Well Wishes

UPDATED 07/13/1998 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 07/13/1998 at 01:00 AM EDT

Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water.

In the tiny English village of Kilmersdon, the schoolchildren still reenact a centuries-old game. "As we get to the well," explains 10-year-old Henry Balkwill, "we pretend we've got buckets."

Jack fell down and broke his crown and Jill came tumbling after.

"Then," says Henry, "we roll until we get to the bottom. Then we say, 'Ow! My head hurts!' Then we pretend that Jack dies."

A long time ago, perhaps in the 15th century, according to local historian Chris Howell, a youth named Jack did die of a broken crown in Kilmersdon, and a girl named Jill died of a broken heart after giving birth to their son. Their names, immortalized in the Mother Goose nursery rhyme, lived on. Seeking to gain recognition, the town, about 200 miles west of London, has formed a Jack and Jill committee to raise close to $50,000 to renovate the hill and the disused well and install signs claiming Kilmersdon as the home of the ill-fated couple.

"We hav?n't finalized how the well will actually look," says committee head Sue Meadows, "but possibly it will be on a grassy mound with a small path going to it."

The story of Jack and Jill has been part of the local folklore for centuries. Howell found another piece of convincing evidence—32 phone listings of the surname Gilson within a four-mile radius. He believes they are descendants of Jill's son, who was raised by the community after Jill's death.

Sometimes even a sad story can have a happy ending.

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