- The 1950s brought many changes to the country - the birth of rock
'n' roll, big cars with lots of chrome and new fears about communism and
- Oh, and flying saucers. It seemed as if everyone were
seeing the things. Across the country, reports of unidentified flying objects
took the country by storm.
- True, some of the reports came from a certain class of
people whose word was easily dismissed. These days, we'd be seeing those
people on Jerry Springer.
- Not all of the reports were so easily discredited. Some
of the sightings were made by police officers or military aviators. One
was made by a United Airlines pilot flying between Portland and Boise.
- Still, authorities and most citizens felt there was nothing
of substance to the reports.
- The early reports tended to describe craft which were
flat and circular, earning the nickname "flying saucers." That
term gave way to the slightly more dignified and academic- sounding "unidentified
flying objects," or UFOs for short.
- The early sightings were typically dismissed as optical
illusions, weather balloons or hoaxes. "A lot of effort has been put
into disproving UFO sightings," said Tim Hills, a historian with the
McMenamin brothers' brew-pub chain.
- After World War II, it was discovered that pilots for
both sides had seen various types of flying objects they couldn't identify
or explain. Each side, however, thought it had merely stumbled across some
sort of still-secret weapon of the other side.
- Then, outside McMinnville, farmer Paul Trent not only
spotted one of the mysterious disks in the air near his Ballston farm,
but managed to snap two pictures of it before it sped away. And for a while,
that was hot news.
- Following publication by the Telephone-Register, predecessor
to the News-Register, the photos went out on the wire services and were
published across the country. A big spread in Life magazine, then among
the nation's most important media outlets, helped touch off a nationwide
surge of interest in UFOs.
- Phil Bladine, then Telephone Register editor, was called
on to describe the incident repeatedly.
- In one nationally broadcast interview, he agreed to send
a copy of the paper to anybody who sent in a dime, then the cost of a single
copy. He later acknowledged that he hadn't really thought through the consequences
of that promise, or understood the depth of interest in flying saucers.
- "I said, 'Sure,' figuring we might get a request
for three or four papers," he said. Instead, requests for copies flooded
in, sometimes even in the form of dimes taped to postcards.
- The notes they wrote tipped Bladine to the depth of feeling
in the country about UFOs. "People said that they'd seen a flying
saucer, but didn't want to tell anyone because they were afraid they'd
be thought nuts," he said.
- At the height of the frenzy, the Telephone-Register
staff built a flying saucer float to enter in an annual parade. Now, a
new UFO enthusiast, historian Hills of McMenamins, is trying to recreate
the frenzy - complete with a parade of its own.
- Hills happened on the UFO story while researching the
history of the area for the opening of the Hotel Oregon, the historic building
in downtown McMinnville that the brothers renovated and reopened a few
- He presented his research to a team of McMenamins artists,
who incorporated it into the hotel's artwork, somewhat fancifully at the
- Evelyn Trent was feeding rabbits when she first spotted
the flying object, and ran for a camera. One of the paintings, however,
has a rabbit being beamed aboard a spaceship, a little joke for those in
- Elsewhere, savvy visitors have spotted the date May 11,
1950, marked on historic calendars. That's the date of the Trents' sighting.
- The photos weren't published until June, though, because
the unassuming couple didn't tell anyone about them until later.
- Eventually, on a visit to town, they mentioned the two
photos to their banker, Ralph Wortman. He mentioned them to Bladine.
- Bladine sent Bill Powell, the paper's news editor, out
to Ballston to try to obtain the photos.
- The Trents couldn't find the pictures at first, but launched
a search of the house. "Finally they found them under the davenport,"
- Bladine and Powell concluded from the way the events
unfolded and the Trents' reaction to it all that they were not publicity
- Further, they concluded from examining the photos that
they were probably genuine. There was certainly no indication to the contrary.
- The photos were published in the June 8, 1950, edition
under the headline, "At Long Last - Authentic Photographs of Flying
- Powell died recently. But before his death, he told the
News-Register that while he thought the photos were genuine, he didn't
know what to make of them.
- Thus the question mark in the headline. "I was covering
my butt a little bit," he said.
- In honor of the 50th anniversary of the UFO photos, Hills
and McMenamins prompted a resurgence of local interest. And they plan to
keep it going with annual commemorations.
- The company brought Dr. Bruce Maccabee, a prominent UFO
researcher, to McMinnville for a seminar on the photos as part of the 50th
anniversary celebration. It also assembled others who played a role in
the case, including Bladine.
- For the last two years, McMenamins has staged a series
of similar commemorative events. And many of its fellow downtown merchants
are jumping on board in a big way this year, including the historic Mack
Theater across the street.
- © 1999-2002 News-Register Publishing Co. AP materials
© 2002 Associated Press.