June 29, 1987 12:00 PM

As John Gaul, Mayor of Estill Springs, Tenn. puts it, “If Jesus were coming to this town, he would have come somewhere different than on a damn freezer.” Maybe so, but with all due respect to His Honor, it’s hard to predict exactly where the Second Coming is coming. Arlene Gardner is convinced that Jesus’ face has indeed appeared on the side of the G.E. freezer on the front porch of her mobile home. And the Mayor is well aware of her claim because, ever since Gardner announced her heavenly vision, all hell has broken loose in tiny (pop. 1,324) Estill Springs.

The holy hoopla started last month when Gardner, 66, told a radio announcer that whenever her neighbor, Katherine Partin, switched on her porch light, an image of the Lord appeared on Gardner’s appliance. Investigating, a local newspaper declared that the shadow play actually looked more like the bearded face of Willie Nelson. Other nominees have included Eddie Rabbitt, John Lennon and the Ayatollah, but what can’t be disputed is that interest in the freezer heated up fast. While a song, Porch Light Jesus, was promptly composed in Nashville, more than 3,000 people turned out to witness the reputed miracle. Some pilgrims came from as far away as Michigan. Some came to be healed. “People were walking right up to us and saying, ‘I’m crippled’ or ‘I’m short,’ ” says Partin, 57, whose driveway afforded the best view. “And all the cars made me nervous.”

Which is why Partin and her husband, John, 59, have iced the vision by pulling the plug on their porch light. The move has made Gardner burning mad—so much so that she and her husband, Luther, have quit the Church of Jesus Christ, where the pastor is also a skeptic. To the dismay of Mayor Gaul, who fears for the town’s traffic safety as well as its reputation, the Gardners are now hoping either to move the freezer to another site or, if they can find the money, to buy the Partins’ property. Fortunately for everyone, the Gardners have vowed not to form a Praise the Freezer Club and start charging tourists money to see their G.E. “We’re poor people,” says Arlene, “but you don’t try to make money from the works of God.”

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