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(There is some dispute over whether this was in fact the first time “flying saucer” was used in reference to UFOs. But what is unquestionably true is that it was this story, picked up on the Associated Press wire and run all over the country, that injected the term into widespread pop-culture use.)
A number of other sightings of similar objects, from the same area, were reported shortly after the story broke. It’s certainly possible that the UFOs might have been some sort of top-secret project being test-flown out of Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane. But if so, the Air Force has never seen fit to confirm or clarify.
OREGON'S STRONGEST OTHER connection to UFOlogy is the incident that inspired the annual McMinnville UFO Festival: a sighting, and photographing, of something that looks disturbingly like a genuine flying saucer.
McMinnville’s UFO roots are deeper than most people realize. Just before Thanksgiving in 1896, at the start of the “California airship” outbreak of UFO sightings, several McMinnville lads provided the first UFO sighting in Oregon history (to the best of my current knowledge).
“Tuesday night several of the boys about town saw the Sacramento air ship sail over this city, at least they saw lights in the heavens,” the McMinnville Telephone-Register reported in the Nov. 24 edition. “This they swear to.”
But the more well-known McMinnville UFO sighting, and the one that inspired the festival, happened on May 11, 1950, when local farmer Evelyn Trent went out in the evening to feed the chickens and rabbits their evening meal. When she did, she couldn’t help but notice that there was a large metallic disc-shaped object hovering silently in the sky to the northeast.
She ran back to the house, yelling for her husband Paul to get his camera — an old-school Universal Roamer handheld bellows model shooting 60-mm roll film (probably Kodak 120). Paul rummaged around for a bit trying to track the camera down, but came up with it just in time, and the two of them raced back outside in time to catch one image of the strange craft hovering over their farm, and another of it whisking away to the northwest, where it disappeared over the horizon.
Those two photographs would, for a few months afterward, put McMinnville on the map nationwide and set records for press runs in the McMinnville Telephone-Register that would stand for decades. They would also turn out to be extraordinarily resistant to falsification — in other words, either they were the real thing, or they were the product of a phenomenally clever (or lucky) hoaxer.
We’ll talk about those photographs, and the furore that erupted upon their publication, in next week’s column.