There are countless legends and mysteries woven within Long Island’s rich history. One of the oldest and most enduring concerns Lake Ronkonkoma and the tragedy that befell a Native-American princess. If you grew up in the surrounding area in the 1970s, you are undoubtedly aware of this ominous Lady of the Lake.
The picturesque shores of Lake Ronkonkoma have captivated locals and visitors for centuries. In the early 1900s, it was a popular resort, thanks in no small part to William Vanderbilt, who built his own private road from Manhattan to Lake Ronkonkoma.
The wealthy traveled the treacherous Motor Parkway on the weekends and recuperated at the lake – swimming, fishing and staying at one of the many inns that dotted the shore.
But the history of Lake Ronkonkoma goes back much farther. Around the 1600s, it served as an official border to the territory of three indigenous tribes. Its original name, Raconkamuck, meant “boundary fishing place” in the Algonquin language.
That much is known as fact. The legend, however, begins with a Princess, believed to be of the Setauket tribe … and that’s one of the few aspects to the story that people agree upon. From there, the tragic tale is recounted in dozens of ways.
Some say her name was “Ronkonkoma,” others say it was “Tuscawanta.” Either way, she supposedly fell in love with a white settler, much to her father’s disapproval. He forbid her from seeing the man, but the two lovers continued to meet, according to some legends. Others say that she sent him notes that she floated across the mile-wide lake.
Some legends say that she rowed a boat across the lake to meet her love, but drowned along the way. Others say that he was the one who drowned trying to meet her. As a result, some say, she committed suicide. Regardless, the end result was the same.
A curse was placed on the Lake, one that would claim a young male victim every year. The cause of death is either the Princess yanking them underneath the murky waters, or a mysterious whirlpool that sucks them deep into the abyss.
The legend might have died out long ago, except for the pesky fact that many young males have drowned in Lake Ronkonkoma over the years. Now, the skeptics may point out that people die in practically every lake each year, but this lake does seem to have an inordinate fondness for young male victims, all of whom allegedly resemble the Princess’s lost love.
There have even been a few sightings of ghostly Princess apparitions over the years. She has reportedly been seen raising her arms in the center of the lake at night, and even trying to lure young men with her persuasive powers to their watery graves.
The Princess isn’t the only legend associated with Lake Ronkonkoma. Most kids have heard at one time or another that the Lake is bottomless. Some even say that it leads to the Long Island Sound and that victims who drown in the lake are often found along the ocean shoreline.
None of this is true. The lake does indeed have a bottom. While much of Lake Ronkonkoma is only 10-15 feet deep, however, there are some very deep areas, as much as seventy feet. There are also legends that say that the lake once connected to the north shore, and that it was a favored place for pirates to store their loot.
Those stories are pretty unlikely as well. But the one legend that persists, the Lady of the Lake, does so because, just about every year, Lake Ronkonkoma claims the life of a young male, either while swimming, or occasionally by falling through the ice. And it is doubtful that those stories will subside anytime soon.
Have you taken a swim in Lake Ronkonkoma and lived to tell the tale? Do you have any spooky circumstances you would like to share with everyone? I’d love to hear all of your memories of this infamous body of water in our comments section below.