Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Wells & Accidents - Kathy Fiscus

Kathy Fiscus rescue scene - 1949
One of the more famous abandoned well tragedies took place in California in April, 1949.  It was early evening and Kathy Fiscus was playing in a field with her sister and a cousin when she fell into a 14 inch open water well casing.  The ensuing rescue held the nation captive for the next three days as efforts to save her involved digging, drilling, derricks, trucks, cranes, floodlights and at one time an estimated 10,000 onlookers praying for her quick and successful rescue.  When finally reached, Kathy was found to have succumbed to the lack of air soon after falling into the well.  Such a sad event.

In a twist of fate perhaps, her father worked for the California Water and Telephone Company, which drilled the well some 45 years earlier.  Even more ironic is that he had been involved in testifying to the California State Legislature for a law requiring the plugging of abandoned wells.

This event was also marked as a watershed moment for live radio and TV coverage of events of this nature.  It was covered by TV station KTLA which apparently set the standard for events and TV coverage.  Jessica McClure's well accident was covered in 1987 in much the same way.

This event seemed to leave a mark on America.  Jimmie Osborne, a country singer, wrote and recorded a song in 1949 called "The Death of Little Kathy Fiscus".  His lyrics are simple, but quite accurate.

On April the 8th, the year forty-nine
Death claimed a little child, so pure and so fine
Kathy they called her, met her doom that day
I know it was God, that called her away

Playmates of Kathy, were all havin' fun 
The story was told, they all started to run
And as they looked back, she wasn't there
It's so sad to think of this tragic affair

Just like a beast in a forest that day 
The abandoned well, took Kathy away
For over two days, the well was her tomb
Everyone kept prayin' they'd get her out soon

Thousands were there, from far and from near
Work men they struggled, against sadness and tears 
But after two days, their hopes grew so weak
They called down to Kathy but she never did speak

After working so hard, both day and night 
Digging for hours, she came into sight
The little darlin' was dead, her life it was gone
Now in San Merino, there's a heart broken home

I'm sure she's an angel, in God's peaceful fold 
Playing with children, in a mansion of gold 
As I stand alone, humbly I bow
I know Kathy's happy, up there with God now.

The 1951 movie "Ace in the Hole" was also reported to be inspired by this tragedy, as was one of the vignettes in Woody Allen's 1987 movie "Radio Days" - where a young girl named Polly falls into a well in Pennsylvania.

There is no doubt about it, abandoned wells of any kind are accidents waiting to happen and need to be plugged properly.  Not only are they physical dangers but can also pose water quality problems.  Please do your part if you run across one. Contact your state water agency, a local water agency, your county commissioners, or someone who can effect a timely and safe remediation.

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