My father and I embarked on a hike many years ago while on our annual vacation in the Midcoast Maine area. We began on the Maiden Cliff trail in Camden, slowly climbing our way up to where the cliff and a large cross overlook Megunticook Lake. The water was a brilliant blue and looked refreshing on that warm July day. I remember looking down at the tiny boats whizzing across the lake and wishing we could dive into cool water, then gazing off in the distance at Ragged and Bald Mountains, watching a cloud bank move over the peaks.
Legend has it.....
The cross comes as a surprise if you don’t know why it’s there. The popular legend behind the cross and the Maiden Cliff name is that decades ago, a heartbroken woman threw herself from the cliff, distraught over the loss of a lover. While this makes a good story, it’s not true.
The real story behind how Maiden Cliff got its name and the subsequent cross offers far less romance. 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 Cliff for a picnic. While it could never actually be confirmed, the story goes that she was climbing along the cliff when a sudden gust of wind blew the bonnet off her head. Elenora tried to grab it, not realizing in that moment how close she was to the edge, and she fell 300 feet down off the cliff. Surprisingly, she survived the fall, but it was hours before rescuers could reach her. Once they did, they found no visible injuries or obvious broken bones. Even though she may have looked unharmed on the outside, she must have been suffering from internal injuries.
Sadly, Elenora passed away in the middle of the night. As time went on, Elenora's story stayed alive in the Camden area. Joseph B. Stearns, a wealthy tourist was particularly touched by it and decided to create a memorial for Elenora. He paid for the very first cross to be erected on the cliff and a cross has stood in that same spot for more than a century now. Due to weather and vandalism, the community has had to replace it several times, saying the monument is as much a part of the community as Elenora's story.
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.
This story was excerpted from a News Center Maine article.