Lake Ronkonkoma is Long Island’s biggest and deepest lake. Situated in Suffolk County, New York, and with a circumference of around 2 miles (3.2 km), Lake Ronkonkoma is Long Island’s largest freshwater lake, and has a long, strange history in the region.
The area was once the marker of the boundary between four of the thirteen Native tribes of Long Island: the Nissequogues, Setaukets, Secatogues and Unkechaugs, and all of which had their fair share of legends about the lake.
These waters were considered to be sacred and full of spirits both benign and malevolent, and the lake was steeped in a variety of spooky legends concerning these spirits.
Indeed, it was these spirits that were blamed for regularly dragging people under to their dooms and which caused many of the local tribes to fear the lake.
For some time, Indians thought the lake was bottomless because people who had drowned there would often just disappear, their bodies never recovered. However, even though this myth persists, the lake is certainly not bottomless; it measures about 70 feet at its deepest point.
One of the most notorious legends of the Natives of the area is that of the mysterious “Lady of the Lake” also known as Princess Ronkonkoma, an Indian princess who died at the lake in the mid-1600s.
One version of the story is that she was walking across the ice one winter when she met and fell in love with an English woodcutter named Hugh Birdsall, who lived across the lake. However, her father—chief of the Setauket tribe—forbade their relationship.
So every day for 7 years, she would write letters on pieces of bark, row to the middle of the lake, and float the letters across the lake to Hugh. Then, after all those years of being kept apart from her love, she rowed to the middle of the lake and stabbed herself to death.
There are several variations of the legend, most of which lead to the woman intentionally drowning herself. It is said that at least once a year, a virile and attractive male between the ages of 18 and 38 is “taken” by the lady to be her lover.
Mysteriously, there is truth to the claims that at least one male within that age range drowns in the lake at regular intervals, but drownings are common in any lake that is open to the public. It is perhaps the accuracy that it is typically a male within that age range that makes the story more mysterious.
Lake Ronkonkoma historian Dale Spencer says that from 1893 until today, 166 men have died on the lake.
The tales also speak of a bottomless lake that swallows its victims and deposits them into the Long Island Sound. Professional diver Bill Pfeiffer has mapped the entire bottom of the lake, and says that it does have a bottom. At one point its floor is more than 60 feet deep. Pfeiffer says that the lake doesn’t empty out into the Long Island Sound.
As for the Lady of the Lake, Pfeiffer says that a few years ago, he was diving with a female marine biologist, who swears she descended into the black hole, saw a bright blue light and was embraced by long black hair for 20 to 30 seconds, before she was let go.
Despite the stories, Spencer says there is no verifiable evidence to suggest that the princess existed.
For all intents and purposes, the Lady of the Lake is not malicious. Her claiming of men is out of love and need, for she does not understand that she is also condemning these individuals to death.
Her loneliness overwhelms her and she reaches out to these men in desperation. Some men, likely in the mood to cause a stir, claim that when they swim beyond the boundaries of the designated swim area (marked typically by buoyed rope), they feel “cold fingers” touch and try to grasp at their ankles.
There is a mural dedicated to the Lady of the Lake on the side of the strip mall on Rosevale Avenue, painted and updated regularly by a local artist, Michael Murphy.
Sources: unmyst3.com, en.wikipedia.org, mysteriousuniverse.org, patch.com, longisland.news12.com