A community rallies in support of well artist
By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw
Years ago, Harald Herglotz of Newark loved to spend his weekends far from the pressure of his job as a successful packaging designer for Westvaco in Newark.
He would load his two young sons and his dog in his Volkswagen Bug, drive north to his parents' home in Wilmington, where his younger sisters Helen and Heidi would pack themselves into his tiny car for long drives in the Chester County countryside. The crowded VW Bug would grip the winding roads for hours, whistling by farms and vistas, and on several occasions, the traveling troupe would stop at the Laurel Spring well on Penn Green Road in Landenberg.
Once upon a time, during a period that is now confined to history, the well served as a natural water fountain, quenching the collective thirsts of generations of New Garden residents, many of whom would fill up entire jugs for the sweet taste of the clear water. For Heidi, cupping her hands and welcoming the cool water was not only a weekend ritual, but one that would become one of her favorite childhood memories.
In 2012, long after she and her husband had moved to Franklin Township to raise their children in Lincoln University, Heidi Scheing was walking her dog along the Laurel Woods Trail when she realized that she was in a very familiar place: deep beneath her feet stood the Laurel Spring well, a formation of rocks that bordered a sharp turn along Penn Green Road.
Immediately, she called Harald on her cell phone, who at the time was living in Tuscaloosa, Ala. and was in the throes of a courageous battle with cancer. She thought that by mentioning the well, it would brighten Harald's spirits. As she stood admiring the forested green of the trail, Harald delivered the news. There was very little hope that he would ever defeat his illness.
Leaving behind a wife and six children, Harald Herglotz died at his home in Tuscaloosa, Ala. in July 2012. He was 67.
“Over the next several years, I would drive by the well and it would bring back all kinds of memories, which were now bittersweet because of my brother's passing,” Scheing said. “I would see that the well was always empty, so I began to get the idea of filling up the well somehow, in Harald's honor.”
A few years after her brother’s death, Scheing drove to the well, and placed a red stocking with some greens tucked in it in its stone notch. In time, the well became the home of seasonal displays – ceramic pumpkins to celebrate Halloween, living ferns and lights to celebrate Christmas, colorful eggs in a basket to celebrate Easter, and color-appropriate flowers and plants that announced the arrival of Spring and Fall.
Without her knowing it at the time, Scheing had created a new Landenberg tradition, one that soon became a drive-by ritual for passing drivers, who would be given a very brief look-see at an ever-changing gallery that celebrated the seasons.
“I would have all of my materials loaded up in my car and ready to go, and I would park on the side of the road and run in and place toys, trinkets, pots and lights in the well, and then run back to my car,” Scheing said. “It started as a memory to my brother and it became a kind of joyful cemetery beside a spring that once brought a beautiful and natural gift to so many people.”
When she first began to design the well, Scheing would include personal and family items.
“One of the reasons that I went to less expensive items for the designs is that I've had things stolen that were very dear to me,” she said. “I realized that I had to replace the more valuable trinkets with less expensive items because if anything did get stolen, I would feel less heartbroken.”
While the designs became conversation pieces, however, the identity of the person who made it happen remained unknown to everyone except a select few. Early in December, her identity was finally revealed.
On Dec. 8, Scheing posted on “Landenberg: You Can't Get There From Here,” a Facebook page dedicated to sharing the news of the town. She wrote: “This afternoon I stopped at the Landenberg spring head with a Christmas tree and lights to change out the display. We had just returned from a trip out west. That’s when I found the note you see here.”
A photograph of the note followed, that read:
Please do not decorate the well with junk and leave it here long after the holiday. It becomes an eyesore. If you want to leave something keep it natural – no more plastic or faux –it just becomes litter.
“After the above note this Christmas tree will be the last item I insert,” Scheing wrote.
“My husband and I had just come back from Oregon, and I visited the well to lay out my Christmas design, and to find this note really hurt my feelings very badly,” she said. “I wanted to post it on the Landenberg Facebook page because I just thought it was mean, but I also knew that if I posted it, I would lose the anonymity of what I had been doing.”
Scheing anticipated that there would likely be a small dribbling of responses, but instead, they poured in with the velocity of the old well.
“Please don't let one person ruin the joy in seeing your decorations for everyone else. Your displays are so loved,” wrote one submission. “Please do not stop doing this wonderful gesture!!” read another. Hour by hour, they arrived on the page and kept coming – and are still coming, three weeks after Scheing's first post:
“It’s such a special way to pay tribute to your brother. I always look forward to rounding the curve and seeing this little piece of magic tucked away in the rocks. My Daddy used to walk to that spring to fill water jugs as a boy. He’s been gone two years now, and when I’m missing him most, I get in my car and take a drive to that part of Landenberg. Your memorial always brings back memories of his stories of those walks from his childhood. And I thank you for that.”
“I have lived in Landenberg my entire life, and used to stop at the spring with my grandparents. I love that you decorate it. Knowing the meaning behind this now warms my heart even more. Please continue to honor your brother and bring more joy and cuteness to Landenberg.”
“I just couldn't believe people's reactions, and I immediately began to feel that if I really do decide not to do it anymore, that I would let so many people down who wrote that they look forward to what I design at the well,” Scheing said. “The great news has been that if do decide to back out, there have been people who wrote that they would pick up where I left off.”
As of right now, she hasn't decided whether she will continue to design the well. By sharing her story on social media, Scheing surrendered her anonymity
“I especially liked one note a woman sent to me that said that her children believe that fairies are responsible for what they see at the well,” she said. “I keep going back and forth about this, but the people who have responded have been very positive.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email firstname.lastname@example.org.