The Legend of Lake Ronkonkoma
Lake Ronkonkoma, NY
By Thelma Ankney
Long Island has many urban legends that have the Native American theme behind it and the legend of Lake Ronkonkoma is one of those. It is said that several tribes inhabited the area such as Nissequogues, Setaukets, Secatogues and Unkechaugs. The lake is the largest fresh water lake on Long Island and was originally called Raconkamuck, which, in Algonquin means "the boundary fishing place". After many drownings where the bodies were never found, the natives believed the lake was bottomless.
The legend of Lake Ronkonkoma is called the Lady of the Lake. There are several versions of this story but they all involved a heartbroken Indian princess who drowned in the lake and whose body was never recovered. One says that in the 1600’s the daughter of the Chief of the Setauket tribe fell in love with an Englishman, Hugh Birdsall, that lived across the lake. For 7 years the two saw each other in secret and wanted to be married. When her father found out about their relationship, her forbade the affair to continue so she would row out to the lake and send him love letters every day. She was so heartbroken that she would never be allowed to be with her love that she stabbed herself in the canoe on the lake and it washed up on the shore where Hugh found her. Although there is no historical proof that the princess ever existed, the man she was said to have loved did exist.
One of the less popular or known versions of the story is that she fell in love with the son of the Chief of an enemy tribe but when she found out that his heart was untrue, she killed herself. The other is that when her father found out about the love interest , he had her lover killed and, upon learning the news, she took her own life.
The legend says that the princess takes her revenge every year by claiming male victims by drowning them and dragging them to the bottom of the lake. In the last two hundred years, there have been many male drowning victims in the lake, which the locals blame on the Lady of the Lake. Because of all these tragic, unexplained drowning, the popularity of the lake has significantly decreased.
Could there really be a vengeful spirit of a heartbroken princess cursing the lake? Or are the drownings caused by the said tunnels and whirlpool rumored to be at the deep parts of the lake? Whatever the truth may be, it’s hard to ignore all the tragic drownings.