One year ago on Oct. 14, Jessica McClure, then 18 months old, slipped into a dry, abandoned water well and set off a rescue effort that moved the nation to tears of joy 58 hours later.
On Saturday, Jessica, 21/2 and still rambunctious and spirited, unveiled a 4 feet by 6 feet bronze sculpture at the downtown Centennial Plaza by Midland artist Mary Griffith commemorating the rescue.The bas relief depicts Jessica and the faces and hands of the circle of people standing around the well opening at the moment she was pulled out. An inscription reads: "Nothing the heart gives away is lost. It lives in the hearts of others."
The little girl conducted the unveiling along with her parents, Chip and Cissy, now both 19 years old, in one of their rare public appearances since the girl was rescued Oct. 16.
"I don't think I've ever seen anything that touched so many people in quite the way (the rescue) did," said John Fowler, president of the Midland Chamber of Commerce. "People cried when they brought her up. It reminded us that there's something noble about the human spirit, to take the time to help a fellow human being and see that there's a happy ending."
Tiny Jessica was lodged 19 feet down in a small compartment in the pipe, her right leg and foot stuck upward at an awkward angle and her forehead pressed against the metal.
Billy Walker of the Midland Fire Department, one of the first on the scene, cut the ends off of a garden hose, attached one end to an oxygen tank and lowered the other down to Jessica. The rescue then began at a furious pace that did not falter until Jessica was saved.
Oilfield roughnecks, many of them out of work because of the oilpatch crash, started drilling a new hole a few feet from the well down to Jessica. Paramedics waited for their chance to reach in to the little girl.
Cpl. Jim White, spokesman for the Midland Police Department, this week told of the most emotional moment of the early hours, when the rescuers listened for a moment, and then shushed all around to listen more closely.
A tiny voice floated up the well. Jessica was singing to herself, a Walt Disney song from the movie "Winnie the Pooh" about the "silly, willy, nillie old bear."
"It tore me up," White said. "There were tough oil field roughnecks with tears in their eyes. We knew Jessica was alive and fighting for her life."
The workers pulled multiple shifts and slowly carved through the rock down to Jessica. Trucks dropped off expensive drilling equipment, anonymously, no questions asked. Restaurant workers appeared with tablesful of food. Someone set up a line of portable toilets.
"We're not big-headed around here," 70-year-old Maxine Sprague, who lives next door to the home where the freak accident occurred, said this week. "But I knew we were going to save that little girl."
The television networks showed much of the rescue live, pulling millions of people into the drama unfolding in west central Texas. On the afternoon of Oct. 16, paramedic Robert O'Donnell carefully took hold of Jessica and eased her gently out of the hole and handed her to paramedic Steve Forbes who carried her to the surface.
Jessica has a scar on her forehead, partially covered by her bangs, and lost the tips of the little toe and big toe on her right foot. After 35 days of hospital care, she now walks normally. Psychologists have said Jessica will have no memory of the ordeal, though a fund has been set up at a local bank to pay all medical bills and for psychological counseling, if that is needed. President Reagan contributed a $1,000 check to the account that will keep Jessica financially secure the rest of her life.
Chip and Cissy McClure have turned down most of the public appearances that were available.