I didn’t have directions to the 11th Annual UFO Festival but it was easy to find: I simply followed the highway signs to McMinnville, parked the car, and followed the crowd carrying lawn chairs and wearing tinfoil hats. (At the town border I was disoriented by a guy in a Jeep Wrangler flying an enormous confederate flag stenciled with the word “REDNECK”. I though that was incongruous to the nature of the event, then remembered the rich history of American abductees.)
The UFO Festival is held every May to commemorate the Trent UFO Photographs, taken in 1950 by a local farmer that many agree are among the most credible images of a UFO ever captured. The front page news story about the photos appears in the Telephone Register, displayed by the door of the McMenamins Hotel Oregon. “At Long Last, Authentic Photographs of Flying Saucer [?]” reads the headline. Trent was initially shy about sharing his encounter and photos (“I’m afraid I’ll get in trouble with the government” he said), but word soon leaked to local news hounds who pried the story from him.
Trent and his wife were in the backyard of their farmhouse 11 miles southwest of McMinnville when they saw the odd craft in the sky. “The object was coming in toward us and seemed to be tipped up a little bit,” he states in the article. “It was very bright, almost silvery, and there was no noise or smoke.” (Alien vehicles in the 50s must have all had bad O-rings.) “‘The camera!’ Trent thought.” During the sighting, Trent raced to grab his Kodak—luckily preloaded with film—and snapped the now-famous photos before the thing got away.
The UFO Festival—"Where Believers, Skeptics and Experts Come Together! When McMinnville is Transformed Into UFO Ground Zero!”—is a fun for the family weekend of music and ufology presentations. Highlights include the parade, alien pet costume contest, and oh, lots of beer (shocking).
No one there seemed to be too invested in actual UFO experiences or abductions, but I did overhear two guys in line for a table at the hotel discussing what the “humans did” and what “the aliens did”. It was pretty engrossing eavesdropping until they were called to lunch. I found an empty spot outside and shared a table and a beer with a woman who had attended the morning lecture by guest speaker Travis Walton, UFO witness and abductee on whom the book and film Fire in the Sky was based. (You may remember the terrifying scene where he is unpleasantly probed through the eye and elsewhere by an alien Dr. Mengele.) “He seemed uncomfortable,” she reported. “He says he still has a lot of nightmares.” (Ya think?)
I asked her if she had any personal experience with UFOs. “My husband did,” she said, leaning in. “He was out in the woods.” (I’ll bet 99% of UFO sighting reports start that way). “He worked for the forestry department and he saw this orb—a glowing orb. Two of them. There were twenty-some guys out in the woods, planting trees. They all saw ‘em.”
Draw your own conclusions.