McMinnville UFO Photos: 50 Years Later - Still A Mystery

By Kelly Kennedy - The Oregonian

* 2000 Oregon Live - All rights reserved


DAYTON, OR - On the 50th anniversary of one of the most-famous UFO sightings in history,
townsfolk don't seem to understand what the fuss is all about.
   They don't understand why experts have worked for decades to debunk the photos taken
from Paul and Evelyn Trent's back yard on May 11, 1950.
   They don't have conversations at the town's only bar about whether there is life beyond
   They say they're not interested in an alien-themed ball and UFO watch that McMenamins
Hotel Oregon is throwing in McMinnville to commemorate the event.
   A month passed before the Trents gained their notoriety, in part because the couple waited
to finish the roll of film that contained two of the most hotly debated UFO photographs ever,
the closest ever taken of an unidentified flying object and one of the first captured on film.
   A June 10, 1950, story in The Oregonian reports that Evelyn Trent was outside feeding the
rabbits on the family farm near Dayton, about 11 miles south of McMinnville, when she saw a
strange metallic object in the sky. She yelled for her husband, who grabbed a camera and ran
   The Trents told The Oregonian that the saucer came from the northeast at about 7:45 p.m.,
changed direction, then slipped out of sight. "It was like a good-sized parachute canopy
without the strings, only silvery bright mixed with bronze," she said at the time. "It was as pretty
as anything I ever saw."
   When a friend saw the pictures, he hung them in his bank window, where they drew the eye
of a McMinnville reporter. From there, the photos traveled worldwide across the news wires.
Life magazine featured them in its June 26, 1950, edition.
    Kim Trent Spencer, the farm couple's granddaughter, says she remembers talking about the
UFO pictures when she was young, but back then she didn't know the details -- that her
grandmother said she had seen UFOs before, that the object created a breeze that blew
through her grandparents' hair, or which relative spotted the saucer first.
   "We think about it every once in a while," she said. "It stays in the back of your mind. I just
remember they had a lot of problems with people not believing them. They'd come out and
hang up hubcaps and take pictures to see if that's how they did it."
   Both of Spencer's grandparents died a couple of years ago.
   Dave Sanguinetti, special events coordinator for the Hotel Oregon, said he's not surprised
about the lack of interest in Dayton.
   "It's not a real popular subject around town," he said. "You never know -- it could have
happened. The whole area is a mecca for sightings. Seems like everyone has a UFO sighting
   To celebrate, McMenamins is bringing in Bruce Maccabee, the UFOlogist who investigated
the photos.
   "We're taking it seriously to a point because Bruce Maccabee is going to be here,"
Sanguinetti said. "But we're also taking it campily. There will be green Martians. I think it's
going to be great. I think it's going to be insane."
   In a recently updated report to the Center for UFO Studies in Chicago, Maccabee said he
was unable to prove the photos were a hoax because the image is so clear. He came to a
similar conclusion to that of photo analyst William Hartmann, who determined that the way the
light was distributed on the photo shows it was a distant object, not a hubcap hung on a
telephone wire.
In an Air Force investigation of the UFO reports at the University of Colorado in 1967 --
known as the Condon Report -- Hartmann determined that the evidence was "consistent with
the assertion that an extraordinary flying object, silvery, metallic, disk-shaped, tens of meters in
diameter and evidently artificial, flew within sight of two witnesses."
   Hartmann, a senior scientist at the Tucson Planetary Science Institute, said his ideas about
the analysis changed when he learned the Trents said they had seen other UFOs. "In my mind
this reduced their credibility as follows: If their photo is real, it is clearly an artificial object and
apparently not terrestrial, i.e. an alien spacecraft. But such objects must be extremely rare, or
we'd have better documentation by now."
   Some Dayton inhabitants may not be excited about the 50th anniversary of the event, but
they do say it happened. They've seen similar things themselves. A 1996 Newsweek poll
showed that 48 percent of Americans think the government is hiding proof of UFOs from the
Howard Putman, owner of Putt's Store in Dayton, said he and several other teen-agers saw
several spaceships in the late 1940s.
    "We were out working a field at U.S. Alderman Farms near Independence, hoeing corn or
potatoes, and we saw five saucers swing down, corner off, then disappear," he said. "A little
later, some military planes came over, and that's all we know. We can't prove it or disprove it.
You know, there were a lot of things going on in the war years, so it could have been anything."
   But Putman, like many Dayton residents, hasn't joined the UFO debate.
   "They say it's a regular occurrence around here," he said. "The Trents could've seen
something. It's not a big deal, though. If they're out there, they're out there."