I am a former Vietnam-era AF air navigator with degrees in History and Economics. Areas of interest include aviation and military history.
A Candle is Placed in the Front Window Awaiting a Soldier Son's Return
As Veterans Day and Memorial Day, the two days we honor those who left their homes to fight to defend our nation and freedoms against foreign foes, we pause to remember those who died defending us.
On a tree lined street in Canandaigua, New York is a stately home from which, according to local tradition, a son left to fight in World War I. As he departed his mother lit a candle in the front window to welcome him on his return.
The son never returned and, to this day, the glowing candle has continued its silent vigil awaiting the return of that long ago soldier.
Canandaigua Home with Candle Still Glowing in the Window
Candle as a Welcoming Beacon
From earliest times to the present home has always been more than a simple shelter from the elements. Home also represents family and loved ones as well as a place where its members are always welcome. What could be more welcoming to a weary traveler on a dark night than a light glowing in a window? Like a beacon, the light guides the traveler through the inky darkness toward the warmth and safety of the home.
Even when the destination is well known to the traveler and the light not needed as a guide, we still find ourselves leaving a light on before retiring as a welcoming beacon for the teenage child out with the car or a spouse working late. While it serves no purpose as a navigation beacon, the light, shining in the otherwise darkened home, greets the late arrival and conveys, for the now sleeping parent or spouse, their love for the traveler and joy that they have arrived safely.
In times past, when communication with loved ones who were away on a long trip was slow to non-existent, a candle left burning in the window became a symbol to the traveler that the loved ones at home eagerly awaited the return of the traveling member. When the trip involved going off to war, a mother or wife would often place a lighted candle in the front window and, as she kissed her son or husband good-by, would point to the candle and remind him that she would keep it lit awaiting his return.
A Young Man Goes Off to War
While not a common custom anymore, there is still one home that I know of where a candle glows in the front window waiting to welcome the return of a soldier gone off to war.
Oh, it's not the current war in Iraq or Afghanistan or the one before this one or even the one before that one. No, some nine decades ago a mother lit a candle in the window and kissed her son good-by.
At that time, in the small rural city known as Canandaigua, nestled in the rolling hills of central New York state where they lived, this was not uncommon and there were probably many candles burning in front windows in Canandaigua and other cities and towns throughout North America as sons headed off to Europe to fight in what became known to Americans as World War I and as the Great War to others.
Like many young men who went off to fight that war, this young man never returned. But while the candles burning for others who never returned were eventually extinguished, this one continued to burn and to to his day the candle, now an electric one, continues to shine 24/7 in the front window of the home on the corner of Fort Hill and N. Main Streets in Canandaigua, New York.
Today's electric candle still glows in the same window where the original candle was placed by the soldier's mother some nine decades ago. While the mother who placed the candle there has passed on and the home has apparently been sold one or more times, the candle continues to glow.
House Located at Corner of Main St. and Ft. Hill Drive in Canandaigua, NY
When I was a child my great-aunt and uncle, who was a veteran of World War I himself, had a cottage on Canandaigua Lake which we frequently visited on weekends in the summer. The trip between our home in nearby Rochester to the cottage always took us through the city of Canandaigua.
On our return in the evening it was usually dark and my siblings and I would always look for the house with the candle in the window. It was usually easy to spot the glowing candle, which even then was electric, as we drove past on the dimly lit street.
My aunt and uncle had told us the story of the mother vowing to keep the candle lit until her son returned and had kept that vow. My Mother remembered the candle and the story from her childhood trips to the lake cottage. The local historian/author Arch Merrill also mentioned the home in one or more of his area histories but I don't recall him revealing much more than I have revealed here.
Over the years, the story has stayed with me both as a shining example of love as well as a desire to learn more about this family.
On a trip east a year ago I decided to try to find the house and take a picture of it even though the candle was probably long gone. Since it had always been dark when we looked for the candle all I remembered was that the home was on the east side of Main Street in the city.
Canandaigua NY Home with Candle Still Glowing in Window in Memory of a Son Lost Decades Ago
Stopping at a tourist information center on Main Street I asked about the home. The clerk at the counter didn't know what I was talking about, but another woman did recall the story and told me that it was in the vicinity of Ft. Hill Ave. and that she thought that successive owners had kept the candle in the window.
Driving up to Ft. Hill Ave. I discovered that the house sat right on the corner of Ft. Hill and N. Main St. and, yes, the candle still glowed in the window to the right of the front door.
Unlike the more common bungalow type homes that dominate North Main St. as it leads out of the city, this home is a stately mansion set amongst other similar elegant old homes in that small area of the city. The candle still glowed in the window, but that lit candle was the only indication that the history of this structure was different.
