Nearly 400 Nativity scenes displayed in Salem

Three rooms filled with Nativity scenes - almost 400 of them - were opened to the public Friday evening and most of the day Saturday at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"We've been calling it the miracle on Franklin Street," said Gayla Cowling, one of the organizers. "Everything has fallen together perfectly, even when we wondered if it would."

Cowling said this was the second annual showing. Last year the church at 1709 W. Franklin St. had 195 Nativity scenes on display. This year the exact count on Saturday afternoon was 389, she said.

"Last year we got the idea we wanted to do something for the community for Christmas, but we didn't want it to be just about our church," Cowling said. "We wanted a gift for the community where anybody could come and feel good."

Members of the congregation brought in their Nativity scenes and other people in the town, as well as relatives in other cities and states joined in with the project last year. It was such a big hit that even more people shared their Nativity scenes this year.
"We've almost doubled it," Cowling said.

People from Salem, Rolla, Steelville, Dillard, Boss, Washington, St. Louis and maybe some other Missouri towns shared their sets for viewing. Some Oklahomans, Californians and even an Alaskan also sent in sets.

Long-time Nativity scene collector Diane Cape, of Steelville, graciously shared 106 of the 389 scenes on display, including the oldest one, a blue wooden set she received from her father in her first year of life, Cowling said.

There were three Nativity sets from Israel, including one carved from olive wood.
Two German music box Nativity sets were displayed.

Cowling even set up one Nativity scene under a Christmas tree in a hallway, a set that had belonged to her grandson, who included a Tyrannosaurus Rex among the animals in the manger scene.

Displayed on fabric-covered tables, the sets were in various sizes, shapes and colors. A few were nearly thimble-sized, while others needed to sit on various levels. Some were realistic, others were abstract or avant-garde.

One room was primarily wooden sets. Another room had primarily white sets, displayed with blue fabric and blue lights.

The church's Boy Scout troop also had set up the lights along the walkway leading from the parking lot to the door, and recorded Christmas music greeted visitors.

Inside, singers performed in the main room, and children participated in a live Nativity scene.

There were refreshments for visitors, and a filmed depiction of the Nativity showed continuously in a fourth room.

"It's been a success," Cowling said Saturday afternoon. Admission to the holiday exhibit was free, and "People have been coming through all day."