FRANKFORT, Maine — On Tuesday afternoon, Kami and Chris Horch’s three young children watched anxiously as emergency vehicles sped past their house at the end of a quiet street on Mount Waldo Road.
The ambulance and other vehicles were on their way to help rescue a man who had slipped 60 feet above the nearby Mount Waldo Quarry while trying to jump into the water below. Although he hurt himself on a granite outcrop and had to be taken to the hospital for treatment, the Horches said the next afternoon that at least they were able to tell their children he survived his jump. That’s different from a terrible day last summer when the emergency responders could not save a woman who died at the quarry after jumping more than 30 feet from the granite cliffs.
“We talk to them about the quarry,” Kami Horch said. “We talk to them about how serious it is. That people can get hurt.”
She said that every time a carload of teenagers careens past their house, playing music and traveling way too fast toward the trail head, she worries that they might be the next ones to get hurt.
“I just don’t understand why people keep going there. There’s better places,” she said.
That is an attitude seconded by many in the area. The quarry has been described as an “attractive nuisance,” with thrill-seekers from around the area lured by adrenaline-laced jumps from the cliff face.
One day after the man was hurt, the Mount Waldo Quarry was deserted. Only bullfrogs and birds broke the stillness of the overcast afternoon. The water of the quarry was a murky green-black and the cliff faces were covered in colorful graffiti that has been done over the years.
Some of the tagging appeared to celebrate youthful high spirits — one person spray-painted the phrase “beer drinkers and hell raisers” on the granite walls. But other pictures and phrases seemed to be more serious. A skull and crossbones, crudely drawn, decorated one cliff. And one phrase appeared to be in memoriam to a 24-year-old man who died nearly 20 years ago:
“Bubba Keith Rests 7/12/91.”
Over the past two decades, several people have drowned or been seriously injured at the quarry, according to the Bangor Daily News archives.
Those include 39-year-old Amy Willey of Bucksport who died last summer; Jeffrey Bishop, who died in 1977; and Earl Keith of Levant, who died in July 1991.
His widow, Sherry Keith, tried to get the quarry closed or dynamited afterwards, but the town’s Board of Selectmen refused her request.
Those injured include an East Sullivan man who was seriously hurt in 1993 when he tried to dive from at least 80 feet above the water, and Anders Crosby of Brooks, who struck a floating log when he swung over and into the water from a rope in 1997.
In September 2000, Daniel Curit, 21, of Dixmont shattered the bones in his lower body when he failed to hit water while jumping off the granite cliffs.
Curit last year told the BDN that he became permanently disabled after his accident and that he believed that the town should do something to close it to the public.
“Dynamite, enough cement to fill it up, something to drain it,” he said then. “They should definitely close that thing down.”
But Robert Drew, who is on the Frankfort Granite Committee, said Wednesday that closing the quarry is essentially impossible.
The Mount Waldo quarry played a crucial role in the history of Frankfort, with workmen hauling granite out of it until the 1960s, according to past BDN reports.
Drew said that the state of Maine deeded 130 acres of Mount Waldo to Frankfort in 1988, including the now-flooded quarry. Restrictions on the deed require the town to use the land for “public recreational purposes,” he said.
“I tell people who go up there to use common sense. It’s not a swimming place,” he said. “I’m afraid accidents do happen. You’ve got to use common sense when you go off the beaten path.”
He said that the man who slipped Tuesday could have been much more severely injured in his fall.
“He’s very lucky,” Drew said.
Winterport Fire Chief Thomas Doe on Tuesday evening said that the young man had suffered leg injuries that included skinning his entire shin. Bringing him down to the road took paramedics 45 minutes because of the steep, rugged trail.
Chris Horch said that he thinks if people knew more about what is under the water at the quarry, they might think twice about jumping into it. He said that there is metal debris and machinery there, along with granite blocks.
“It is kind of unfortunate that there’s not anything you can do about it. There’s no way to block access to it,” he said. “You just have to be smarter than jumping 40 feet into a rock-filled pond.”