The house is obviously still a private home with no sign or other marker noting its connection to that long ago soldier.
Seeking more information, I visited the Wood Library a few blocks away but neither the young librarian I spoke with nor the catalog yielded any information about the home or its past. Repeated Google searches indicate that this story has not reached the Internet or, if it has, it doesn't contain any of the keywords I have tried.
So I am still left with questions and speculations. Looking at the home, it is obvious that this young soldier came from a well to do local family.
Was he drafted in to the Army by the then newly created Selective Service System or did he enlist? My guess is, given the times and his class, that he volunteered as the pending war was a popular cause especially among the educated and upper class youth. The young men of this era eagerly stepped forward to join the military while their female counterparts went overseas with organizations like the Red Cross and YMCA where they served supporting roles at the front.
More than likely, his education and social position probably resulted in his becoming an officer. Patriotism was probably one of his major motivations for joining. But there were probably other forces as well such as the desire to be a part of what promised to be the defining moment for his generation as well as dreams of glory on the battlefield and the prospect of admiring young women being be drawn to a dashing hero in uniform.
Whatever this soldier's position and motivations were, we know from the still glowing candle that he did not survive the war.
However, questions remain. Was he returned to Canandaigua in a coffin or does he occupy one of the thousands of graves in one of the many American military cemeteries in Europe? Sad as this would be, a marked and known grave somewhere in the world would have at least brought closure to his family and a reason to extinguish the candle.
More than likely, the candle still glows because he was among the missing. There were thousands of young men who went off to war and never returned fit, wounded or dead. Many of these men lie in American military cemeteries, in the U.S. or Europe, with markers bearing the name Unknown but to God. Worse still, he may be lying in an unmarked and forgotten grave somewhere in Europe.
Society immortalizes and remembers some of its war heroes in story, song and/or physical monuments.
In the poet Homer's poem The Iliad some of the great heroes of the Trojan War - Achilles, Hector, etc. have been preserved for us. Similarly the Revolutionary War hero Paul Revere was immortalized in the poet Longfellow's poem The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.
In Canandaigua, New York a soldier who never returned from World War I continues to be remembered thanks to the continuing glow of a candle first placed in a window by his mother almost a century ago.
Further Research Reveals a Surprising Twist
This article is based on stories I heard from my parents who grew up in Western New York state and from my great aunt and uncle who had had a summer cottage along Canandaigua since the 1930s.
The story of the candle still burning in memory of a missing World War I soldier also appeared in occasional newspaper articles and books, such as Land of the Senecas by the respected local historian and journalist, Arch Merrill (1894-1974).
One thing that always intrigued me was the fact that the name of the soldier was never mentioned even in the published accounts of the story. It should have been easy to find the soldier's given that he grew up in an elegant mansion in a small city. He was obviously the son of one of the city's leading families yet in all of the accounts about the son for whom the candle still glows all we know about this nameless individual is that he was a soldier (or aviator in some cases) who went off to fight in World War I and never returned.
Recently, after searching for years, I came across the name of the young man whose Mother placed the candle in the window to await his safe return.
While the young man for whom the candle glows, was just a child at the time of World War I, he did have two older step-brothers who served in that war - one as a soldier and one as a naval aviator. He also had a younger brother who served as a soldier in World War II.
Click here for the interesting and tragic story of Jack Garlock, the 22 year old budding aviator whose fiery death in a 1927 bi-plane crash is the reason his mother left the candle, which she had placed in the window a couple of days earlier for his safe return, remains glowing in that window today.
© 2007 Chuck Nugent
Chuck Nugent (author) from Tucson, Arizona on January 18, 2020:
Christian - Thank you for visiting my HubPage and for your comment. In answer to your question I can only speculate on the reasons for having a candle in the windows of the houses you speak of. In researching this article I did verify that it has been a custom in many places to put a candle in to "help a relative or friend find their way back home" This obviously originated in eras prior to the invention of outdoor electric lighting, door bells and telephones. In most cases even in times past it was probably more of a prayer or symbol wishing the traveler safe return home. This would be especially true when a family member went off to war. In the article you commented on the story explaining the candle in the window of the home in Canandaigua that the locals told, including published local histories, when I was growing up was that the candle had been placed in the window by parents of a son who went off to war in World War I. The parents promised to keep a candle lit in the window until the son's safe return. When he didn't return the lighted candle remained in the window. However, none of the stories mentioned the family's name or what exactly happened to the son. This was the story I related in this Hub which I wrote in 2007. After publishing the Hub I continued to periodically search for the name of the soldier. It wasn't until 2013 that I ran across 2 articles on the web reporting that a search of records at the Ontario County Historical Society that reported that the candle had been placed in the window in 1927 by the mother of Jack Garlock who in 1927 took a train to Illinois to pick up an airplane he had purchased from the factory that produced it. Unfortunately, an accident while taking off resulted in the plane crashing with the 22 year old Jack dying in the fire that followed. His mother kept the candle burning in the window until she sold the home in 1959. The new owner and those who followed elected to keep the tradition alive with an electric candle still glowing in the window. So, the motivations of the people you refer to who have candles in their windows probably vary from honoring the deceased loved one to those who simply feel the candle adds to the beauty of the house.
