May 8th, 2023

McMenamins UFOFest: Celebrating UFO sightings from the 1950s – present

An alien leans over and says hi to children during a parade.
Making friends with an alien. Photos by Tim Sofranko.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the Trent UFO sighting that inspired our local McMenamins UFO Festival. Even if you didn’t know the name, you’ve probably seen the black and white photo snapped by local farmer Paul Trent in 1953, one of the most famous in ufology.

But consider this: In the time that the festival has been drawing the nation’s top ufologists to McMinnville and filling Third Street with a celebration of all things alien, more than three thousand UFOs have been reported across Oregon, more than 60 of which came out of Yamhill County. 

Most, of course, are lights. But we’ve got our share of discs, cylinders, cigar-shaped, triangles, spheres, rectangles and even boomerangs.

That’s just a tidbit from the 359-page UFO Sightings Desk Reference, which drills down into county-level data in every state between 2001 and 2015. It was written by researchers Cheryl and Linda Miller Costa.

Who, it turns out, will be among the speakers at this year’s 23rd annual festival, which will be held at McMenamins Hotel Oregon May 18-21. 

It’s fair to say that it’s an exciting and even unique time for American ufology, which I’ve dived into as a journalist in the last few years. In 2017 the U.S. Government fessed up: UFOs are real, and they really don’t know what they are. Luis Elizondo, who for a few years headed a Pentagon UFO research program, has since hit the UFO podcast circuit hinting strongly that some sort of alien presence is involved. And a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers is actively and openly trying to pry whatever happened at Roswell into the light of day.

An alien sits atop a dragon contraptions, pedaling down the street during a parade.

Which is why McMinnville’s famed UFO Festival is the hottest ticket in town this month. 

Along with the Costa research team, four speakers are lined up, including ET experiencer Sev Tok, a Mutual UFO Network field investigator, Earl Grey Anderson, Travis Walton, whose story about a UFO abduction has been the subject of a book and film, and Jennifer Stein, who directed a documentary about him. 

The fun kicks off Thursday, May 18. Along with speakers, screenings and Q&As,  there will be live music by Kirby Swatosh & the Moon Rock Patrol, Ships to Roam and The Police Cars. The McMinnville Sci-Fi Film Festival takes over the Moonlight Theater all day May 19-20. The festival ramps up on Saturday with a 5K Alien Abduction Dash, an all-ages costume contest, a kids fun run and of course the UFO Festival Parade at 3:30 p.m. downtown along Third Street. As always, the  McMinnville Downtown Association will host a lively vendor fair.

Look for a complete schedule, ticketing information (although many events are free) and more information about speakers at the UFO Festival website. And keep an eye on the sky, because you never know …

A cartoon of David Bates

David Bates is a McMinnville writer who has appeared in Gallery Theater productions since 1998.