Rubbing Elbows with Aliens at the McMinnville UFO Festival


Somewhere down the Pacific Highway the strangle hold of suburbia gives way to wine country. You want to believe everything past Sherwood is a place where grapes grow well. Seventy years ago was a different time when ultra-modern technology, still light years away, allowed a UFO to swoop through the McMinnville area skies. Paul Trent took photos of the craft much like the one pictured above and the rest became history that has included a celebration of all things UFO related for the last 20 years.

The Alienation of Puppetry

Aliens are necessary. They give people an identity as either believers or non-believers. Anyone above “UFO nonsense” would still have to give it up to the people of McMinnville for devoting a weekend to the celebration of alien culture. Strains of unalien carnival music lead us downtown. My first glimpse through martian eyes was cosmic. So many people in the streets the cars had to dodge them. Minutes into my arrival I came to a realization. I don’t have to wear jeans slitted up the thighs to be cool. How can aliens be stranger than the people surrounding me?

Monkey and Aliens

Waiting for the parade to start, I spotted my first alien but couldn’t figure out which pocket my camera phone was in. By the time I got it out I was distracted by a gorilla across the street, then an upright monkey, who had no place in a UFO Fest, walked by. I was in the midst of an occasion that caused people to dress anyway they saw fit. The theme was broader than expected. Walking through the festival’s retail tent section, I found myself too jaded to make contact with Portland celebrity, the Unipiper. I was enjoying the wares that were all things alien, soap with alien faces being my favorite. An alien fashion t-shirt displayed the phrase “Get in Loser.” My mind wandered. Why are aliens portrayed with big eyes and skinny bodies? I know this comes from someone’s description but it seems clichéd. Aliens need a better publicist or better yet, a stylist.


Alien Fashion Hub

At the Bigfoot tent, one of the retailers looked intense. I’m not going to be the one to question why Sasquatch paraphernalia is being pedaled at UFO Fest. Next door there was a rep from Bath-Fitter, again, why? But then why shouldn’t everyone jump on the bandwagon even bath-tubbers? Maybe there’s a special on alien shaped tubs. This niche market only gathers once a year. Mother was right though, I am a purist. I’m only in it for the aliens.


Crashing the parade.

Dryer Hose Man Rules!

As we waited, my wife, Ronna, pointed out that the scariest part of any parade is when the random dude, this one had his skull and face painted blue with black spots, walks the parade route by himself. This parade started off unofficially with three intrusions. A group of men approached pushing what looked like a grill, but turned out to be a speaker. As they passed, I heard a man say, “One of the things the bible says…” before I got distracted by my philosophical musings that religion and alien celebrations don’t really mix. Minutes later a simple, yet effective, giant dryer hose wearing guy broke into the parade unpermitted.

Alien Wars

We found the media section of the parade route and settled in. The event seemed to be an excuse to sport alien fashions and get your face painted. I overheard someone say, “They have to have a beer garden set up around here,” and of course, the beer drinking excuse. I asked myself why I’m so fascinated with plastic alien blow-up dolls. Kids in renaissance costumes were ready to fight off aliens. I felt safer.  I wondered if the parade would ever start? The media section was a reminder that you never really have to leave the house. Everything will be live-streamed. I wondered if alien candy would be flung from floats? Restless kids might have wondered about this too as they danced and lay down in the streets. The parade was not on time. Before the parade started impatient aliens turned on each other. I watched two kids swing blow-up aliens dispelling their parade anticipation energy.


Waiting, I grew tired of aliens and alien joke t-shirts—funny in small doses. (Have you seen the one where the flying saucer beams up a Sausquatch?) Where’s this bleeping parade? Finally, the first few caddy convertibles carried, in a Grand Marshall vein, what I assumed would be politicians but ended up being  festival speakers and UFO experts. Out of the corner of my eye I caught a guy walking down the sidewalk sporting an alien related t-shirt that read, “What is real” No question mark. What is real appeared to be alien floats full of homegrown creativity. There can’t possibly be many UFO themed parades. Yet hear I was at one so brilliantly conceived albeit a bit off schedule. Real aliens could have crashed this festival and who would have known?

Hold That Alien

Floats floated by. A mishmash of Martian chronicles: A helicopter festooned with blow- up aliens like something our of Star Wars, a flying saucer hoisted up by a genie lift. The Linfield College marching band, out paced by all the other local school bands, couldn’t find motivation to play their instruments. They’re just kids paying too much for their education. Another freaky participant was spotted until I realized it was only a mask.


What? A mask!