christian on January 09, 2020:
In a city of VA there are many houses with candles in the window and I did not know the meaning.
Today, passing through the historic center, I realized that there are many more houses with the candle in the window and I wondered, is it because of the war that more soldiers are leaving home and their families put the candles in the window?
Chuck Nugent (author) from Tucson, Arizona on November 13, 2018:
R Talloni - I'm glad you enjoyed this Hub. The story about a soldier leaving home and losing his life on the battle fields of World War I was always a good one. However, it always intrigued me that no one, including professional historians and journalists like the late Arch Merrill were never able to find the name to the lost soldier. Canandaigua is a small city and name and story behind candle remained filed away in the collection of the small local historical society. The Internet has been a great tool for bringing old local records and historical articles to the world. I remember reading the book "High Towers" by the late Canadian historian and novelist Thomas B. Costain. The book is a historical novel about the Le Moyne family in French Colonial Canada. I first heard about Pierre Le Moyne Sieur d'Iberville while listening to a Toronto radio station when I was a teenager. A year or two later (before the Internet) I saw the "High Towers" book at the library and read it. In the Afterward in that 1949 book Costain told how he had to do extensive searches in archives in Canada and Europe and still could not find much information about Pierre and his younger brother, Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne Sieur de Bienville who was the founder of the city of New Orleans. Then, about 7 or 8 years ago I was doing some random searches and decided to do a Google search on Pierre Le Moyne Sieur d'Iberville and it came back with considerable information from local Alabama and Mississippi historical society collections and public records that had recently been digitized (Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana were part of the French "New France" colonial territory that included Canada and the land that eventually became the Louisiana Purchase). Pierre and his brothers were responsible for exploring and establishing settlements along what is now the U.S. Gulf Coast many records of their activities were recorded and eventually ended up in the files of historical societies and libraries in these states just as the Garlock family records ended up in the files of the Canandaigua Historical Society. Once I had Jack Garlock's name I was able to search through copies of old area newspapers that have been digitized and published on the Internet in recent years to put together the story about the man for whom the candle in the window still glows.
RTalloni on November 10, 2018:
Thank you for adding more information to this post. I hope it is highlighted through this Veteran's Day week.
Chuck Nugent (author) from Tucson, Arizona on March 06, 2012:
nbbydog, I'm glad you enjoyed this Hub. Other than what my parents told me the only reference I ever found was a comment about it in the many books on Western New Your history and lore by local historian Arch Merrill years ago.
I am still researching and trying to find the name of the soldier and more information about him. But, so far nothing.
I was only able to find the house, where the pictures above were taken, by asking at the local tourist office in Canandaigua. The lady there only knew where the house was but didn't have any other information. I visited the library in Canandaigua as well but found nothing.
I have a couple of ideas to follow up on but will have to wait until I can get back (I now reside in Arizona) to upstate New York and visit Canandaigua again.
nubbydog on March 05, 2012:
Thank you for posting this. As a young child I remember my father telling us this story but I never knew where the house was or whether it was true. I never saw it written anywhere, either. Fortunately, the Internet makes information much more accessible now. I am taking classes in Canandaigua so I will look for the house next time. :)
dominicantuloab on August 26, 2009:
GREAT HUB MY FRIEND
OptimistsOnly from Christchruch, New Zealand on May 14, 2009:
Candles...who would think one could have so many memories about candles. I have a great one. When I was about 10 years old my Father and I stood outside one chilly evening, with lit candles to support the hostages that were being held during the Iran hostage crisis in 1979. My father has since left this world, but I will never forget that moment with him, the candles and what they represented to me. Thank you for helping me to summon that great memory in my mind.
