By JOAN SULLIVAN
Special to The Globe and Mail
Friday, June 22, 2018
Newfoundland's "wonder child" was lost in the snowy woods for 10 nights and 11 days before she was finally found - amazingly, still alive. The 1936 misadventure made international headlines On March 26, 1936, Lucy Maude Harris, aged 10, and her younger sister, Marjorie, 8, went trouting after attending school in their community of New Melbourne, Trinity Bay. They came to a brook runoff that Lucy could jump, but was too wide for Marjorie. Lucy sent her little sister home, and continued on by herself. Then she got disoriented in a sudden heavy fog.
At first, when she wasn't home for supper, her family assumed she had gone to her Aunt Lizzie Wheeler's house. But then they realized she wasn't there either. A door-to-door search began, and then they searched by lantern-light.
But they couldn't find her, and she couldn't make her way home.
In a 1999 article titled Finding Lucy Harris, in Sarscene magazine, Lucy recalled, "When it got dark I started to run. I know I lost my boots and my mitts while I was running and they say they found my belt too." She was going in the wrong direction, on snow-covered ground.
At daybreak the church bells rang and the searchers now included wagonloads of men from nearby outports and the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, who policed the shore at the time from their detachment in Old Perlican. Starting from the point where Marjorie had last seen Lucy, the searchers spread out eight to 12 feet apart, and walked eight kilometres out and back.
But there was no sign of the girl, who had only moved one step from where she'd dropped on her first night. She sat under a tree, by Lance Cove Pond, in her school clothes.
"I don't really remember being scared," she told the article's author, Jennifer Reaney. "I remember singing and I know they printed in the newspapers that I said the birds kept me company." She had no food.
"I could only reach ahead of me with one hand, so I did eat some snow.
"But I couldn't get up."
She later told her daughter, Sharon Pynn, that she could sometimes hear searchers calling, but was too weak to respond.
March turned to April, and searchers began to fear that, at best, they were on a recovery mission. Still, they kept going.
On April 5, "13 men came on a truck, United [Church] men," Steven Pynn, who was 17 when Lucy went missing, told Sarscene. "They came to Mr. Harris. He made them kneel in the road to pray. One of them, he was from Island Cove, said, 'We'll go and get her.' They walked for an hour."
Then, Jack Johnson and Ches Harris, Lucy's uncle, heard a remarkable sound.
"'Hello,' a small voice said. 'I'm the little girl who's lost in the woods.' " She was about four kilometres from where her sister had indicated they first entered the woods.
The men made a stretcher of their sheepskin coats and carried her home. The church bells rang for three hours in celebration.
But Lucy's ordeal was not over. She lost both lower legs to frostbite, and spent 18 months recuperating in St.
John's, as the St. John's-based Evening Telegram raised $3,000 to help her recovery (and concerned citizens staged a musical as a fundraiser).
Her survival made headlines worldwide. At the time, The Lethbridge Herald reported: "Physicians examining ... marvelled at the physical endurance powers of Newfoundland's 'wonder child.' " "I had letters and dolls from England and Australia," Lucy told Sarscene. "People in St. John's would cook dinners and bring them to me. My nurse and doctor were very kind, but it was lonely as I wasn't in a ward with other children."
After leaving the hospital she was homeschooled until Grade 9.
There were no prosthetic limbs available for her at that time; but in her late teens she returned to the old General Hospital on Forest Road in St. John's and was fitted with a pair of artificial legs and learned to walk again. She worked in St. John's at the sanatorium in occupational therapy, and taught sewing - she was deftly "crafty" - and also volunteered, teaching Sunday School and knitting goods for the Newfoundland Outport Nursing and Industrial Association.
Lucy Maude Harris was born Oct. 26, 1925, to Alexander and Amelia Harris. Her father fished and was a boat-builder and the family, like many at that time, grew gardens and kept animals. She was third oldest, with three brothers and three sisters.
She gave birth to a daughter in 1953. Being a single mother when such were rare impeded neither her spirits nor her inventiveness. They lived with Lucy's parents; her brothers and their families lived nearby, and Ms. Pynn remembered lots of engaged, lively times as her mother baked cookies or cleared out the barn for her and her cousins to play in in summer. She and her mother also took regular summer trips by bus to St. John's, by train across the island, and by plane to New Brunswick.
Ms. Harris was a collected, sociable person with no difficulty getting around, until vision problems encroached on her mobility later in life.
"She was a beautiful woman," said Harry Blackmore, founding director of the Search and Rescue Volunteer Association of Canada. "She remembered it all."
Ms. Harris died on May 15, at the age of 92. She leaves two sisters, including Marjorie; her daughter, Sharon; son-in-law, Kevin; grandson, Colin; granddaughter, Megan; great-grandson, Alexander; and great-granddaughters, Isabella and Anastasia.
At a 1999 international search-and-rescue conference in St. John's, her story was told to searchers from around the world.
She was also reunited with her nurse from her long hospitalization, Mrs. McNamara.
Lucy's obituary asked that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the New Melbourne cemetery or search-and-rescue efforts. Eight of her pallbearers were from search-and-rescue organizations, including Mr. Blackmore.
"Her survival is very unusual," he said.
"It was extraordinary."
"I think the best message that comes out of Mom's story," Ms. Pynn told The St.
John's Telegram, "is not to give up hope." To submit an I Remember: firstname.lastname@example.org Send us a memory of someone we have recently profiled on the Obituaries page.
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Lucy Maude Harris lost both lower legs to frostbite after getting lost in the snow for 11 days. She spent 18 months recuperating in St. John's, where the Evening Telegram raised $3,000 to help her recover.
COURTESY OF SHARON PYNN