For those who need a little background, the Trents, Paul and Evelyn, photographed a UFO that hovered over their farm near McMinnville, Oregon, on May 11, 1950. According to the story, Evelyn Trent was outside feeding the rabbits when she saw a large, slow moving, disk-shaped object traveling toward the northeast. She yelled for her husband who came out, saw the object and ran back in the house for their camera.Trent took two pictures of the object. According to witness statements offered years later, he took a picture and then had to manually wind the film to take a second. The UFO began to accelerate at that point.
Evelyn Trent ran back into the house to call her in-laws, who lived a few hundred yards away. Her mother-in-law entered the house to answer the phone but her father-in-law would say that he did see the object but only caught a glimpse of it.Although they had what might have been the first authentic pictures of a flying saucer, Paul Trent said they waited to finish the roll before having the film developed. If they were excited enough to burn up two frames of film, it would seem that they would want to develop the film quickly given what they had on that film.
Then, once the roll was finished and they had the pictures, they didn’t take them to the newspaper but instead allowed the local banker to put them in the window of the bank. That led, of course, to a reporter seeing them and getting them published in the local newspaper. Once the pictures were published, the Trents found themselves in the national spotlight. Life borrowed the negatives and printed them in the June 26, 1950 issue.
The Condon Committee investigated them in the late 1960s, and found no reason to reject them. The investigator for Condon, William Hartman, wrote, “Two inferences appear to be justified: 1)It is difficult to see any prior motivation for a fabrication of such a story, although after the fact, the witnesses did profit to the extent of a trip to New York; 2) it is unexpected that in this distinctly rural atmosphere, in 1950, one would encounter a fabrication involving sophisticated trick photography (e.g. a carefully retouched print). The witnesses seemed unaffected by the incident, receiving only occasional inquires.”
So Hartmann, with the Condon Committee thought the pictures were authentic, meaning of some sort of unidentified physical object meaning an alien craft. This annoyed Philip Klass and he launched his own investigation. Klass consulted with Robert Sheaffer, who made his own analysis of the pictures. According to Klass, Sheaffer found a shadow under the eaves of the garage and that suggested that the pictures were taken, not in the evening, but early in the morning. If true, then that would suggest the pictures were faked. There would be no logical reason to lie about the timing unless there were some shenanigans going on.
I was never thrilled with that analysis. It seemed a little esoteric and seemed to be the kind of thing just thrown in by the skeptics to discredit the pictures. Just a little crack in the case, but one that many skeptics found persuasive. I was not in that camp. Others, who studied the pictures, argued that the shadows were not significant.
Sheaffer’s findings, however, when sent on to Hartmann, seemed to be enough for him to reevaluate his stand on the pictures. Klass wrote that Hartmann wrote, “I think Sheaffer’s work removes the McMinnville case from consideration as evidence of disklike [sic] artificial craft.”
In 1965, Lieutenant Colonel John P. Spaulding, responding to an inquiry from a civilian, W. C. Case, wrote, “The Air Force has no information on photographs of an unidentified flying object taken by Mr. and Mrs. Paul Trent of McMinnville, Oregon. In this regard, it should be noted that all photographs submitted in conjunction with UFO reports have been a misrepresentation of natural or conventional objects. The objects in these photographs have a positive identification.”
Which is their way of saying that there is no such thing as UFOs, meaning alien spacecraft. We can interpret the last sentence to say that we know nothing about the Trent photos but they have been positively identified. Or he might have meant that all UFOs in the photos submitted to the Air Force have been positively identified, which is not strictly true. But I digress…
Getting to the real point here, in a posting on his blog, Tony Bragalia (see http://bragalia.blogspot.com/) has provided some evidence for a hoax that is more significant and more persuasive. Tony wrote, “Found clues point to a prank behind the most cherished UFO photographs in history. For over six decades the two images taken by Paul Trent of McMinnville, Oregon have continued to generate great debate about their authenticity. But investigation now indicates that the two Trent images were likely ones of invention.”
So what did Tony find that convinces him that the Trent photographs are faked? One of the things is “forced perspective,” which allows a photograph to present different objects in the same frame as if they are radically larger or smaller than they really are. Movies use it all the time to fool us into believing a human is giant-sized, or something else is tiny. To make his photograph work, meaning making it seem to show a large object in the distance, Trent was kneeling, rather than standing upright to produce the suggestion that the UFO is large and in the distance.
In a better bit of evidence, a friend of Trent’s wrote, on a copy of the photograph, “Paul I wish I could have been there shooting with you on this day in 1950. If it’s real, then whoa! But if you faked it, that’s even cooler. We can’t really fake stuff anymore. Years later if it’s all fake… or maybe it’s all real. Same difference. Thanks for this though. CM.” CM is not identified.
Tony also wrote, “This placement of photos in the window of a business reminds me of confessed UFO hoaxer and barber Ralph Ditter of Zanesville, OH. Ditter placed his UFO photos up in the window of his barbershop. Ditter too involved his child [See below and how Trent’s son was photographed on a ladder]. His little girl wanted to see a UFO. So Ditter “made one” using a toy wheel and captured it on camera for her.
“And some say of the Trents that no money was ever sought for the photos. But in reality, in 1970, twenty years later and realizing their accrued value, the Trents insisted on having their negatives back from the McMinnville Register, which held them. According to Register Editor Philip Bladine, the Trents were not shy to note to him that ‘they had never been paid for the negatives and thus wanted them back.’”
It could be argued that the Trents realizing they hadn’t been paid for the negatives some twenty years later is irrelevant. Money, as a motive, didn’t seem to cross their minds until long after the fact and therefore is not a motive to create the hoax if that was the reason for it.
Tony points out that there is a picture of the Trent’s son up on a ladder, in the backyard where the UFO was photographed, and it seems as if he could have been involved in a scheme to create the pictures. Overhead wires seen in other pictures suggest that something could have been hung from them and forced perspective give them the appearance of something large and far away.
Trent told reporters that he did nothing with the pictures until encouraged to do so by friends. He said that he was a little afraid of the photographs because he thought he would get into trouble with the government. This answers one of the questions that has bothered skeptics.
Now, over at UFO Iconoclasts (see http://ufocon.blogspot.com/), there has been some discussion of Tony’s theories, and not everyone is on board. There is an argument that the pictures of the boy on the ladder was not on the film used by Trent, but was taken by a Life photographer sent to take some pictures of the area for the article they would publish.
Tony also wrote, “Kim Trent Spencer, the Trent’s granddaughter, told journalist Kelly Kennedy of the Oregonian something of missed importance- the Trents were repeaters. That is, they had multiple UFO “experiences.”
But this wasn’t something that has been ignored as Tony thought. In my book, Scientific Ufology (Hey, as I read various documents and comments around, I see people promoting their books… Why shouldn’t I?) I noted that the Trents were repeaters. I’m not sure of the significance… True, seeing a UFO would be a rare event but then so would be winning the lottery or being struck by lightning, yet there are people who had won several lottery jackpots and one unlucky man was struck by lightning five times.
So Tony provided some interesting evidence to suggest that the Trend photographs were faked. Debunkers, of course, know they were faked because there is no alien visitation and anything that suggests otherwise is faked. For the youngsters who wish to open new investigations into older cases, this is a good place to start. There are some legitimate questions about the photographs’ authenticity and in a case like this, there is always something new to be learned.