By Joanna HoferMay 11 marks the anniversary of one of the most famous U.F.O. sightings in U.S. history. In 1950 in McMinnville, Ore., farmer Paul Trent and his wife Evelyn were doing their evening chores when they saw "a large, metallic-looking, disc-shaped object hovering silently in the sky." Mr. Trent ran to his house and grabbed his camera. The two photographs he was able to take were published in Life magazine in June of that year. Air Force investigators, FBI agents, and later the Condon Committee all scrutinized Trent's photos, but no one could ever prove them to be a hoax. For many years afterward, the national news media referred to McMinnville as "Saucerville."
U.F.O.'s in history
U.F.O.'s have been reported since before the time of Christ. What these objects actually are continues to be debated. Highly popularized educated guesses include: angels, weather balloons, secret government projects and, the most popular conclusion, aliens from outer space.
The Book of Ezekiel (circa 593 B.C.), and in particular the passage (1:16) describing "Ezekiel's wheel," is believed by some to depict a U.F.O. encounter. In Central Asia in 329 B.C., Alexander the Great is reported to have seen "two great silver shields" flying in the sky. On April 14, 1561, a woodcut by Hans Glaser records what some believe was a U.F.O. battle over Nuremberg, Germany. As reported by The Nuremberg Gazette, there was a "dreadful apparition" with "cylindrical shapes from which emerged black, red, orange and blue-white spheres that darted about." Five years later, another woodcut, this time from Basel, Switzerland, shows the town's sky covered with dark flying orbs. Even Christopher Columbus is said to have recorded a U.F.O. sighting in his diaries on his voyage to the New World.
There are various websites that chronicle U.F.O. sightings by year and location. If you believe these sites, the human population seems forever plagued by alien fly-bys. Whatever your opinion may be, it's interesting to examine the pictures and drawings of the sightings for similarities and differences.
As with humans, aliens seem to be concerned with vehicle style. While human automobile and aeronautical designs have changed radically over the past hundred years, aliens seem content to stick with three basic vehicular models: the sphere, the saucer and the cigar. Sometimes they fly in formation. Sometimes they have red lights. Sometimes they have green lights. Sometimes orange. All in all, U.F.O. sightings are remarkably similar given that they are reported from all over the world. Still, seeing is believing. Without seeing a U.F.O. for oneself, it is nearly impossible to believe.
Becoming a U.F.O. investigator
Want to do something that sets you apart? Not content to let others decide the U.F.O. mystery for you? Want to have something different to tell people at parties or merely an excuse to get someone you like out in the dark? Become a MUFON field investigator.
It's sort of like ghost busters but for aliens. Regardless of the unfortunate and clunky acronym, there might still be some glamour in this occupation. Think about how it would sound: "I investigate the existence of extra-terrestrial life--in my spare time." Perhaps weird, definitely different, and intriguing if you could manage some pictures you took in the field. Perhaps as you rise in status in the organization, you could get them to change their acronym into something, well, cooler.
All joking aside, becoming a MUFON field investigator is serious business. MUFON is a nonprofit organization founded in 1969 to resolve the mysteries of U.F.O.'s. At the MUFON branch right here in Portland, you can complete the requisite steps. First, you have to join MUFON. In exchange for $45 a year, both a monthly subscription to MUFON UFO Journal and a membership in MUFON can be yours. You will also receive a MUFON membership card displaying your photo (also good at parties). Don't despair if people ask you if you made this yourself.
Next you'll need to purchase a copy of the MUFON field investigator's manual ($28.50 for members and $38.50 for non-members). The manual contains information on everything from interviewing witnesses to dealing with the press. Attend a training class offered by your local MUFON chapter, take the open book test and you're almost done.
To become a MUFON field investigator, you must score at least 80 percent on the exam, providing correct answers to questions involving: "light and optics; sound; electromagnetic properties; measurements; physical traces; photography; radio and radar; celestial objects; atmosphere and weather; conventional vehicles; witness reactions; and the recent history of U.F.O. experiences." Particular attention must be paid to "investigative ethics, interviewing methods, collateral contacts and technical background." Finally, it is recommended that you accompany a MUFON field investigator on at least one live field investigation.
If you do see a U.F.O.
If you do happen across a U.F.O., you're not alone. There are dozens of organizations that would like to hear from you and take your report. MUFON advises above all to stay calm. Enjoy what may be the experience of a lifetime. If possible, record the event with a camera or a camcorder. Write down your observations as soon as possible.
Or, better yet, run like hell.
Eighth Annual U.F.O. Festival (May 18-19)
The Eighth Annual U.F.O. Festival will be held in McMinnville, Ore. on the weekend of May 18-19. The director of the International Center for Abduction Research (ICAR), Dr. David Jacobs, will present his views on how "ufology" has changed since the 1947 Roswell incident. The director of the National U.F.O. Reporting Center, Peter Robbins, will also speak. Along with a panel discussion and presentations, there will be live music, an alien pet costume contest and an alien costume ball.