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Animals Bring the Lights to Life at Joseph Smith Memorial

  • Chase Frost, 3, Steve Blanchard, Troy Frost, 5, and Jamie Frost, all of Tunbridge, visit the animals at the Joseph Smith Birthplace Memorial in Royalton yesterday. More than 160,000 lights are illuminated around the monument. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)

    Chase Frost, 3, Steve Blanchard, Troy Frost, 5, and Jamie Frost, all of Tunbridge, visit the animals at the Joseph Smith Birthplace Memorial in Royalton yesterday. More than 160,000 lights are illuminated around the monument. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Chase Frost offers hay to Two Kisses at the Joseph Smith Birthplace Memorial yesterday. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)

    Chase Frost offers hay to Two Kisses at the Joseph Smith Birthplace Memorial yesterday. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Tim Munroe, dressed in his best St. Nick garb, tours the visitor center at the Joseph Smith Birthplace Memorial in Royalton yesterday. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)

    Tim Munroe, dressed in his best St. Nick garb, tours the visitor center at the Joseph Smith Birthplace Memorial in Royalton yesterday. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Chase Frost, 3, Steve Blanchard, Troy Frost, 5, and Jamie Frost, all of Tunbridge, visit the animals at the Joseph Smith Birthplace Memorial in Royalton yesterday. More than 160,000 lights are illuminated around the monument. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)
  • Chase Frost offers hay to Two Kisses at the Joseph Smith Birthplace Memorial yesterday. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)
  • Tim Munroe, dressed in his best St. Nick garb, tours the visitor center at the Joseph Smith Birthplace Memorial in Royalton yesterday. (Valley News - Ryan Dorgan)

Royalton — After the sun set over the White River Valley yesterday, another multi-color display was illuminated at the hilltop monument along the Sharon-Royalton line — an attraction that has drawn nearly 15,000 “light peepers” this season.

Every year, vibrant strips of white, yellow, green, red and blue Christmas lights line the trees and the three buildings on the 360-acre site marking the birthplace of Joseph Smith, founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Visitors from across the Upper Valley take their vehicles down the winding driveway, past glowing trees and over a covered bridge made of blue lights.

“Everybody says you have to drive around twice to really see them,” said Elder Brian Schuck, who said about 1,600 people have visited the monument in the last two days.

But the lights have to compete with another attraction — a live nativity scene consisting of a donkey named Annie and two sheep named Two Kisses and Mabel.

For 5-year-old Troy Frost and 3-year-old Chase Frost of Tunbridge, the trio of animals won the day.

“They love it,” said their mother, Jamie Frost, as the boys leaned over the wooden fence to pet the animals. It was their second trip to the monument this season.

The donkey, said Schuck, has added authenticity for a nativity scene — he is a rare breed with origins in modern-day Palestine.

“That is fitting,” Jamie Frost agreed.

When Frost was growing up, she said, the lights were the highlight of the yearly Christmas-time treks to the monument that she used to take with her parents. She said the glowing bridge was her favorite part of the light show.

“We would drive through and I would stare at it and try to figure out how they did it,” said Frost. “When I was little, I thought it was just a bridge of lights — no supports or anything.”

Known by Upper Valley residents for its dazzling lights, the monument has a more significant meaning for church members as the birthplace of their prophet, who turned 207 on Sunday — a celebration that drew more than 600 people, according to Schuck.

The Royalton-Sharon town line goes right through the site of the 22- by 24-foot house in which Joseph Smith was born.

A 50-foot tall granite obelisk also sits on the hill.

Elder Orville Fisher, who spent his final evening at the monument last night after an 18-month mission there, said he has developed a special bond with the Upper Valley in the course of his mission here.

“Not just the place, but the people,” he said. “We’ve become very attached to a lot of people here, and that can be hard to leave.”

He added, “We know that there’s going to be tears flowing here when we leave tonight.”

About an hour later, Fisher was preparing to drive to his home in St. George, Utah.

He and his wife Karen said good-bye to Schuck — all three told each other that they loved one another.

Then Fisher went for one more drive down the winding driveway, through the brightly lit display and through the glowing blue bridge, and away from the small hilltop in Vermont that he has called home for the last 18 months.

Ben Conarck can be reached at bconarck@vnews.com or 603-727-3213