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Image of Jesus seen on city tree

'This is God giving us a sign,' one believer says of silver maple

Greg Livadas
Staff writer D&C

(October 26, 2005) — Call it a cry for peace, a test of faith or a random act of nature, a tree growing on Rochester's North Clinton Avenue so far has attracted several dozen believers who say they see the image of Jesus Christ on the tree's trunk.

"I see it clearly," said Yomaira Otero of Rochester, who stood in the pouring rain Tuesday with six members of her family to see the tree. She spoke in Spanish to her relatives and pointed out the facial features, including the beard of bark she saw. "He looks like he's sleeping."

The "Jesus tree," as some are calling it, is a silver maple growing on the front lawn of the Hickey-Freeman Co. factory at 1155 N. Clinton Ave. It's a few feet from the sidewalk and behind a black metal fence.

The factory, which makes Hickey-Freeman, Bobby Jones and Burberry tailored clothing, has been at the site for 92 years. It sits in the heart of Rochester's infamous "crescent," known for high crime rates.

"It's a sign from God that there should be peace," said Maria Trinidad, who lives on Clifford Avenue. "There is a lot of crime here. People should have faith in God. This is God giving us a sign."
Her daughter, Keila Negron, 13, said she also believed it was a divine sign, but admitted she had trouble visualizing the image on the tree in the rain, which darkened the bark. She vowed to return in better weather and take pictures of the tree.

Jim Holtz, 54, of Greece, said he noticed the image Monday when he stopped in the Cash King pawn shop directly across the street from Hickey-Freeman. "I was looking out that way as I usually do and saw that on the tree," Holtz said. "I said, 'Am I seeing things?'"

Holtz walked across the street to see whether the image had been spray-painted on. It wasn't.
"I said, 'We gotta get some pictures of this,'" he said, and he contacted the media.

Holtz doesn't know whether the image is a coincidence or a message. He says he believes in God but doesn't regularly attend church.
Karen Marshall, 43, of Rochester also stood on the sidewalk looking at the tree Tuesday. She held newspapers over her head to help keep dry as she pointed out the tree's features to her sister, Ann Manigoult, who had trouble picking out the image.

"We can't physically see Jesus, so we only have signs," Marshall said. "The only way we can know he's here is through signs. He's everywhere. You just have to have faith."

Officials from Hickey-Freeman Co., who were unavailable Tuesday to discuss the tree, so far have tolerated the cars stopping in front of their building and the groups of gawkers on the sidewalk. They aren't sure what else to do because, as the facilities manager said, "there's no protocol for this sort of thing."

Mark Day, 30, a shipping clerk at Hickey-Freeman, took a picture of the tree after seeing others standing outside the factory looking at it.

Day said he believes the tree's design is a coincidence. "I don't think it's a message because God is everywhere," he said.

Doug Mandelaro, a spokesman for Rochester's Roman Catholic Diocese, said he "wouldn't dare to comment on someone else's moment of inspiration or religious experience. Religious experience is and always has been a mystery and very personal.

MSNBC's "Countdown with Keith Olbermann" featured the tree one night and a friend called from New York City to ask us if we had seen it. We didn't know anything about it but the next morning there was an article in the D&C and the word was all over town. So we headed down Clinton Avenue to Avenue D and spotted a whole bunch of people gathered around. While we were parking the car I spotted a a man drive by slowly and make the sign of the cross as he passed the tree.

How many generations of Rochesterians have passed through these doors over the years? I wasn't even sure where Hickey Freeman was until this story broke.

The crowd cleared for a minute and I grabbed this shot. Can you see it? The face is barely there to begin with and it was right here in front of the Hickey Freeman building for a long time before someone saw it. Maybe this is how it all started at Lourdes or Fatima. These signs were kind of interesting. I took a few close ups so I could read them later.

So according to MPTB, the whole and this guy on the tree are going to duke it out. Stay tuned.

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