Annals of Camden, Part VIII
Colonel Nathan Fletcher and I are still spending time together. I am fascinated in his version of Camden history, because he actually wrote his columns after interviewing older people in the mid 1800s. His version should be closer to the time of events than we write about from histories written in the 20th century.
While he was doing his mountain climbing, he not only observed Mt. Battie and Mt. Megunticook themselves, but it reminded him of events that took place in those areas. He listened to people before the stories were passed down for many years.
Most of us have heard numerous versions about the maiden who fell from Mt. Megunticook. The tales were anywhere from lovers’ leap, to the wind catching the veil on her hat. The Camden Herald dated 1915 had an article as told by the maiden’s sister, who was present at the tragedy. The date came down in history as May 6, 1862 (and some said 1864), but I am too young to confirm the dates. She was called Elenora French.
Nathan Fletcher wrote:
“In the year 1863, in the lovely month of August, a young girl by the name of Nellie French [nickname perhaps for Elenora], living in the town of Lincolnville with her parents at “French Beach” so called [now Lincolnville Beach], came over to the center of the town, to visit an older sister who had been teaching in a district school in that part town. The Summer term had ended, and she was to accompany her sister home in the afternoon, happy in the reflections, that she once more to greet her beloved sister and again enjoy her company, as in childhood days. They met, embraced each other, and the world looked beautiful to them. I remember well that day. Not a cloud obscured the rays of the sun from the horizon to the zenith, the genial air of a perfect Summer’s day infused new life and sent the vital fluid with a quicker pace through the accustomed channels of these two happy creatures. Little did they dream that, ere the sun should sink behind the western hills, this beautiful world, which to them appeared joyous and afforded them so much happiness, would go down in darkness and be covered with funeral pall of mourning and sadness. They dined together with some friends, before wending their way homeward, which was three or four miles distant, a proposition was made by someone to visit the mountain and scan the beautiful prospect which it afforded every lover of the works of nature. Accordingly one young man and several young ladies started up the mountain, and on arriving there, gazed with pleasure on the wonderful scenes which were spread out in rich profusion and everywhere within the scope of their vision. The two sisters seated themselves upon a little hillock, not far from the brink of the precipice before them, drinking of the beauties which everywhere surrounded them. The young man and another young lady stood a little in the background. Suddenly the young girl arose from behind her sister, where they had been side by side, happy that they were once more united after a summer’s separation, and, in a moment’s time, the awful plunge was made, and the innocent young lady was precipitated over the precipice into the awful chasm below. The young man and the sister sprang forward seeking to rescue her, but it was too late. It was so sudden. They were horrified. There was no time for preparation or for prayer. The young victim was falling down the rugged steep, from one jagged rock to another, until her mangled frame became lodged in a clump of bushes, three hundred feet, actual measurement, from the top of the mountain to where her bruised form was found, and tenderly taken by loving hands to the residence of Mr. Moses Young. And strange to relate, she was not dead. The vital spark had not fled, but she moaned sadly as a lady said to me, “like a dying lamb.” Dr. J. H. Esterbrook was called but she was beyond human aid; she never spoke but lingered through the night until four o’clock the next morning, when her pure spirits took flight to other realms.”
What really happened to12-year-old Elenora French will never be known, nor ever forgotten. Mr. Joseph B. Stearns, the man who had the “castle” Norumbega, built for his home, had the first wooden cross erected in her memory at “Maiden’s Cliff.” Over the years the cross has been replaced several times. One put there in 1947 became worn and weak from the elements and blew down Jan. 17, 1980. A new one weighing 600 pounds and measuring 12-feet by 24-feet was placed there with the help of a National Guard helicopter. That made the fourth cross since the tragedy.
A monument, donated by the Coastal Monuments and Laite Funeral Home, was inscribed in memory of Elenora French on Sept. 15, 1986. Sam Dyer and Roy Brown used two all-terrain vehicles loaded with cement, tools, water and the granite slab. They traveled over the trails, fields and woods to the white cross, and by drilling into the rock, they installed the monument at the base of the cross.
In May 1988, vandals managed to topple the cross. Members of Camden Fire Department, Mountain Rescue and Camden Parks and Recreation Department volunteered four hours of their time on a Sunday morning in October to right the cross again. The 240th Engineer Group of the Maine National Guard from Waterville sent two Huey helicopters to the summit. The larger one hooked on to the cross and lifted it over the site, while the other stood by, just in case. The volunteers were there to move it into place and secure it with cables, donated by Wayfarer Marine Corporation. The winds were heavy and the job difficult, but determination prevailed to accomplish the feat. The men praised pilot Jeff Peterson for his ability in maneuvering the helicopter. And we are thankful for the men from town, who volunteered their time to do the job.
Again in 1992, the south arm of the cross was broken and hanging. Again with donations and local men and a couple of all-terrain vehicles, it was ready for Memorial Day that year.
From the parking lot, where once the Barrett Farm stood, there is a nice path to Maiden’s Cliff. It is an enjoyable hike, and from the summit one is rewarded with a breathtaking view. There is also a feeling of sadness about the happy outing of so long ago that ended in tragedy.
Barbara Dyer is Camden's official town historian.