The newspapers reported with great sadness the death of Lucinda Day in 1897. She was born in 1810 and descended from one of the early pioneer families in West Springfield, Mass. The papers noted that for the first time in 70 years there was no light in the window of the Day homestead.
The extinguished lamp marked the final passing of Lucinda’s lifelong love of a mysterious sailor who had taken control of her heart some 70 years before and never let it go.
The story was a rich mix of romance, pathos and history that was too good to pass up. Newspapers around the world reported it with headlines such as Woman’s Touching Love, Beacon of Love Shone Nightly for 70 Years, and Her Light is Out.
Day, her obituary noted, had spent several years in New Haven, where she received schooling and briefly started her own school. Otherwise, she spent her life at the Day Homestead, built by her great-grandfather Josiah Day.
The homestead itself was a fascinating element to the story. The house, the reporters said, had been built in 1754 and included an underground escape route to the nearby river to flee Indian raids. The house also played unwelcome host to the soldiers who sacked the place during Shay’s Rebellion.
Handed down to Lucinda, whose siblings married and moved away, she kept a lonely vigil in the home awaiting her sailor’s return. The legend went that she parted from the sailor, but promised to always leave the light in the window so he could see clearly to return to the house if he arrived after dark.
The story tugged at the hearts of readers. One questioned whether it was the inspiration for a well-known hymn that included the lyric: “There’s a light in the window for thee, brother!”
The poet Elizabeth Alden Curtis composed the poem Lucinda’s Light inspired by the story, though she takes the liberty of converting West Springfield into a seaport for the backdrop. In her telling of the event, the sailor’s ship is wrecked in a storm and the sailor drowns.
Disgorging all he pallid, hapless crew,
Into the boiling whirlpool of the deep
One, with the lithe, clean sinews of his youth,
Made superhuman effort for his life
Battling and praying with the merciless wave
Clung to the futile plank that bore him still,
And felt his great heart bursting with the thought
Of home and peace, and raved to think of one
Who set a nightly beacon for her love.
Lucinda, back home, refused to believe the news that her sailor’s ship had sunk. She continued placing the light in the window each night for her whole life.
And careless children on their way to school
Would sometimes bid each other look, and say
“Tis here lives poor Lucinda. There she sets
A light at evening for her lover’s ship
That father says was lost, O years ago.”
But sea-worn, weary mariners that made
The home-port in the dark, would often hail
That faithful candle, lighted for his sake
Who never claimed the welcome it had spoke
In seventy years’ supreme fidelity
Sad as the story was, the denouement was even more disappointing. One of Lucinda’s relatives made it his mission to inform the world that it wasn’t true. A typical letter he wrote to the newspapers said, “Miss Day never had a sailor lover; she never kept a light in the window for him; the light did not go out the night that she died, etc.
“The story was pure fabrication by some unconscionable reporter in Springfield, and has been sent of the whole world. I have myself received a copy for an editorial, a column and a quarter long, in an English newspaper, based upon it.
“The simple fact of the matter is that the light in the sitting room of the old Day homestead at West Springfield was placed on the table, and ordinarily the shade in the window was kept down in the evening. A few years ago the Village Improvement Society raised the grade of the road in front of the house, which necessitated a couple of steps down into the yard. As there was no system of street-lighting, it made it a little dangerous for people to come to the house in the evening, and Miss Lucinda Day, in her desire that no harm might befall any of her callers, raised the shade of the window. That is absolutely all the foundation for this story.”
Of course, there were always those who preferred the more romantic version of events, and they kept the story alive for years to come.