“The Big One.” The peril of a massive earthquake has been the start of many a work of fiction, but until faced with the danger, no one knows how they will react. This statue in Tacoma, Washington, honors one brave child who rose to the occasion, sacrificing his life to save another, and the long wait to have his story fully told.
On April 13, 1949, just before noon, the ground began to shake across the Puget Sound. A severe earthquake had struck the Pacific Northwest, measuring 7.1 on the Richter scale. In Tacoma, at Lowell Elementary School, a six-year-old boy named Kelcy Allen was in the basement as the danger rose. An 11-year-old named Marvin Klegman, who was acting as a crossing guard, spotted Kelcy and began to escort him to safety. Just as they were leaving the school, a brick cornice collapsed. Marvin shielded Kelcy from the impact, but was killed instantly by falling bricks. Marvin was the only casualty in Tacoma, and one of eight to perish from the earthquake.
Marvin’s death was in the papers, but sadly, the story of the young boy, and even his very existence, faded into history. His grief-stricken parents were reticent even to speak his name, and even his own brother grew up only dimly aware that Marvin had ever lived. His heroic act remained unknown, as Kelcy, wracked with survivor’s guilt, didn’t bring it up throughout his life. In 2001, the Nisqually Earthquake struck, and Kelcy decided to confront his fear and learn more about the boy who saved him.
After learning the boy’s name, Kelcy shared his act of heroism with the Tacoma News Tribune. The article quotes Kelcy as saying, “All my life, I’ve seen myself as a 6-year-old, with this crossing guard. I began to realize that somebody in this life actually died for me, and it was a child.”
Although Marvin’s parents were no longer capable of hearing the true story of their son, a local philanthropist and friend of the Klegman family was struck by the child’s heroic act and began to solicit funds to build a statue at Lowell Elementary School. Larry Anderson, a local sculptor who designed several lifelike and impactful statues across Tacoma, was commissioned to create the work and tell Marvin’s story, and on September 11, 2003, the Marvin Alan Klegman Memorial was unveiled.
The statue depicts Marvin looking up while holding Kelcy’s hand, shielding him from the impact. At the base of the statue, bricks are inlaid haphazardly, to demonstrate the quick decision-making and impact of the quake, alongside an inscription that reads “We honor a hero” and a plaque that tells this story. The statue ensures that Marvin’s story and act of heroism in the face of grave danger will long be remembered in Tacoma and beyond.
Know Before You Go
The We Honor a Hero memorial is located in the rear of Lowell Elementary School on North I Street, near the corner of North 12th Street. It is publicly accessible, and not located on school grounds.