions from around the world, including the story of the New Hampshire couple involved in the first widely publicized alleged alien abduction in 1961, right outside where the gas station still sits. Kayti Burt. (click for larger version)|
November 03, 2010LINCOLN- What began as a bathroom museum dedicated to the mysterious events surrounding a New Hampshire couple's alleged alien abduction, has since spilled over into the rest of the Notch Express Store in Lincoln, much to the amazement and bewilderment of customers who stop looking for gas or a quick snack and find much more.
Barney and Betty Hill were driving back to their Portsmouth home from a vacation in Montreal late at night on the evening of Sept. 19, 1961. They remembered stopping in Colebrook for dinner slightly after 10 p.m. They remembered spotting a bright star moving independently in the sky just south of Lancaster. They remembered stopping in the middle of Route 3 in Lincoln when the strange light started to come closer. After that, they remembered nothing for the next 35 miles between Lincoln and Ashland, but vivid dreams and memories recovered through hypnosis point towards a other worldly experience that would evolve into the first widely publicized alleged alien abduction. Their story would inspire books, television movies, and, apparently, a themed gas station.
"I had heard about the Hills and read their story but did not put two and two together that it happened here until 2008 when I had a casual conversation with a member of staff," said owner Dave Martin, who bought the store with his wife in 2007. United Kingdom natives, the couple had visited the area on vacation before, and enjoyed it so much they moved here. "That got us interested and we started asking questions to the locals who had lived their all their lives about where exactly it happened."
The endeavor only grew from there. An alien mural painted by Local Artist Andrea Thibeault now covers the storefront, accompanied by a chalkboard encouraging customers to write stories of their own extraaterrestrial sightings. A small souvenir section sells books written about the alleged abduction experience that supposedly started right outside the store.
For customers not in a hurry, a 10-minute video playing on repeat on a flat screen behind the cash register tells the story of the Hills, and lets viewers guess "Real or Fake" for a series of UFO sighting videos from around the world (and some from out of this world, captured by cameras in space).
But the highlight of the experience is the bathroom where the UFO paraphernalia originated. The small room seems a world away from the rest of the store, with article-plastered walls documenting UFO sightings, and soundtracks from science fiction film and television piped over the speakers. For those without an alien sighting to their name, a green blow-up alien doll hangs from a ceiling beam.
The bathroom where the UFO shrine began – inspired by the bathroom museums stumbled upon on a Route 66 cross-country trip to Las Vegas the Martins took several years ago – also inspired an additional bathroom museum in the store. The second bathroom is covered in clippings and pictures from 1961, the year of the encounter. The walls are split into months, each one with actual images detailing the pop culture and news from the period.
"It was important to me that it was accurate," said Martin, whose priority of authenticity carries over to the UFO information, as well. Martin does not classify himself as a true believer of UFOs – though he notes he has always been a science fiction fan – but finds the Hills' story, and its connection to his store, fascinating.
"It was key for me that the first close encounter really did happen at the gas station site and we had enough anecdotal evidence and the grainy photo of Barney's later visits to the site to tie it down," said Martin.
Martin's statement is corroborated by the Hills' niece, Kathleen Marden, who still remembers the days following the alleged abduction. Marden was 13-years-old at the time, and traveled to the Hill's Portsmouth home after Marden's mother received a call from her sister , Betty, concerning the event. Marden listened to their account and saw some of the physical evidence.
"The site where Betty and Barney had a close encounter with the silent UFO that hovered only a couple of hundred feet above their car is in the vicinity of the Notch Express," said Marden. "The field where Barney observed the non-human entities aboard the UFO is approximately across the street from the store."
Marden has co-written a book about her aunt and uncle's experience with Physicist and Ufologist Stanton Friedman, entitled "Captured! The Betty and Barney Hill UFO Experience: The True Story of the World's First Documented Alien Abduction." The book is sold at the Notch Express.
"I had the opportunity to meet the early investigators and have followed the case throughout my lifetime," said Marden. "In 1990 I decided to leave my profession and investigate the Hill case." Marden spent more than a decade researching the experience before writing the book. Betty opened all of her files to Marden, including the original investigator's confidential reports and the Air Force's Project Blue Book report. Marden went through the audio recordings of the Hills' hypnosis sessions.
"I think that the interest in the story has continued to this day," said Marden, who is currently working on her second book, "Science Was Wrong," with Friedman. "It is complex and perplexing, especially because it was so well-investigated, because there was physical evidence, and because the Hills were such credible and well-known people in New Hampshire."
"I have visited the Notch Express and have met the delightful owner," said Marden of the Hills-inspired gas station.
Martin said he has only garnered a positive, if not at times bewildered, response to the UFO shrine.
"Most people think it's completely mad, which is exactly what we wanted," said Martin. " [We] haven't got much publicity, but never actively marketed it. [We] really wanted it to become known by word of mouth."
Therefore, most of the people who come into the Notch Express have no idea what they are in store for. The unawareness of the tribute to the Hill's story catches some off guard more than others.
"[We] once had a lady go into the restroom who was just pulling off the highway for gas," recalled Martin. "[She] went in the rest room, stayed in there for ages, and came out pretty pale. Turns out that she had been fostered and Betty Hill was her caseworker." The woman was aware of the Hill's alleged alien abduction, but was not prepared to see a room dedicated to her story.
In 2009, the Martins expanded their offerings to include a place for people to share their own stories of extraterrestrial experience by creating a large chalkboard outside the store. Messages on the chalkboard range from the silly – "Climbing @ Rumney, belayed by E.T." – to the sincere – "Oct. 18, '09. By Cannon Mt. 5 lights playing. Kept flying 10 min."
The Martins are back in the UK for the time being, but Dave has plans to expand the UFO shrine. He wants to add a television in the bathroom that screens the same short film currently playing behind the register, and to build a crashed UFO on the ground in front of the store or on the gas station roof. The Indian Head Resort is planning a 50th anniversary celebration for next September. Marden will be giving a lecture and leading a guided tour of the close encounter route. The Notch Express will be producing its own t-shirts and bottled beer for the occasion. Perhaps customers can bring them to the unveiling of the monument the resort is dedicating to Betty and Barney Hill, showing that half a century later, their story still means something to people.
Have aliens visited Earth? Regardless of how customers answer that question, the Notch Express seems to please all with its glimpse into an era long ago, and the possibility of an experience not entirely of this world.