On May 24, 1999, a man named Max Standridge (firstname.lastname@example.org)
posted to the internet his personal theory debunking the famous McMinnville
UFO photos taken by Paul Trent in 1950. The way in which Standridge arrived
at his explanation for the photos, and how his ideas square with years of
careful research by leading UFO investigators, provides an interesting
example of how, and how not, to explain a UFO sighting. It also affords an
opportunity to review one of the most significant UFO photo cases on record.
According to contemporary local news sources and the often-repeated
of Paul Trent and his wife Evelyn, the event which resulted in the famous UFO
photos occurred at about 7:30 pm on May 11, 1950, on the Trents' farm about
nine miles from McMinnville, Oregon. Leading UFO chronicler Jerome Clark, in
his UFO Encyclopedia (Omnigraphics, 2nd edition, volume 2, 1998; page 600),
says Evelyn Trent was outside feeding her rabbits when she first noticed a
strange metallic flying object in the sky. When she yelled for her husband,
Paul Trent grabbed a simple camera and ran into the backyard, where he
managed to snap two pictures that clearly depict the unusual flying object.
The UFO was shaped like a flat-bottomed disk, silver and bronze in color,
with a distinct antenna-like appendage on top. It appeared to be about 20 to
30 feet in diameter and about 1,000 feet away. Just after the photos were
taken, it reportedly accelerated and disappeared in the western sky.
The Trents did not immediately process the film, but they did talk about
incident with family and friends, including their banker Frank Wortmann, who
decided to display the photos in the window of the bank. Wortmann also
contacted the local newspaper. A reporter named Bill Powell interviewed the
Trents and persuaded them to loan the paper their negatives. On June 8, 1950,
Powell published the first news story of the McMinnville UFO, with Trent's
photos, in the McMinnville Telephone Register. Within one day, the photos and
story were circulated worldwide by the International News Service (INS) and
the Associated Press.
Life magazine interviewed the Trents, borrowed the negatives from Powell
published the story and photos on June 26, 1950. However, the negatives then
became "misplaced." Seventeen years later, they showed up in a file at United
Press International (UPI), whereupon they were loaned to William Hartmann, a
member of the University of Colorado UFO Project (aka the Condon Committee).
After Hartmann investigated the case, the negatives were returned to UPI, and
in 1970 they were sent back to the McMinnville News Register (formerly the
Telephone Register). The Trents, however, were not informed that the
negatives had been recovered.
In 1975, respected UFO investigator and optical physicist Dr. Bruce
acquired the negatives and began his own investigation. Since then, Maccabee
and a number of other leading researchers have put the photos to every kind
of available test, seeking signs of fraud as well as data on the true size
and nature of the object in the photos.
William Hartmann, in his report of the case for the Condon Committee,
"This is one of the few UFO reports in which all factors investigated,
geometric, psychological, and physical appear to be consistent with the
assertion that an extraordinary flying object, silvery, metallic,
disk-shaped, tens of meters in diameter, and evidently artificial, flew
within sight of two witnesses." The subsequent research of Maccabee and other
ufologists strongly supports those claims.
Then along comes Max Standridge. It is not the intent of CNI News to
out Mr. Standridge for special criticism, but simply to put his approach to
this case in perspective, judged against decades of previous and continuing
Standridge says he's been fascinated by this case for a number of years
has sought as much information as possible on it before drawing his own
conclusion. He wastes little time, however, in putting his conclusion on the
table. The McMinnville UFO, he says, is "an outdoor light cover. It probably
goes back quite a way: to about the 1920s or 1930s. I recently saw it in a
photograph of a group at Lausanne Girls School in Memphis from 1933. That's
what it is: the light cover for an outdoor light from the 1920s." Standridge
asserts that this "light cover" was "already hanging there. It was the light
between the farmhouse and the other houses, including, evidently, that of Mr.
Trent's mother, who only lived 400 feet away."
Standridge points out that famed UFO debunker Philip Klass "illustrated
interesting possible ways the object could have been a deliberate hoax, using
a 'small model' or a 'hubcab,' including smudging the camera lens with oil or
something... and thereby produced a background sky that 'blended in.'" Klass
did indeed make such claims as far back as 1969, along with his associate
Robert Sheaffer. In particular, Sheaffer and Klass said that smudging of the
camera lens would result in a "veiling effect," a claim that provoked a
detailed rebuttal by optical physicist Dr. Bruce Maccabee (see below).
