Lillian Arhelger Memorial |
I can hear the roar of the Glen Bernie Falls on that tragic Saturday in June, 1931. A cold and slippery mist is all around me as I watch the Girl Scouts from Myers Park Presbyterian Church arrive in Blowing Rock, N.C. Small feet leap into the air, and little palms come together in joyous anticipation. One of the children's counselors is Lillian Arhelger, a confident, attractive 21-year old Texan who has just completed a year as a physical education teacher at Charlotte's Central High School.
Lillian Arhelger is the tall lady standing on the far left of the back row of this photograph of the 1931 Girls' Basketball Team of Central High School. A native of Fredericksburg, Texas, Arhelger was hired to bring "girls' sports out of the well known wilderness." She succeeded. The basketball team lost only four games "through a long and strenuous season."
The girls bolt along the path to the top of the falls and leap onto the perilous rocks that border the precipice. Then disaster strikes. "Virginia is going over the falls," her playmates scream. Lillian does not hesitate. She jumps into the swirling water and gropes for the hand of the desperate child. It's too late. They both careen sixty feet downward into the deluge of the Glen Bernie Falls.
The child survives. Lillian lies crumpled on the other side of the river. Her skull is fractured. Pieces of a decayed log protrude from her mouth and nose. Somehow as if to atone for the tragedy, the children and the counselors hold vigil on the lawn of the Blowing Rock Episcopal Church, where Lillian's limp and unconscious body waits for the ambulance. Lillian Arhelger died the next day in Lenoir, N.C., never having come out of a coma.
The students at Central High School were shocked when word arrived that Lillian was dead. They began a campaign to raise money to erect a memorial to their fallen teacher. The students knocked on doors all over town. The Charlotte Observer printed daily tallies. One thousand dollars was raised in less than three weeks--even in the depths of the Great Depression.
Landscape architect Helen Hodge designed the Lillian Arhelger Memorial in Independence Park. She captured the mood of the Glen Bernie Falls by using rock throughout and by making rushing water the major theme. Have you visited the memorial? It is a compelling place to go. "Those who make such sacrifice become enshrined in memory and glorified in recollection," said the Charlotte News.
The Arhelger Memorial
The plaque at the memorial
The reflecting pool