Mystery of the LaManche Cross

     Jean Kennedy of Mobile is hoping that someone who reads this story can help her solve a mystery that is going on 83 years. She is trying to find the identity of the person or family who has been maintaining a small, homemade wooden cross on the road leading to the old village of LaManche. The cross bears the name of her aunt and two women from Witless Bay who drowned together at Hell Hill Pond during a summer outing on August 7, 1932.
     Like her late aunt, Veronica Daley, Kennedy hails from St. Joseph’s off the Salmonier Line. Kennedy moved to the Southern Shore 45 years ago and in all that time, someone has been maintaining the cross and even making sure it regularly gets fresh flowers.
     Kennedy has called relatives of the other women who drowned with her aunt, but is stymied.
     The aunt, known to her friends as Monica, was just 24 years old when the tragedy occurred. She had finished classes at a training school for teachers in St. John’s the day before and had accompanied a fellow student to Witless Bay for the weekend.
     Ironically, in an address to the teachers that graduation day, Saturday, August 6, the president of the school had encouraged the young men and women to explore nature. According to an account of the graduation ceremony that was carried in the following edition of The Evening Telegram, the president counselled the teachers not to be bookish. “Bookish teachers make bookish schools,” he said. “Bookish schools repel and do not attract. There is in man a play instinct. Many of the best qualities of manhood and womanhood are developed through play.”
     Whether those remarks had encouraged Daley and the group of five or six other young women and a couple of young men from Witless Bay to take the bathing expedition to Hell Hill Pond is unknown. One of group was Florrie O’Neill, later to be known as Dr. Florence O’Neill, the first person from Newfoundland to obtain a doctorate in adult education from Columbia University in New York. She went on to become a pioneer and high ranking official in the adult education division of the provincial government. O’Neill had just spent two years teaching at Mount Carmel, St. Mary’s Bay prior to that summer and may have gotten to know Daley there, since she was also teaching in the area.
     The other members of the party included Esther Mullowney, 25, of Witless Bay, Mary Norris, 33, of Witless Bay, and according to an Evening Telegram account of the tragedy carried the following day, Ella Dinn, Clara Kent, and “Mr. D. J. Mullowney and Mr. William Kent.”
According to Kennedy, another Witless Bay woman, Anna Dinn, who went on to teach at Holy Heart of Mary School in St. John’s for many years, was also part of the group.
     "There were six girls, they were in summer school. My aunt came up the shore with one of the girls who was in Summer School with her. There were six of them at the site,” said Kennedy. “They joined hands and ran into Hell Hill Pond. It was to their ankles one minute and the next minute they were over their heads, and they grabbed onto one another and three of them drowned."
     That version squares closely with the newspaper report, which said the six women entered the water together, four of them – Norris, Mullowney, Daley and O’Neill - in the lead holding hands. Some 25 to 35 feet from shore they passed an “overfall” and plunged, screaming, into much deeper water.
     O’Neill, who could swim, managed to thrash around until she could find some footing. The rest of the party on shore and in the water behind them started screaming for help. A group of trouters, who were about 200 yards away, heard the commotion and came running. One of them, Mike Manning from St. John’s, “lost no time in attempting the rescue of the young women,” according to the paper. “Being a strong swimmer, he succeeded in bringing Miss Norris to the surface and to the shore.”
     The group on shore and the other trouters, Ray Manning, T. O’Mara and Charlie Gamberg, noticed Norris still had a faint pulse.
     “He (Mike Manning) again dived over the fall and located Miss. Daley,” wrote the reporter. “Placing her in the arms of her companions, he again went in to secure Miss Mullowney, but his efforts were fruitless and it was not until he had divested himself of his heavy clothing that he picked up the body lying in about 12 feet of water and brought it to the shore. Artificial respiration proved in vain.”
     Others tried to revive the girls too, including two Nuns visiting from the United States who happened by while on a motor trip along the Southern Shore with Lady Gertrude Cashin, and two police officers who answered the call for help and spent two hours trying to revive the victims. But it was all too late: Daley, Mullowney and Norris, an only child who had grown up to become a nurse and who had returned to Newfoundland only several months earlier from New York, were all dead.
     A doctor took charge of Norris’ body for transport to Witless Bay. Mullowney’s body was taken back to her parent’s house by her brother in his car.
     “My aunt was laid out in the back of Witless Bay Church,” said Kennedy.” I've been told that by someone whose mother told her. And that's where my grandfather came to retrieve the body."
     Kennedy’s aunt came from a big family of brothers and sisters, all of whom have since passed away. Her aunt wasn’t married, but did have a boyfriend. “He never did marry ever after,” Kennedy said, noting that man has since passed on.
Kennedy figures relatives of one of the other victims must be maintaining the cross, but she can’t find out who it is.
     "I've been living on the Shore now for 45 years… I've made contact with some of their relatives, but they haven't got a clue who's taking care of the site," Kennedy said.
Kennedy’s husband managed to talk with a nephew of Norris. “But he hasn't got a clue who is doing up the site,” she noted. “The other girl was a Mullowney and I'm after calling two or three different Mullowney families and I can't get any (information). Obviously it must be a second generation who's taking care of it, because that's 82 years ago. But it's a real mystery because every year it's freshly painted. Their names are carved in the cross and done with black paint, their names and their ages, and there is always flowers there. And this year, I noticed when I stopped by, that there was crushed stone added, like the Department of Highways would use."
     Kennedy called a contact she knows who worked with the Department of Transportation on the Southern Shore, but again had no luck. "So we can't find out who is doing all this," she said.
     Over the years, Kennedy tried to find out more about what happened that day from two of the women who were there. "But they clammed up when you mentioned it," said Kennedy. "I guess it was post-traumatic stress or something. They didn't want to remember it."
Kennedy attended Church for years with one of the women, Anna Dinn . "I tried to discuss it with her… and she just turned completely off when I mentioned it."
Dinn, and all the other people who were part of the group that day in 1932, have since passed on.
     The cross is located just off the main road on the lane that turns off to LaManche, near Hell Hill Pond. Kennedy can't remember the cross ever being replaced, but figures it must have been at some point because it's in good shape. "The names are engraved, cut into the wood,” she said. “It's not a professional job or anything like that, you'd know it was amateur. But the three names are there."
     Despite its name, Hell Hill Pond is a pretty body of water, one of the larger ponds in the area and surrounded with trees. Some people have cabins there. Local legend has it that Hell Hill got its name from the conductors with the old Newfoundland Railway who found the hill was a struggle for the train that used to run from St. John’s to Trepassey.
     "In the meantime, there are all kinds of ghost stories too," Kennedy said. "On CBC Radio last year, when one of the shows was doing something on ghost stories, people called in and said they were driving up the Shore and these women were out in the middle of the road, but when they stopped there was nobody there. And when I started coming up the Southern Shore first, when I was in university, whenever I mentioned that it was my aunt, there was always a ghost story about three girls."
     Kennedy would welcome a call from anyone who knows the identity of the person maintaining the cross all these years. "We'd like to know who's doing it and the connection and we'd like to be able to thank them for doing this all these years," she said. "I was making calls and trying to find out over the years, and one night I was looking at the Post and I said, 'Maybe they would run something?' It's a human interest story."
     Anyone with information about the cross and who is maintaining it can reach Kennedy at 334-3282.

Posted on December 9, 2015 .