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.
It was the best place to take ur GF at nite..
Moved to the area in 1958..In the early 60’s school kids from Sachem and St. Joseph would swim at Raynors beach and Suffolk Beach. Yerks beach on the west side was for Smithtown residents.
I grew up in lake ronkonkoma the version I heard was that her lover was from a nearby tribe also heard that there was a whirlpool in middle of lake and lake was a thousand feet deep.
I remember the barvarian inn on the lake.
Anyone remember ‘The Duke and the Dutchess’? They ‘took’ me and my brother one day on a forced march/bike hike and showed us Nazi uniforms, guns and helmets in garbage cans hidden is a shallow ‘bunker’ covered with plywood and dirt…at least 50 years ago.
I grew up going to that lake in the 70s. My dad used to take me iceboating and I learned to ice skate there. However most surprisingly I never heard of the story. Very interesting. I guess my parents didn’t want to scare me.
Grew up on Lincoln rd in the 60’s, I sure miss the lake, a lot of good memories, my buss stop was right on the lake, is there really a movie out? If so I want to get it!
If anyone is interested I have written a book for Arcadia Publishing titled Lake Ronkonkoma. I wrote a chapter that focused on the beaches and pavilions from the 1920’s into the 1960’s. I’m trying to obtain more photo’s of the lake during the 1960’s-1980’s. Possibly for a second book. If anyone has info or pictures from that period please contact me through e-mail Sardonic7276@aol.com
Back in the 80’s, my friend Jean and I had a pet buffalo in Ronkonkoma.
We kept him on Hawkins Road across from the pancake cottage. (There’s a nursery there now.)
The story attracted news shows and papers all over the country. (We were always interviewed for some media, even CNN and FOX!)
We even wrote a book about it and distributed it to school children who came to see the buffalo on class trips.
I remember your buffalo. My friends and I would always pass your house while walking to town. I remember when you put up guard rails. Rumor had it she got out and the town forced you to put it up but that came from hearsay. One of my fond memories of growing up in Ronkonkoma
The “event’ you are thinking about occurred after someone made a false claim to Newsday that the buffalo got out of his pen and roamed about the town. Newsday printed the hearsay and it created quiet a stir.
The guardrail was installed because the company that sold Jean the fence lied and said it was commercial strength.
Ironically the three fences surrounding the property (a stockade then a row of shrubs, then a 6′ cyclone and then another row of shrubs, (and finally the guardrail) was to prevent PEOPLE from breaking in!
The guardrail was painted white and scanned by cameras with sensors to detect intruders.
The town had no regulations over pet buffalos. Eventually they created one but Nicky was “grandfathered” in.
What always amazed me is how famous Nicky became (all over the country) yet the Lake Ronkonkoma Historical Society (just across the street from where the buffalo resided) never had any interest in it.
It is such an unusual story that occurred in Lake Ronkonkoma. It involved well known politicians, members of the mafia, a resentful petting zoo, class trips and even a children’s book.
Another interesting fact about Ronkonkoma is a well known artist was born and lived his entire life there.
Thanks for all that info about the buffalo. I remember seeing him. I even fed him an apple.
I recall the artist in Lake Ronkonkoma. Back in the 70’s I was driving on a side street and saw him painting a piece of his art in the road. I slowed down to look and we struck up a conversation.
He had 25 dogs and several Rolls Royces. I seem to remember he had a gallery in NYC and East Hampton.
Do you know anything else about him?
His name was Bruce Friedle.
He originated the sunburst design or the 60’s and 70’s.
He also created whimsical comic like sculptures.
He was know all over the world and quietly resided in lil ol Ronkonkoma.
Very interesting. Thanks for sharing.
You are welcome!
I was a close friend to Bruce Friedle for 40 years.
(Google him and find all the famous people who collected his art.)
Bruce, Jean Covone (the buffalo gal) and i were great friends. (Scroll down to read posts of Jean and her pet buffalo…) Around the corner from Bruce’s home was the home of Norman Brokenshire, the first radio announcer. He also had a television show filmed at his home on Brown’s road.
Along Schoolhouse Rd near the apartments is a pond. It was part of the Metzner Summer Estate. There used to be a track that ran in that pond with a “bubble” car that submerged into the water so one could view the fish. (Many people don’t know there are crayfish in the ponds throughout Ronkonkoma.)
