I never cease to be amazed at the ability of human beings to triumph in the face of adversity. Orison Swett Marden expressed it this way: “Success is not measured by what you accomplish, but by the opposition you have encountered, and the courage with which you have maintained the struggle against overwhelming odds.”
Nowhere is this truer than in the case of a 10-year-old girl from New Melbourne who, in 1936, was lost in dense woods for 10 days. She was found after surviving in the snow and wind, without food or water, except for snow.
Her indomitable will helped her to come through the ordeal. On March 26, a cold and foggy Thursday, Lucy Harris and her eightyear-old sister, Margie, decided to go trouting on their way home from school. En route to the brook, they came to a small runoff, which Lucy had no trouble crossing. Margie couldn’t make it, so Lucy encouraged her to go on home.
When the supper table was set, the family realized Lucy was missing. They figured — wrongly, as it turned out — she had gone to visit her aunt. Eventually, a heartrending message was circulated in the community: Lucy Harris is missing.
In 1999, Lucy told a writer, Jennifer Reaney, “ When it got dark, I started to run.” Lucy recalled losing her boots and mitts. Instead of heading out of the woods, she was actually going deeper into the woods. Then the temperature dropped. The efforts of search teams were hampered by the pea-soup fog.
The next morning, the community turned out in large numbers to search for Lucy. To compound matters, weather conditions deteriorated, with rain and snow accompanied by strong winds. By nightfall, a sense of dread pervaded New Melbourne.
The search by people from near and far continued day after day after day. Some searchers walked the eight kilometres to and back from the brook daily. Understandably, hope began to wane by the eighth and ninth days.
The local Pentecostal pastor, E. Raymond Pelley (1907-76), wrote in his autobiography that he “went to Lucy’s home and discussed having a memorial service for her on the following Sunday night. However, we dismissed that idea and, instead, decided to write a note to the leader of each church in the area, requesting special prayer on Sunday and an intense search on Monday with the hope of locating Lucy’s body.”
Some residents of Irish descent suspected the fairies had taken the young girl. To the contrary, young Lucy was alive, but immobile, unable to move beyond where she had sat down the first night. Her frostbitten legs prevented her from walking. She wasn’t scared, she later admitted, because the singing birds kept her company.
With the passing of March and the start of a new month, the searchers wondered how Lucy could possibly still be alive. Still, they faithfully combed the woods. There eventually came a red-letter day when, 122 metres from the pond, two of the men heard a faint voice, “Hello. I’m the little girl who’s lost in the woods.”
Lucy had survived a total of 10 days and 11 nights.
The men, some of whom were from Lower Island Cove, created a stretcher from their sheepskin coats and carried Lucy out of the woods. Church bells tolled for almost three hours, not with the dirge of death, but with the sound of salvation: The lost has been found. The joyful news quickly spread through New Melbourne and nearby communities.
On her way home, Lucy talked, but not about herself; instead, she asked about her ailing grandmother.
Dr. Short, who arrived from Heart’s Content, ordered that she be given pineapple juice. She was then transferred to the Old Perlican hospital. She was fed some broth.
Pastor Pelley wrote: “it was a miracle that a little girl had spent 11 nights and 10 days lost in the woods and was now at home alive and conscious.”
Lucy was transferred to the General Hospital in St. John’s, where she remained for over a year and received medical treatment. The story of her incredible story spread around the globe. She received letters and dolls from England and Australia. People in the capital city cooked meals and brought them to her at the hospital. In time, her legs had to be amputated below the knee due to frostbite.
In 1999, Lucy was reunited with the nurse, Mrs. MacNamara, who had cared for her 63 years before.
Lucy’s daughter, Sharon Pynn, told the writer, Jennifer Reaney, “I think the best message that comes out of Mom’s story is not to give up hope.”