Once upon a time, the mere mention of UFOs, and even aliens, seemed like nothing more than a spooky story told around a campfire, meant to entice fear into those who listened and nothing more. But these days, with more and more reported sightings coming in from across the globe, it seems as if the stories may be more fact than fiction. Add to this the acknowledgment from our government as they begin to take the issue of what they refer to as UAPS, or unidentified aerial phenomena, more seriously, voicing concern for national security. Suddenly, the stories feel less like a fairytale and more like a cosmic reality that we are not alone.

Marion County UFOs
Kenneth Arnold, shown in 1966, had this drawing of a flying saucer created after his strange UFO encounter. Coincidentally, this is where the term “flying saucer” actually comes from. Photo courtesy: Associated Press

Furthermore, it seems like our little, quiet corner of the Pacific Northwest has become a hotbed for this kind of paranormal activity after businessman Kenneth Arnold made history with the first-ever well-known UFO sighting when he saw a group of nine unidentified, high-speed flying objects near Mount Rainer. These days, Oregon ranks among the top five states in the country for reported UFO sightings. Even Marion County hasn’t been a stranger to this unusual activity in the sky, with a plethora of UFO sightings reported throughout the region.  

Marion County UFOs
The first UFO photo taken by Paul Trent in 1950 still raises questions today, but neither the Air Force nor the Federal Bureau of Investigation couldn’t find any evidence to suggest that the photos were fake. Photo credit: Paul Trent

UFOs Have Been Seen in the Region Since the 1950s

McMinnville, Oregon. May 11, 1950 at 7:30 p.m.

Local farmers Evelyn and Paul Trent are busy tending to their land like any ordinary day. While feeding the chickens and rabbits, Evelyn looks up to the sky, and suddenly, she can’t believe her eyes as a disc-shaped object ominously floats above.

Frightened, she runs back to the farmhouse, yelling for her husband, Paul, to get their camera. Emerging from the house, they found the disc still in the sky, now moving westward. A quick-thinking Paul raised the camera and took the now-famous photos.

The news and the couple’s two photos, still widely debated today, made headlines.

“There wasn’t any flame, and it was moving fairly slow,” said Trent in a Salem News article. “Then I snapped the first picture. It moved a little to the left, and I moved to the right to take another picture. Then it seemed to pick up speed….vanished.”

Vanished, for now, but the incident was only the beginning of UFO sightings in the region.

Marion County UFOs
News of the Trent’s sighting made it far and wide, including to Salem, Ohio, where it was featured in their newspaper in this clipping. Photo courtesy: The Salem News

The National UFO Reporting Center Keeps Track of Past to Present Oregon UFO Sightings

Initially, it took Paul and Evelyn a month to work up the courage to develop the photos and even longer to share them with anyone, worried they might expose a government experiment or secret project. When they called to report the story to their local, small-town newspaper, it quickly blew up, finding its way to the nearby Portland news before going national with features from the Associated Press and Life Magazine and ending with the Trents traveling and appearing on multiple national news shows.

Of course, with the media circus came the skeptics, doubting the authenticity. Eventually, the Air Force and Federal Bureau of Investigation found themselves investigating the situation, only later sharing that they couldn’t find anything to convince them that the photos were fake.

Perhaps it was this initial courage from the Trents to speak up and the bravery they embodied to show the world their findings that have led to Oregonians being unafraid to follow in their footsteps as they openly share their UFO experiences with the National UFO Reporting Center (NUFORC).

To date on the site, there have been 3,554 reported sightings in Oregon and counting, but these are only the reported sightings within the state from 1995 until now. A more in-depth look at the state’s sightings was presented in June of 2021 when the Office of the Director of National Intelligence published an unclassified report about UFOs. The report’s details confirmed that you are more likely to spot a UFO depending on where you live and listed states and cities that reported the most sightings compared to others between 2001 and 2020.

Three Oregon cities were listed among these unique places — Portland with 712 sightings within that timeframe, Eugene with 250, and Salem with 195 sightings. Numbers from NUFORC suggest that the frequency of these encounters has significantly increased, with 15 reports of sightings being made from 2021 to 2023 in Salem alone.

Marion County UFOs
Thousands from around the globe now gather each year in McMinnville for a three-day weekend to celebrate UFO Fest, the second-largest UFO festival in the world. Photo courtesy: Carol M. Highsmith Archive

McMenamins UFO Fest is the World’s 2nd Largest UFO Festival

It seems residents couldn’t help but keep an eye on the skies since that fateful day on the Trent farm in 1950. Be it obsession, mild curiosity, or outright disbelief, UFOs became the talk of the town. So much so that a dedicated UFO festival is celebrated each year in the community.

UFO Fest found its home in McMinnville in 1999, just 49 years after the city’s famous sighting became national news. Initially, it was held at the historic McMenamins Hotel Oregon property to honor the famous 1950 Trent sighting in the area. It has since evolved into an epic celebration of all things extraterrestrial.

Every year, thousands of visitors flock to McMinnville as the quiet Willamette Valley town transforms into an extraterrestrial hub for a three-day weekend in mid-May. The alien festivities have expanded to include vendors, crowd-goers in elaborate costumes, a parade, and even a line-up of knowledgeable guest speakers ready to address all things UFO for the crowd. The event attracts skeptics and believers alike from all over the world and across the galaxy.

One can’t help but wonder if this extraterrestrial celebration is the reason for the increased sightings throughout Marion County as if those watching from the skies sense the community’s welcome. Though simply speculation, as we may truly never know, what does seem safe to say is that the region has become a must-watch and must-visit location for UFO enthusiasts and curious onlookers as reports of sightings continue to trickle in of these mysterious spectacles that have residents, as well as others across the globe, keeping their eyes on the skies.

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