The giant Alien puppets holding utensils were my favorite. Ronna insisted Aliens invented the spork. My reverie was broken up by a parade attendee saying, and it’s only the second quote I got all day, “Excuse me, do you mind you almost hit me twice with your elbow.” I apologized and spared her a rant about my being a practicing journalist who got carried away taking photos of passing puppet aliens. This woman had no idea she was in the media section. The second photographer, who showed up late and stood in my way, didn’t even make it obvious. This town, with all it’s great shops and restaurants, was proving itself to not be big enough for the both of us, and my elbows. I seethed for the rest of the parade.

The Art of the Foil

In all it was a day of goofball weirdness. Let’s hope no aliens were pissed off with so many people making sport of them. I took away memories of silver face painted folks under giant foam cowboy hats who strutted their stuff and square danced while some we-can-fend-off-aliens-with-martial-arts street fighting broke out to the tune of a Led Zeppelin song. Jiffy pop lid headed Parade watchers cosplay players and other foil contraptions crinkled my brain. Our fest experience ended with psychedelic boogie-woogie music after hearing the tale of a guy in a beer line who was wearing an Area 51 shirt and talking about his visit to the area that ended with him watching security guys through binoculars while they watched him back with their’s. You could have many interesting conversations at a UFO Festival that might make you question what is real. As long as there’s a question mark I’ll be okay.

Alien Stroll

Alien Stroll


More photos from the parade can be found here:


Royal Living in North Portland

As I was trying to explain who I was and why I was calling, I started getting a good natured razzing. Telling the guy on the other end of the line that I was a blogger had him joking about how bloggers are the ones who don’t make any money from their writing. I could only laugh being too familiar with my impoverished blogging pursuits. At this point I was proud for doing something challenging, namely picking up the phone and making a call. The voice on the phone preferred to remain anonymous. All jokes aside, the man was making my penniless endeavors worth it by telling stories about something I’d long wondered about.

I’ve marveled at the twin apartment buildings, Queen Johanna and Queen Jeannette for a long time. My curiosity outweighed my need to know but here I was talking to someone in the know—the owner of the Queen Johanna building. Looking through an apartment webpage featuring the Queen Johanna, I dialed (does anyone dial anymore?) the number on the site. Soon I was talking to a friendly, chatty guy who told me about the twin Queen apartments in the Portsmouth section of North Portland. The apartments were built by a man named T. A. Nelson, first name Thomas, who named them after his daughters. While one of the Queen apartments was sold, Jeanette still owns the building named for her.

The apartments were built around 1974. Mr. Nelson’s excitement over his accomplishment inspired him to rent a limo to drive his friends over to show off the buildings. When asked what he thought people might think about living in buildings named for Queens, my anonymous source said they might appreciate it but they didn’t know the history. The apartment owner suggested the royalty theme was inspired by how much Nelson cherished his children.

My source then served up a triple bombshell telling me that Nelson also built an apartment building named Carroll’s Castle. The building’s namesake, another daughter, lives in one of the apartments of the place named after her. Not only that, he built more apartments called King Arthur’s Court and you guessed it—his son inspired the name. It never occurred to me that these buildings, with a royal theme, were related but in hindsight it’s easy to see how it couldn’t be coincidental.

My contact explained that these were particulars of the story he had heard. There was a point where I began to fear this anonymous voice might be making up an elaborate tale and pranking me. I found an online bizapedia entry for T. A. Nelson Buildiers Inc. a company that started in 1967 so the story seems legit. The one sure way for more details would involve tracking down Carroll of Carroll’s Castle. Sadly, my source had no contact information for her.

When I joked about how Carroll’s Castle might feel like living in a castle, a question that was tounge-in-cheek and inspired by the peeling paint on the apartment’s sign, I was given a history lesson about how nice the apartments were for their time. These were some of the first apartments in a neighborhood described as being full of cheap houses.

“Back then when they were built, those buildings were like dynamite. That was it,” he exclaimed. When I said it sounded like the apartments were state of the art for the time the Queen Johanna owner elaborated, “the buildings were like condos, but they’re not.” The garages were an added bonus and an unusual feature for apartment living. He told me if I tracked Carroll down I should ask her if she’d sell him the building. “I love that building,” he said. I asked him if I got a deal going whether there’d be money in it for me. He laughed saying I might have a broker in me. He did promise a bookstore gift card if I assisted on a deal. Having made all the calls I have time to make this week, I can only hope to hunt down the rest of the story from Carol, Arthur and Jeanette one of these days. In the meantime I’m off in search of my inner real estate broker.

* * * * *

Royal living isn’t just for North Portland residents. If you’re hoping to live amoungst Kings and Queens there are options out there.

Get Your Royal on at Royal Crest

I’m not sure if these apartments inspire jokes about the Royals in this Game of Thrones era but if you’re interested in moving to Beaverton you can find out.

Live like a King On NE MLK BLVD

You can live like a king or maybe live on a street named after a King, nonetheless the building name checks the highest level of royalty you can muster in Portland.