Revisiting The McMinnville UFO Images Of 1950

Thursday, 01 May 2014 - 4:01PM
Thursday, 01 May 2014 - 4:01PM
Revisiting The McMinnville UFO Images Of 1950
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Taken on May 11th 1950, the McMinnville UFO photos remain some of the most hotly debated pieces of UFO evidence in history. Taken by farmer Paul Trent just outside of McMinnville, Oregon, the images went the 20th century equivalent of viral after an array of national publications printed them weeks after they were taken. But with the 64th anniversary of the event fast approaching, commentators remain divided as to whether the images are evidence of a legitimate UFO sighting or an early example of UFO hoaxing.


The famous photos were taken after Paul Trent was alerted to the object's presence by his wife Evelyn on the evening of May 11th 1950.


"It was like a good-sized parachute canopy without the strings, only silvery bright mixed with bronze," Mrs. Trent told The Oregonian newspaper. "It was as pretty as anything I ever saw."


Upon hearing his wife calling for him, Mr. Trent ran out to see what all the fuss was about. Observing the object for a brief moment, Trent dashed back inside to retrieve his camera before proceeding to snap the now-famous images. According to the Trents, the object, which had been hovering quietly above the farm then swiftly changed direction and flew away. Despite photographing what was surely a pretty awe-inspiring phenomenon, Trent waited some time before getting the film developed, claiming that he wanted to use up the rest of the roll before doing so. 


This lack of urgency and the fact that the Trents supposedly never sought a buyer for the images, is one of the main weapons in the arsenal of UFO believers. Indeed, the images only came to public knowledge after Mr. Trent mentioned it to his good friend Frank Wortman, who upon seeing the images asked if he could hang them in the window of his bank. By June 8th, the images had become a local legend and the McMinnville 'Telephone-Register' were given permission to run a story that they entitled "At Long Last - Authentic Photographs Of Flying Saucer?".


The images caught the attention of the national press when the International News Service got hold of them and started touting for distribution. Just 3 weeks after the Telephone-Register published the images, Life Magazine ran a story featuring Paul Trent's photos. Despite the images being propelled to fame, a serious investigation wouldn't occur until astronomer William Hartmann got hold of the Trent's negatives and proceeded to study them as part of his work for the Government-run UFO research project, the Condon Committee.


Hartmann's report for the the Condon Committee forms the basis of many UFO believers arguments that this was a genuine UFO event. 


"This is one of the few UFO reports in which all factors investigated, geometric, psychological, and physical, appear to be 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." said Hartmann's report.


The Hartmann report and a later investigation by Dr. Bruce Maccabee, both seemed to conclude that there was no reason to suspect that Paul Trent's images were anything other than legitimate. These views would not remain unchallenged, though. It wasn't long before sceptics were conducting their own research into the photos, most notable of this group would be Philip J. Klass.


Klass and his colleague Robert Sheaffer weren't buying the conclusions of Hartmann and Maccabee. They argued that, among other things, there was a major flaw in the story put forward by the Trents. After studying the lighting in the images, Klass and Sheaffer concluded that the photos were taken in the morning sunlight, a theory which flew in the face of the account given by the Oregon farmers who specifically stated the incident occurred at 7:30pm. The Klass-Scheaffer conclusion was enough to convince Hartmann and the former Condon Committee investigator soon withdrew his previously adamant conclusion that the McMinnville UFO was real.


Klass and Sheaffer exploited the cracks in the Trent story, suggesting that the object was nothing but a crude model suspended from the overhead lines by a fine length of wire. While there is still a strong faculty of UFO believers that feel Klass and Sheaffer's evidence is flawed, the pair's conclusions have remained the predominant view on the event.


However, the fascination with these images has not diminished with time. Only last year a study was carried out using an advanced photo-evaluation program to conclude that, while the presence of suspension wire could not be confirmed, Klass and Sheaffer's stance that the object was a model, was accurate. Rebuttals have already been issued and it would seem that this is a pattern to be repeated over and over, at least until somebody can prove outright that these images are a hoax or otherwise.


Though the Trent's photographs may be the main battleground for the warring factions of sceptics and believes, the character of the Oregon farmers has also been called into question. Klass has dedicated a great deal of time cross-examining statements made by the trents in a scathing fashion normally reserved for criminals on the stand. However, Evelyn and Paul Trent maintained their stance until their deaths in 1997 and 1998 respectively. Their lack of attempt to cash in on their fame remains the strongest argument against a hoax theory, and with no more statements to collect, it would seem that further investigations into the character of the couple is going to serve as nothing more than covering old ground.


The images, however, are an entirely different matter altogether. With technology developing at a rapid rate, could it be that one day soon we'll get an investigation so solid the opposition will have to back down? Maybe. But for now, the legend of the McMinnville UFO images will continue to spark a fervent debate just about anywhere they crop up.

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