The Mettzner Winter Estate was located in Lake Grove Where Crunch Fitness is today. (I don’t know why.)
Hi there! I have been trying to figure out what ever happened to your pet Buffalo. I remember her from when I was little, in the 80’s.
Nicky, the pet buffalo retired to Rhode island where he lived out the rest of his years far away from his notoriety and fame in Lake Ronkonkoma.
Did you get to pet him or feed him apples?
Did you get to watch him do tricks?
Wow I had no idea that you responded to my comment last year! I did get to feed him apples but never saw him do any tricks. I am happy to know that he lived out his days in Rhode Island. Maybe he got to enjoy a bit more space.
Hi! Wondering if you have any photos of your Buffalo. Can you tell us how he ended up in Ronkonkoma?
I have some photos and one day I’ll post them.
Jean Covone was a very unique person. She was continuously creating things and trying to make her corner of the world a better place for all who occupied it.
Here’s how the buffalo ended up in downtown Lake Ronkonkoma;
Jean heard of a petting zoo that was closing way out east. She called the zoo and the zookeeper told her he was getting rid of all the animals. She went to see them. The first animal she saw was a llama. It spat on her so she moved on. Then she saw a baby buffalo and she fell in love. She bought it and had acorral built on her property at the corner of Hawkins Avenue and Lakewood Road. Soon Nicky was brought to his new home. At first he did not acclimate well. Jean parked her ’59 Cadillac against one set of gates and I parked my ’65 Lincoln against the other so he would not get out. (He never did.) We slept with him, in his pen the first week and Jean sung him lullabies.
The whole ordeal was endless. The media never ceased to do stories on him. He was known all over the world. Schools had class trips to see Nicky. He performed tricks. We created a book and gave out 1000 copies.
I was very fortunate to be a close friend to Jean for 16 years until she died. The stories that occurred at 22 Lakewood Rd were surreal.
(The house was originally a church on Hawkins. It was purchased by Jean and moved to the current location.)Jean was one of those colorful people that lived an outlandish life in the lil ‘ol town of Lake Ronkonkoma.
I need some information ,the lake will be open today? Sunday July 31
I did not grow up in Ronkonkoma ,we grew up in Kew Gardens Queens, but my family snd 3 other famlies would drive out at 5:30 in the morning to spend the entire day and early evening . We came prepared to hsve all 3 meal together and msny hours of swimming. We had to go get our hsnd stsmped yo get to seim. There was a big tall slide in the water and we loved going down into the water. We spend many good times out there, especially because i was one of 6 and my parents were poor. In todays language this was our vacation. We still sit and reminise of those good old days. It sounded so far away when driving out there. Who ever thought we eould live on long island? I actually have a son, daughter in law and 2 grandsons who live in Ronkonkoma along with a number of friends.
I did not grow up in Ronkonkoma ,we grew up in Kew Gardens Queens, but my family snd 3 other famlies would drive out at 5:30 in the morning to spend the entire day and early evening . We came prepared to have all 3 meal together and many hours of swimming. We had to go get our hand stamped to get to swim. There was a big tall slide in the water and we loved going down into the water. We spend many good times out there, especially because i was one of 6 and my parents were poor. In todays language this was our vacation. We still sit and reminise of those good old days. It sounded so far away when driving out there. Who ever thought we would live on long island? I actually have a son, daughter in law and 2 grandsons who live in Ronkonkoma along with a number of friends.
I was living in hauppauge my in the 1960’s at the time I was in kindergarten and was playing with my friend Dorothy her mom called her home we were playing c outside in the yard her family left for the lake that day her and her siblings drowned t like ronkonka I have thought over them over the years I remember it was in the news day but I cannot locate the article but still remember that day so very long ago how we were having fun and then I never saw her again
So girls do drown in the lake! And I am very sorry about your losses
I was living in hauppauge my in the 1960’s at the time I was in kindergarten and was playing with my friend Dorothy her mom called her home we were playing c outside in the yard her family left for the lake that day her and her siblings drowned t like ronkonka I have thought over them over the years I remember it was in the news day but I cannot locate the article but still remember that day so very long ago how we were having fun and then I never saw her again does anyone remember the article in the paper
My grandfather owned a piece of property at lake ronkonkoma! It was located next to a small book store and across the street from a senior center living facility. His section of property was fenced in with fencing going down to the water with weeping willows lining both sides. As a kid in the 70s the beach seemed huge to me. As the 80s approached the water level had risen and the water was up to the concrete retaining wall that we had previously used to put our belongings on. In the corner of the beach my grandfather built a small cabana to change in or use for a bathroom. The upper portion that was off from the road was fenced in and had a barbecue and picnic table. He had a huge painted sign saying “Keep out by order of P.D.”. That was to gibe the illusion of police department, but it was my grandfathers initials. The town kept after him trying to buy the land. By the early 80s they got their way and he reluctantly sold it to the town, but was allowed to still use the beach. As the years went by I watched the property fall apart and be unkempt. They tore out the fencing and opened it up.
