CAMDEN, Maine (NEWS CENTER)-- A mysterious monument in a rather unusual place, that's how you can describe the large white cross that has stood on the edge of the top of Maiden's Cliff in the Camden Hills for more than a century. The story behind why it was placed there has become a permanent part of the Camden-Lincolnville area's history, and has found a home in the heart's of those who live there.
There is a popular legend behind the cross; many say decades ago, a heart broken woman threw herself from the cliff, distraught over the loss of a lover. "It makes a good story, but it's not at all really what happened," said Heather Moran, archivist for the Camden Public Library.
The real story behind how Maiden's Cliff got it's name and its cross is far less romantic. Long before Lincolnville Beach was known by its current name, the land was owned by the French family. "They were the founders of Lincolnville Beach, which was originally French's Beach," said Connie Parker with the Lincolnville Historical Society.
One of the youngest daughters of Zadock French was Elenora, who in 1864 was 12-years-old. On May 6th of that year, Elenora French and a few of her siblings joined a group and headed to the top of what is now Maiden's Cliff for a picnic. What happened next could never be confirmed. In a detailed account given by a sister year's later, she said she believed that while her back was turned, a gust of wind blew Elenora's bonnet off her head. Elenora reached for it, not realizing in that moment how close she was to the edge, and she fell 300 feet down. She survived the fall, but it was hours before rescuers could reach her. "There were no visible injuries to her, she didn't have any obvious broken bones. But presumably her internal injuries were very, very severe," said Moran.
Elenora did not make it through the night. The years passed, but Elenora's story still lingered in the Camden- Lincolnville area. It touched one wealthy tourist in particular, inventor Joseph B. Stearns. He decided Elenora would never be forgotten. "He paid for this first cross to be erected at the edge of the cliff," said Moran. "I think the story of little Elenora just caught his imagination too, you know, 'this could be my child.'"
Since then, a cross has stood in that same spot for more than a century. Weather and vandalism have been cause for the community to replace it several times, but locals say the monument is as much a part of the community as Elenora's story. "There will be another one to replace it," said Jane Hardy with the Linoclnville Historical Society. "The story will not die."
Today, you can find little Elenora French's grave in French Cemetery in Lincolnville. Each year, Maiden's Cliff hikers still go to visit her... the fallen girl whose story never died.