McMinnville Gears Up For UFO Festival
By Pat Forgey
The News-Register
McMinnville, Oregon

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 the H-bomb.
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 years ago.
He presented his research to a team of McMenamins artists, who incorporated it into the hotel's artwork, somewhat fancifully at the time.
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 the know.
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 said.
Bladine and Powell concluded from the way the events unfolded and the Trents' reaction to it all that they were not publicity seekers.
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 Saucer?"
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.


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