Extraterrestrials Invade McMinnville
On May 11, 1950, an otherwise ordinary evening in the sleepy, sylvan outskirts of McMinnville, Oregon, something extraordinary was afoot.
Evelyn Trent was getting ready to call it a night after tending to the farm when a glimmer of light caught her eye in the sky above: a metallic disc, soundlessly soaring toward her house, kicking up dust. She yelled for her husband Paul, who, after seeing it for himself, ran back inside to grab the Kodak. He managed to snap two pictures before the object flew off, disappearing into the night.
The resulting photos, now dubbed the “McMinnville UFO photographs,” brought an immediate media firestorm to Oregon and beyond. McMinnville’s Telephone Register (now the News Register) published the photos first, with the headline, “At Long Last—Authentic Photographs Of Flying Saucer?” Life Magazine soon picked up the story, garnering the family further—and seemingly unwanted at times—attention from a deeply UFO-crazed nation.
Like any alleged extraterrestrial sighting, the incident had and continues to have its skeptics. (What’s up with those wires above the object? Does that flying saucer look a little bit like an old sideview mirror?) However, numerous reports and analyses—some government-funded—point to the photos’ authenticity. And the Trents, by all accounts, went their whole lives without making a dime from the affair. Regardless, the images Paul Trent captured that day remain some of the most arguably credible and famous UFO photos of all time. We may never know the truth, but the possibility that contact was made in our own backyard simply can’t be ruled out.
Fast-forward 73 years: McMinnville is more of a hotspot for otherworldly sightings than ever before. Strange, cyclopean beings roam the streets; four-legged, antennal creatures bow to their masters; and motherships make their way down 3rd Street!
Thankfully, this is nothing we’ll be hearing about in the next Pentagon report. This is the McMenamins UFO Festival, the annual two-day celebration of all things extraterrestrial in the heart of the Willamette Valley. Each May, truth-seekers (as well as plenty of food- and wine-seekers) flock to McMinnville from all over the world for the festivities, which include a alien merchandise market of 80-plus vendors, the “UFO Parade” through downtown, costume contests (for humans and pets), an “Alien Abduction Dash” 5k race, and a stacked roster of ufology panelists and speakers at McMenamins Hotel Oregon.
The festival returns this May 19 and 20 for it’s 23rd iteration. It’s the second year back in full swing since taking 2020 off, and hosting a scaled back, parade-free version in the fall of 2021. According to Dave Rucklos, Executive Director of the McMinnville Downtown Association (the organization behind the parade, vendor market, and other events throughout town), interest and attendance has boomed since its post-pandemic return.
“Last year was a huge eye-opener,” Rucklos says. “The people had so much pent up energy and curiosity to do something like this in a public way again, the numbers that came into town were overwhelming. It’s believed to have been the biggest festival to date… And this year is turning out to be just as strong.”
Rucklos says that virtually every business in town is involved with the event in one way or another—from cosmic food and drink specials, to slinging UFO-related merch (like the local music shop that sold little green man head-shaped guitars in 2022). But for an event that now mounts a full-scale alien invasion of McMinnville, it comes from surprisingly humble beginnings.
In its infancy, the McMenamins UFO Festival was less of a family-oriented, citywide spectacle to behold, and more of a niche gathering at the restaurant and lodging chain’s Hotel Oregon, geared toward people with serious interest in ufology, to commemorate the anniversary of the McMinnville UFO photographs.
“When they first started it, it was just one speaker,” says Renee Rank Ignacio, Director of Marketing at McMenamins. “A lot of people came, so they said, ‘Well, let’s do this again next year!’”
Impressed by the turnout and atmosphere of that first year’s event, Patti Webb, then-manager of the McMinnville Downtown Association, saw an opportunity for the group to get involved.
“Someone from the promotions committee and I stepped in and listened to a little bit of the talks, and we thought, ‘Wow, this is pretty off the wall … but fun!’” Webb says. “So later, we told McMenamins that we would love to be participants, because we knew how to throw a good parade.”
From then on, participation in town only continued to grow year by year, until everyone from the local high school marching band to the garbage company were suiting up in alien attire to take part in the festivities. The event now draws upwards of 7,000 people and has become the second largest gathering of its kind in the country (outnumbered only by Roswell’s iconic UFO festival).
“It’s amazing,” Webb says. “I can barely recognize it from the very beginning.”
Though the average attendee today may prefer to celebrate embracing the unknown by indulging in a pinot noir from one of the many local vineyards or throwing on some green face paint, the festival isn’t without its die-hard believers. You’ll find most of them at the speaking events at Hotel Oregon, where the atmosphere is less lighthearted and more focused on uncovering and exposing the “truth.”
This year’s speakers include Travis Walton, whose famous alleged alien abduction in 1975 has been covered in countless TV shows, books, and movies over the years. Sev Tok, author of You Have the Right to Talk to Aliens and field researcher for the Mutual UFO Network, will also be speaking. She says she knew she wanted to go public with her own experiences and help other experiencers when she encountered a “grey alien” in the night, and awoke to multiple red x’s burned into her body.
“I decided I wanted to help other experiencers so they don’t have to hide anymore,” Tok says. “A human being can come face-to-face with a being from another universe, another galaxy, another planet… And we’re ashamed of it. We hide it. We’re afraid that people are going to think we’re crazy. But these are amazing experiences… We are being shown things that can help advance ourselves personally and advance ourselves collectively.”
According to Ignacio, McMenamins has seen an uptick in the number of tickets sold for the speaking events this year—likely thanks in no small part to the reported increase in UFO sightings, and general interest following the Pentagon’s much-talked about 2022 Report on Unidentified Aerial Phenomena. Even so, true believers are bound to be outnumbered by casually curious attendees more interested in the feel-good (and free) side of the festival. However, that’s not to say these two groups don’t exist in harmony.
“We’ve had speakers over the years who have dedicated their lives to researching these stories,” says Ignacio. “They don’t want anybody making fun of it. But once they’ve gotten here, they’ve never felt like anybody was laughing at them, but having fun around them, and around the topic. And that has made them want to participate even more.”
Sev Tok agrees that extraterrestrial issues can—and should—be both taken seriously and celebrated at the same time.
“It’s always joyous to know the truth,” Tok says. “The truth is that we live in a galactic neighborhood, and we’re not the only ones in that neighborhood. We’re celebrating the truth, and not hiding from the rest of the galactic neighborhood anymore.”