But Standridge asserts that "no model was involved" because the light
already hanging there." And he kindly assumes that Paul Trent did not
deliberately set up a hoax but had accidentally taken pictures of the lamp
without noticing the resemblance to a UFO, with "never a thought of
deception." Standridge says Trent "probably had no intentions of pressing
this on the public as a 'UFO' until his 'friends' -- the Wortmanns or others
-- manipulated the situation, suddenly seeing green. He didn't make money --
but he was trying."
Standridge also says that another famous photo depicting a seemingly
identical object, alleged to have been taken by a French military pilot in
Rouen in 1954, could vindicate the Trent photos if only the French military
or the alleged pilot would come forward and declare the Rouen photo authentic
-- which has never happened. Since the origin of the Rouen photo is at best
doubtful, Standridge concludes, it too is probably a light cover.
In order to assess whether there is any substance to the Standridge
CNI News immediately contacted Dr. Bruce Maccabee. In his reply, Maccabee
said he once figured out a theoretical way that the McMinnville photos could
have been hoaxed. But this would have required a very sophisticated model and
photographic technique. The question, he says, is whether or not the Trents
possessed the intellect and talent to pull off such a trick. "The opinion of
essentially everyone who talked to the Trents is that they were too 'mentally
challenged' to create such a hoax," he says.
Maccabee then referred us to researcher Brad Sparks, a leading investigator
of the Trent/McMinnville case. CNI News thanks Brad Sparks for permission to
reproduce the following commentary. Sparks writes:
"I have worked with Bruce Maccabee on the analysis of the Trent/McMinnville
photos for 23 years now. I started my research back in 1972 as a result of
exchanges with noted UFO skeptic Philip Klass and a challenge from him. I
would be just as happy to announce solid proof or even suggestive evidence
that the Trent photos were a hoax as I would that they were genuine if I
could do so, as I am committed to objective research without regard to the
outcome. Earlier this year I thought I had found such evidence of hoax, but
it was an illusion of the data analysis, not a mistake and not a 'close call'
either, but just an impression or investigative hunch that turned out the
opposite of pointing to a hoax. I hope to publish on this soon.
"An exhaustive re-investigation and re-analysis of the case is currently
under way, representing a 4th generation of the history of investigations of
the case. (The 1st was the initial press reporting in 1950, the 2nd was the
Condon Committee investigation and responses, the 3rd was Bruce Maccabee's
photometric confirmation of the Condon work by Hartmann plus "veiling glare"
refutation of Sheaffer/Klass, the 4th has been my photogrammetric analyses
with Bruce since the early 80's.)
"The photos were revealed and the first news story published on the
of Thursday, June 8, 1950, by the McMinnville Telephone Register. INS,
Associated Press, Portland Oregon Journal and Portland Oregonian reporters
(plus others no doubt) were interviewing both Mr. and Mrs. Trent by the next
day, June 9, and filed stories that day or the next. LIFE magazine was out
interviewing on June 12.
"Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI) and/or FBI agents
out at the Trent house in late June 1950, searching the house, tossing
garbage can lids in the air, taking photos, etc., but the report(s) of the
visit have never turned up. The initial lead to AFOSI apparently came from
AFOSI agent Sgt. Lawrence J. Hyder, who visited his home town of McMinnville,
found out about the case, and filed a report with Headquarters on June 21,
1950. That document is available.
"I have never heard any report that INS or LIFE ever promised a dime
Trents, and that seems contrary to their journalistic practices in the
decades before 'tabloid journalism.' INS and/or LIFE did promise to return
the original negatives and never did -- a point the Trents complained about
right up to their last interviews in 1997 before they died.
"The Trents were so uninterested in profiting from the photos that they
turned down a private arrangement for one of the world's largest photo
archives to pay them royalties for every reprint of their photos. They never
received a dime for their photos in the nearly 50 years before their demise.
"The Trents told Bruce Maccabee about an outdoor light in his interviews
the 1970's because he was trying to determine where the nearest overhead
wires in the photos (above the UFO) were attached. The light was on the back
of the Trent house at the peak, about 13 feet above the ground. It was NOT
strung on the wires hanging in the space between house and garage as
Standridge seems to imply. Hartmann's more complete site photo from his June
6, 1967, visit for the Condon Committee was posted by National Capital Area
Skeptics on their web site in early February, 1999 (the version in the Condon
report cropped off the light). I noticed immediately that the reflector-cover
for the light had a resemblance to the UFO and emailed comments about it at
the time to some of my colleagues.
