The truth is out there — it’s in McMinnville, actually.
Now in its 19th year, McMenamins’ UFO Festival continues to draw thousands of committed believers to Yamhill County for a three-day event featuring alien experts, an out-of-this-world parade and a lively street fair.
The celebration is based on the black-and-white photographs of a “flying saucer” taken by farmer Paul Trent in a field nine miles southwest of McMinnville in 1950.
The photos were reprinted in Life magazine and many newspapers, though buzz-killing forensic specialists and some journalists insist the photos merely show a metal disk or toy hanging from power lines. Trent and his wife never wavered from their claim that the pictures are genuine.
Among the faithful is Dave Stevens, who has lived on a ranch near the alleged sightings for more than 30 years. He instructs a reporter to take Highway 18 to Farmer John’s Produce stand, then “just look up.”
“I’m waiting for them to come back and take me,” he tells the Tribune on Saturday, May 19.
Stevens was one of many in attendance to coat his dome in aluminium foil — his contraption look like a miniature umbrella hat — though others use tin-covered baseball hats, dunce caps and even a spinning propeller beanie to block any nefarious signals.
“I’m an alien something. An alien with a bucket helmet,” explains Logan, a seven-year-old boy visiting from Scappoose wearing green face paint and a pail over his head. The second-grader believes in aliens “not that much, but kind of.”
While the confirmed existence of extraterrestrials remains up in the air, no one’s doubting that many people see Unidentified Flying Objects floating through the sky. Scientists maintain that regular folks are often befuddled by everyday phenomena like shooting stars, clouds, low-flying planes and satellites.
Others aren’t so sure.
“All of the sudden it zigged, it zagged, and took off,” describes David Schneider, a Gresham resident who recently published a book on the subject. “We went inside. It wasn’t a plane.”
Schneider’s memory of a real-life encounter happened many years ago, when he was a 10-year-old boy camping out on his deck near Summit Drive in Lake Oswego.
He believes modern technology including fiber optics, circuit boards and Kevlar are the fruits of “reverse engineering” from an alien’s crash landing in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947. The official narrative is that it was a cluster of U.S. Army surveillance balloons.
From Schneider’s perspective, the good news is that the spacemen are here only for observation and maybe a few abductions, because if they were here for anything more monstrous it “probably would have occurred by now.”
“The media still chuckles,” he admits. “It’s not just ‘I believe because I want to.’ I’ve done research as well.”
An entirely unscientific poll by the Tribune suggests most attendees here believe in life on other planets, with many respondents saying the odds are high simply because of the vast number of known stars. It’s up to more than 100 billion in our galaxy alone, according to the latest count.
“The odds that there is only us is not in our favor,” notes Shayna Vest, a resident of the Sylvan Hills in Southwest Portland dressed as an alien from the planet Meepzorp.
“It’s a pretty big universe,” highlights Desiree Neel, a Dundee local costumed as a half-black, half-white creature from the planet in “Star Trek.”
“I’d love to meet one,” adds Kimm Minkler, who grew up in Hillsboro and now lives in Washington State. She’s back at the fest for her fourth time because it’s the only place where “I can hide behind a mask.”
Mike Que of Southeast Portland is dressed as a big-brained baddie from the 1996 sci-fi flick “Mars Attacks!” He’s seen a UFO, but isn’t 100 percent convinced aliens are real.
“It was a couple of lights in the sky,” he says. “I’m a scientist. I need some evidence.”