For Janice Trulson it was truly an unexpected vision.
Trulson was on a Tuesday afternoon stroll up Wrightsboro Road with her granddaughter and a Shih Tzu named Motown when, “lo and behold we got treated to something special.”
There they were, Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar – or their fiberglass representations – in the midst of their “traverse afar” across the front lawn of Trinity Hospital.
“I have never seen the wise men move in all my life,” Trulson said. “It’s always been like they just magically move.”
But it wasn’t magic. It was two hospital employees hauling the wise men and their camels on a furniture dolly to their next location, about 50 feet closer to the other figures of the hospital Nativity display representing the holy stable in Bethlehem.
The life-size Nativity has been Christmas tradition almost as long as the hospital has existed, said Sister Clara Vincent, a Catholic nun who has worked there for 42 years. The fiberglass Magi start about 100 yards away from the stable and journey west in periodic leaps with the assistance of Bob Trent, the hospital’s head groundskeeper, who has been in charge of the Nativity display for about 10 years.
“Bob takes great pride in this, it is really his pride and joy,” Vincent said.
Trent said it is something he looks forward to every year. The fiberglass figures are taken out of storage every November just before Thanksgiving. All the figures – Mary, Joseph, an angel, three shepherds, a sheep, a cow and donkey – are placed in their established places around the stable up the hill from the wise men – all except the baby Jesus.
“He doesn’t come out until Christmas Eve,” Trent said. “We have one of the guards bring him over at midnight.”
The figures themselves are probably more than 40 years old, but no one knows for sure. Each bears an embossed stamp from Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland in Frankenmuth, Mich., which bills itself as the “world’s largest Christmas store.”
Bronner’s first began selling the life-size Nativity sets in the late 1960s and the figures have changed little over the years aside from a “more natural” paint job, according to Angie Baxter, a Bronner’s commercial sales representative.
“We did just add a standing donkey this year,” Baxter said.
It is unknown what then-St. Joseph’s hospital paid for its original set, but new figures range in cost from about $650 for a sheep to $2,000 for a standing camel.
“These things last forever,” Baxter said, adding that recently a customer brought back a set from 1968 to be refurbished.
Trinity’s figures are showing a little wear from the years.
“They can get pretty beat up by the weather out here,” Trent said.
One wise man has a crack across his right shoulder and some of the other figures are chinked and chipped.
The camels were repaired once by a local body shop, Trent said, but he is looking for someone close by, an artist who works with fiberglass to really do them justice.
In the meantime, he will keep patching them up and replacing the odd bits that go missing, such as the gift carried by one of the wise men. The new one is a flower pot covered with gold paint.
“I think that one has the gold because it keeps disappearing,” he said.