Dottie1 from MA, USA on December 24, 2008:
I just saw this Hub "Candle in the Window" in hubtivity and remembered that more than a year ago when I joined hubpages this was my very first hub I commented on. I was so new to this internet stuff I didn't realize that this conversation would be read by many. LOL. I remember it was a Sunday morning and admired and appreciated your kindness that day. For that I am stll here and enjoying the hubs! Thank you, Chuck. May you and your family enjoy this Christmas Eve! :)
Chuck Nugent (author) from Tucson, Arizona on December 24, 2008:
Amber, Thank you for your comment. And thanks for telling about blowing out the candle as a signal that the loved one has returned.
I focused on "leave a light on" to symbolically guide the traveler home or make them feel welcome and awaited when they arrive (coming home to a totally dark house can be a little depressing) and did not consider its use as a signal to other family, friends and neighbors that the soldier had returned. However, now that you mention it, the blowing out of the candle once the traveler had returned would have been a very practical way to inform people of the travelers return in the days before the telephone (or cell phone now days) was a common household item).
Amber90 on December 24, 2008:
What a great story before Christmas. I have had many family members in the service. Although many now past I was taught about this tradition growing up. It really felt as though this candle in the window conveys so many different messages. I was told at a young age this candle would signal the traveler has arrived when the flame was blown out. Like you stated it was more of a symbolism to follow the light home just like a lighthouse serves for sailors. I did not see you mention the blowing of the light out, but what truly beautiful story - thank you
djtphn1 from Riverside County, California on December 20, 2007:
love the story. it is so funny cause I used to live with this guy and wrote in my journal once about how I knew he did not love me because he did not take the time or thought to leave the light on for me when I came home at night.I, on the other hand, always left the light on for him.....anyway, this brought back all those memories, but it was nice. The story that is, not the memories.
Kay Byrd from Washington on December 15, 2007:
Powerful story. Guess you never knocked on the door? In a way that makes the story even more bittersweet.
Mr Nice from North America on December 08, 2007:
Wow really nice! Great hub. Hoping to see more hubs from you.
Dottie1 from MA, USA on November 18, 2007:
Thank you very much. I will wish him well for you. There is so much more to this story (as my hands tremble recalling the phone call 4 years ago from my sister). One more happy event to this story: Franny vowed he would not retire from the US Navy until he could do so on his own two feet. On Sept. 13, 2007 that day came. The receiving line from his Navy buddies was 1-1/2 hrs. long and there was not a dry eye in the house as Franny slowly walked the red carpet to the podium. He was given medals of honor and special plaques but in respect and affection from fellow sailors and pilots for "Chief Mac" was the naming of a plane in his honor. A tradition typically reserved for pilots whose name and rank appear beneath the pilot's window was inscribed "AMC F.P. McNeil Chief Mac". It provides an opportunity for those who knew Franny to recount the story of his bravery to those who have come after him and Franny was sooooo happy that day.
Chuck Nugent (author) from Tucson, Arizona on November 18, 2007:
Dottie1 - thank you for the comment and the story about your sister's brother-in-law. I wish him well and hope is able to achieve his goal of being back on his own soon. People sometimes forget that, in addition to providing vital support to the flyers, the ground crew personnel even though they are usually not as exposed to combat danger as much as the flyers, still put their lives on the line and some like Franny have the wounds to show for it. Wish him well for me and I hope he recovers soon. Chuck
Dottie1 from MA, USA on November 18, 2007:
I loved your story. I too have a candle lit in my window on the east coast. It was lit on Sept. 11, 2003 for my sister's brother-in-law Franny also known as "Chief Mac" by his Navy friends. On that fateful day aboard the USS George Washington (off the coast of the Norfolk Naval Station in Virginia) a pilot was attempting to land an F/A-18 Hornet when the arresting wire caught the jet's tailhook and snapped. The jet skidded into the ocean and the pilot safely ejected. But in it's wake, the thick metal cable tore across the flight deck where Franny was working striking him in the head and arms. Now four years later, my candle is still lit as Franny overcomes huge obstacles. I am so happy to say that four months ago Franny began walking again. His first goal was completed. My candle remains lit as Franny is driven by my house to go to therapy everyday so he can get stronger to complete his second goal to drive again and to live on his own. Franny is my Hero.
wajay_47 on November 11, 2007:
Chuck, as usual a very interesting hub with a fascinating story.
Chuck Nugent (author) from Tucson, Arizona on November 11, 2007:
Interesting. Thanks Jimmy.
Jimmy the jock from Scotland on November 11, 2007:
In the times of pirates and smuggling, a candle in the window meant that it was safe to come ashore,that the customs men were elsewhere......jimmy
Marye Audet on November 11, 2007:
awesome story. thanks.