Monday, December 7, 2009

Celebrating the otherworldly

Published April 2009 in PLAY. I like stories like this one and this one not because I'm a believer in such things, but because they illustrate how we find amazing ways to connect with each other.

Kris Bales was shaking so hard when he drew the object he saw in the sky that even he barely recognizes his own writing.

Bales, a Bend contractor, his brother, Marc, and two other friends were on a hunting trip near Challis, Idaho, on Sept. 27, 2000. Bales was digging through the back of his pick-up when he felt a presence nearby.

“I looked out to the sides and saw the night sky filled with stars, but when I looked directly up the sky was blotted out,” Bales said.

He clicked on a flashlight and aimed it into the darkness overhead. The light beam from the low-powered light danced across the entire length of a triangle-shaped aircraft.

“I slipped down off the truck and went to the ground. I was floored. It was beyond comprehension,” Bales said.

He had no camera, and his only record of the sighting are the shaky-handed notes and pictures he made later that night, but he will be sharing his UFO encounter story in May at the 10th Annual UFO Festival in McMinnville.

The festival spans two days, May 15 and 16, and includes guest speakers and experts on ufology, a parade, costume contests (for humans and pets), and live music from appropriately-themed bands, such as Kirby Swatosh & The Moon Rock Patrol.

The Bales’ presentation, scheduled for 10 a.m., May 16, at the McMinnville Community Center, is expected to be one of the highlights, said Renee Rank, marketing director for McMenamins, the title sponsor of the festival since it’s inception.

“We’ve always had good feedback, but the one thing that visitors have requested again and again is a presentation by someone who witnessed a UFO,” Rank said.

The festival attracts a wide variety UFO and alien devotees as well as those who want to believe. Interpretations of the extraterrestrial in pop culture, from Cylons to Storm Troopers, have been known to make appearances during the festival, but at its core the festival celebrates an historic UFO sighting by Evelyn and Paul Trent on Thursday May 11, 1950.

Evelyn was feeding her chickens about 7:30 p.m. when she spotted a metallic disc-shaped object hovering in the sky northeast of the Trent farm. She ran back into the house hollering ahead for Paul to get the camera.

Paul got off two shots of the object before it raced off to the northwest.

McMenamins senior historian, Tim Hills, rediscovered McMinnville’s prominent role in early UFO sightings while researching local history as McMenamins began planning renovations to its McMinnville hotel.

“I was going through files at the Yamhill County Historical Society when I came across a copy of the local newspaper with a headline about the sighting and one of the photos the Trents took," Hills said.

Through talks with locals and other avenues of research, Hills learned just how important the McMinnville sighting was in ufology.

“Even 60 years later, the Trent sighting and photos have held up under intense scrutiny,” Hills said. “Headlines about the sighting circulated worldwide, but the Trents themselves weren’t seeking attention.”

Hills said the couple regretted going public with their photos afterward because it left a lasting stain on their personal credibility.

“Everyone I talked to about the event thought the Trents were honest people telling the truth about what they witnessed, but they felt hounded by the experience,” Hills said.

Whether or not McMinnville is a corridor for interstellar travel, whatever the Trents saw that day offered inspiration for the UFO Festival and helped create a space for encounters like Bales had after his sighting in Idaho.

“I was telling the story to a friend of a friend and started drawing the object with my shoe in the dirt,” said Bales, who still counts himself as a skeptic. “He pushed me out of the way and finished the drawing himself.”

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