I forgot to post this in my previous post. One time in the late 70s early 80s there was a young couple in a boat that came to our beach front and we invited them to our barbeque. Later when they left, we heard sirens coming from the left of our beach front. Turned out that the man had dropped his wallet in the water and drowned and the woman was with police telling what happened.
Another memory of the the lake is when my father and uncles got old car tires and tied them up to make a fishing wreath. I was little at the time and it seemed like they were so fat out in the water where they dropped the tires. As the years went by we would fish there where the wreath was. As I got older I always tried to find those tires and it seemed scary deep to me.
I lived on Ronkonkoma Avenue when younger. I saw while cutting across the frozen lake back in the sixties a 12 year old male being dragged up on shore. With grappling hooks after falling through the ice. I also was there when a Vietnam Vet jumped off a raft and hit his head on the sandy shallow bottom. He had a metal plate in his head from Nam and died from the impact. He was in his twenties. I used the lake on a regular basis and my dad was a life guard there. Just drownings to report but no spirits. I new Tony Petilllo and played football with him. If he saw the princess on the lake when life guarding in 1975 then he did. He was a very accomplished and credible individual. Al Marcantonio 7.6.20
My Great Grandmother had a summer house until the mid 60s close enough to Lake Ronkonkama that you could see the lake from the driveway . I am trying to find her old house(if it is still there). My Great Grandmas Name was Elise Von Rast and the family that lived in a small house next door had the family name Rankin. The kids who lived there were brothers named Keith and Scotty and would be in their mid 60s @ this time. The house was white with green shutters and had an attached one car garage. There was a really cool attic that had dormer windows and a finished room with a built in marine band radio under one of the windows that faced the lake. My brother and I would sleep up there. Please contact me if you recognize this house. It sat across from a road that teed to the road that headed straight to the lake.
Hi Michael – I reside in Lake Ronkonkoma & familiar with the areas around the lake. Several roads on the west & south sides of the lake do head straight to the lake from Rosevale Ave. North & South Dr head to the west side of the lake from Washington Ave ( T ) I don’t mind driving around there when out & about to look for the home. Maybe you can recall the street your great grandmother had the summer home? I found a real estate ad dated December 1940 – Von Rast E purchasing Lots 254 Lake Hills Lake Ronkonkoma for $2500, probably the summer home. I’m a bit of a history detective, have a old newspaper online source.
Grew up in lake ronkonkoma, miss it. Record stop, agnew&taylor,H&H bakery, the post office in the corner, so upset about newtons garage, the handball courts, hubba hubba, carvel, tom’s stationary,yarlows,slater drugs, the old shoe repair shop, I drive down hawkins now and than and feel the memories come back. And I make it a point every year to go to the memorail day parade. Glad to see we all miss the old town.
I have seen the princess ghost-took a pic &the we had a tornado the next day. You can see the tree online that fell on the 7/11.
My family lived in Brooklyn but every summer we went out to Lake Ronkonkoma to Yerk’s Beach where we rented a bungalow. I remember the pavilion and hanging out there during the day. There was a giant waterslide. And the pavilion had a jukebox. At night, The beach was closed and they were dozens of frogs on the sand. One day, in 1965, when I was only 7, I saw a young boy being pulled out of the water by group of men and stretched out on the sand. Ha had drowned in the lake and a group of beachgoers gathered around. Nothing could be done for him. It was too late. My mother pulled me away so I would not have to see it but it was too late. That poor boy was the first dead person I have ever seen and I still remember it. I didn’t know anything about the lady of the lake until more than 20 years later. My whole family went up moving out to Lake Ronkonkoma a bit later. Aside from the poor drowned boy, I had many happy memories at the lake.