"Standridge claims it was not 'a deliberate hoax' because the outdoor
reflector-cover was 'already hanging there,' having been strung up with
'catgut fishing line, with never a thought of deception' -- that Paul Trent
just happened to take the pictures of his yard, catching the unusual light
reflector, and showed them to people who immediately jumped to calling them
'flying saucer' photos.
"A big problem with this theory of the inadvertent photo of an outdoor
reflector: The bottom of the object is showing in Photo 1, and it appears to
be FLAT with NO LIGHT BULB or any CONCAVE CURVATURE OF A REFLECTOR in sight.
Moreover, the Trent UFO does not have the rounded smooth exterior of a light
reflector but the angled joints of two truncated conical sections, which
doesn't seem like a very good design for a reflector, but more like a pie
pan. (The reflector seen on the Trent's house in the Hartmann photo is in
fact smooth, as one would expect for a light reflector.) By the way, no one
has yet found a pie pan with the same dimensions and proportions as the Trent
object -- one of my colleagues did an investigation. And that still would not
explain the flat bottom and the upper protuberance or antenna, nor the
dynamics of the object if it was a hoax.
"The whole problem with the suspended hoax-model theory from day one
the complete absence of any suspending wire or filament connecting the UFO to
the overhead wires. Numerous studies have been made on the original negatives
searching for traces of a fine wire or filament suspending the UFO, including
by Dr. Bob Nathan at JPL in 1976, but no one has ever found a thing. As Bruce
Maccabee will tell you, because of the 'long-linear-object effect' on film,
objects thinner than even grain size can be registered on film if they are
very long. I think Bruce has measured distant wires only about 8 microns wide
on the scale of the negatives that can easily be seen in the photos, whereas
grain size is about 5-10 microns.
"As for grease/dirt on the camera lens causing artificial brightening
UFO images, Bruce has already conducted an exhaustive scientific
investigation of this 'veiling glare' phenomenon [proposed by Robert
Sheaffer], including a paper in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, the
first-ever on this effect. The problem with this theory is that the 'veiling
glare' brightens everything in the photos, NOT just the UFO image. Bruce
simply measured the amount of 'veiling glare' on other known objects in the
photos, such as telephone poles, and deducted it from the UFO image. This
correction did not change the results of the photometric analyses, as the
amount of 'veiling glare' in the Trent photos was minimal -- i.e., their
camera lens was fairly clean, as proven by the sharp, good-contrast detail in
the photos. In fact, the photos contain an astonishing wealth of data,
enabling extensive scientific measurements for photometric and
"I don't know why Standridge brings up the irrelevant Rouen photo. He
up to date on this, as it has been found that there is no substantiation for
a 1954 date and the only information on it is in the caption to the 1957 RAF
Flying Review magazine, which says it was taken 'earlier' that year, i.e.,
1957, not 1954. I think it is a modified Trent UFO image and not a real UFO
case at all." [end Sparks comments].
Judged against the voluminous evidence gathered over decades by other
researchers, including the skeptical Condon Committee, the theory of Max
Standridge appears fatally flawed. Standridge says the UFO was a light cover
-- but no light was hanging in the position shown in the photo; nor is there
any evidence that anything else was hung there by a wire or thread of any
kind. Nor, on close examination, does the McMinnville UFO actually resemble a
light fixture at all, because (among other things) it is clearly flat on the
bottom, not concave as a light cover must be. Standridge says the Trents
"were trying" to get money for their photos -- but there is no evidence
whatsoever for this claim. Standridge says the McMinnville photos stand or
fall with the Rouen photo -- but other researchers insist that Rouen, unlike
McMinnville, has no legitimate provenance of its own and is probably just a
knock-off of Paul Trent's authentic photo.
In summary, the McMinnville/Trent UFO photos remain unchallenged by
latest attempt at debunkery. As Jerome Clark states in his UFO Encyclopedia,
"In nearly five decades no reason to disbelieve [the Trents] or to reject
their photos has come to light. The McMinnville photos remain a major item of
UFO evidence and a continuing challenge to would-be puzzle-solvers."
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