If the words "Trent photos" and "McMinnville" suggest UFOs, you probably already know what's going on May 15-18 in this Oregon town.
Evelyn and Paul Trent put the burg, about 40 miles southwest of Portland, on the map when they photographed unidentified flying objects — flying saucers? Weather balloons? Birds? — over their farm near McMinnville.
The photos were published in Life magazine in 1950 and have been the subject of controversy ever since. Real? Fake? The work of a couple of publicity seekers, or photographic proof of life beyond our own planet?
It's fitting that McMinnville is home of the 15th annual McMenamins UFO Festival, the second-largest such gathering in the country. (The UFO event in Roswell, N.M., July 3-6 this year, attracts many more, which isn't surprising: Roswell is said to be where spacecraft from another world crashed in 1947, an event that was alleged to have been covered up.)
Both share some characteristics: There are serious speakers, and there are more light-hearted events, such as alien parades, that bring a bit of levity to the proceedings.
"There has to be something fun to do," said Stanton Friedman, who will be a speaker in McMinville. "There's nothing wrong with that."
So you will see people with aluminum foil on their heads and dogs that look like Yoda, people whose coneheads tell you they're "from France," and Darth Vader looking like the scoundrel he is. (He placed third in the American Film Institute's list of movie bad guys, preceded by Hannibal Lecter and Norman Bates in spots 1 and 2, respectively.)
On the serious side, speakers include:
— George Noory, who hosts the "Coast to Coast AM" radio show which focuses on the paranormal and inexplicable.
— Peter Davenport , director of the National UFO Reporting Center since 1994.
— David Marler, author of "Triangular UFOs: An Estimate of the Situation" and formerly with Mutual UFO Network (MUFON), which investigates reports.
— James Clarskon, a retired law enforcement officer and author of "Tell My Story: June Crain, The Air Force and UFOs" and "The Westport UFO Crash Retrieval: A Case Study."
— Friedman, who will lead off the weekend with a lecture at 7 p.m. May 15.
If you're thinking that the UFOlogists who will attend this (and other) conferences are a bunch of crackpots, Friedman suggests otherwise.
He's a nuclear physicist who became interested in the topic and began a lecturing odyssey that has taken him to all 50 states, 10 Canadian provinces and 18 countries. As a scientist who deals with facts, he makes a "rational case," he says, for the notion that we are not alone.
"Surely," he says, "we can't be the only ones out there."