MCMINNVILLE, Ore. -- Do you believe in aliens? How about UFOs? There's a big festival underway in McMinnville dedicated to those big mysteries.
The 19th Annual UFO Festival kicked off Thursday evening and runs through Saturday. It’s being held at McMenamins’ Hotel Oregon.
If you drive into McMinnville, a UFO Festival banner hangs over the main drag. On Thursday, things started with live music and a wine tasting named “Encounters of the third vine.”
The event draws thousands of people from all over the country. Organizers say it’s the second-largest event of its kind in the United States.
Oregon, in particular, has a history of UFO sightings. In fact the event began years ago, on the anniversary of a UFO sighting in McMinnville in 1950.
A KGW broadcast in 1959 featured coverage of a UFO that was reportedly seen in Redmond.
The same kind of awe around UFOs is still there for a lot of people these days.
“UFO Fest is really for the fun and skeptics alike,” said Renee Rankignacio, with McMenamins.
Whether attendees are looking for costumed fun, or serious discussions about the existence of UFOs, the event has got something for anyone.
Chris Cummings, who was walking by the festival, said she has seen a UFO herself.
“I was probably 12. It was the middle of the night, 2am. I got up looked out the window and I could see this hovering object. I was south of San Francisco,” said Cummings.
She said she knew what she saw was real because the next day, the newspaper had an article with multiple reports from people who saw the same thing in the sky.
Cummings also said her father was a pilot, and while he never spoke publicly about what he saw, she said he and his pilot friends would talk about the unexplainable things they’d see while they were on the job.
A lot of experts are attending the event as well. Peter Davenport is one of them. He runs the National UFO Reporting Center in Washington. He said he is a skeptic by nature, and is trained as a scientist. Still, he said the evidence and reports out there have made him a believer.
“I've been collecting UFO reports full time, around the clock, 24 hours a day for the last 24 years,” said Davenport. “It appears to me we have guests. We are being visited.”
He said one of the most well-known sightings in recent history, happened in Arizona. The event is referred to as the “Phoenix Lights.”
“Six objects, we believe very, very large, upwards of eight miles from wingtip to wingtip for example, loitered over Phoenix and surrounding communities and neighboring states for approximately two hours.”
He said there are about 115,000 UFO reports that have been submitted on his website.
“There have been many very credible reports, even from the Pacific Northwest,” Davenport said.
He may be onto something. According to reports and FAA recordings, pilots saw something weird over Oregon and California in late 2017.
The recordings can be heard on the website, The Drive. Pilots can be heard talking about an unidentified flying object. At one point, one of the pilots describes what he’s seeing as “crazy.”
It’s unknown what they may have actually seen, but some at the festival say there's got to be something else out there.
Randall Nickerson is a film maker and one of the speakers at the event. For the last 10 years, he’s been working on a film about a UFO sighting in Zimbabwe where school children were involved. He said at the time it was well documented by global news organizations. Nickerson’s film is expected to debut this year.
“There is something going on here that is worth investigating,” said Nickerson. “There’s just too many credible people out there who have come out over time.”
That’s why Davenport said he can’t understand why UFO sightings don’t get more coverage.
“They’re alarming to me that we have things in the skies that the FAA is not aware of and cannot identify,” said Davenport.
He said if someone sees a UFO, the most important thing is to document it by taking a picture or video. Then, he said he hopes people submit a report to his website.
Organizers said there are still tickets left for the UFO Festival. But there are also plenty of free things to do, such as the parade that begins at 2 p.m. on Saturday in downtown McMinnville.