Leatherman (vagabond)

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Leatherman, June 9, 1885

The Leatherman (ca. 1839–1889) was a particular vagabond, famous for his handmade leather suit of clothes, who traveled a circuit between the Connecticut River and the Hudson River, roughly from 1856 to 1889. Of unknown origin, he was thought to be French-Canadian, or simply French, because of his fluency in the French language, his "broken English", and the French-language prayer book found on his person after his death. His identity remains unknown, and controversial. He walked a 365-mile route (taking 34–36 days) in western Connecticut and eastern New York.

Life[edit]

Entrance to the Leatherman Cave in Watertown, Connecticut

Living in rock shelters and "leatherman caves", as they are now locally known,[1] he stopped at towns along his 365-mile loop about every five weeks for food and supplies.[2] He was dubbed the "Leatherman" as his adornment of hat, scarf, clothes, and shoes were handmade leather.[3]

This is the Tories den; it was also one of the Leatherman's rock homes, the site where his well was poisoned, and, according to legend, a boy hiked here one day and built a fire; returning the next day, he told his mom about his night. His mom asked him where he got the wood. His mother was furious, sending him two miles to get new wood. (The mother knew the wood belonged to the Leatherman.)

Fluent in French, he communicated mostly with grunts and gestures, rarely using his broken English. When asked about his background, he would abruptly end the conversation.[4][5] Upon his death, a French prayerbook was found among his possessions.[3][5] He declined meat on Fridays, giving rise to speculation that he was Roman Catholic.[6]

It is unknown how he earned money. One store kept a record of an order: "one loaf of bread, a can of sardines, one-pound of fancy crackers, a pie, two quarts of coffee, one gill of brandy and a bottle of beer".[3][7]

Leatherman was popular in Connecticut. He was reliable in his rounds, and people would have food ready for him, which he often ate on their doorsteps.[5][8] Ten towns along the Leatherman's route passed ordinances exempting him from the state "tramp law" passed in 1879.[1]

Health[edit]

The Leatherman survived blizzards and other foul weather by heating his rock shelters with fire. The Connecticut Humane Society had him arrested and hospitalized after finding a spot on his lip, which was thought to be a result of the Blizzard of 1888. He escaped the facility, not waiting to be treated.[3][7] His body was found on March 24, 1889 in his Saw Mill Woods cave near Ossining, New York.[4]

Grave[edit]

Inside the Leatherman Cave in Watertown, Connecticut

His grave is in the Sparta Cemetery, Route 9, Ossining, New York. The following inscription was carved on his original tombstone:

FINAL RESTING PLACE OF
Jules Bourglay
OF LYONS, FRANCE
"THE LEATHER MAN"
who regularly walked a 365 mile route
through Westchester and Connecticut from
the Connecticut River to the Hudson
living in caves in the years
1858–1889

His grave was moved further from Route 9. When the first grave was dug up, no traces were found of the Leatherman's remains, only some nails, which were reburied in a new pine box, along with dirt from the old grave site. The reason his body wasn't found could easily be explained; 30 years after he was buried, the daughter of the woman who found the Leatherman's body decided to bring some friends to the grave site, she pointed to a place and said he was buried there and hammered a metal pipe into the ground, she could have simply pointed to the wrong place.[verification needed] The new tombstone, installed May 25, 2011, simply reads, "The Leatherman."[9]

Identity controversy[edit]

The Leatherman's former tombstone read, "Final resting place of Jules Bourglay of Lyons, France, 'The Leather Man'…", and he is identified with that name in many accounts.[1][10] However, according to researchers, including Dan W. DeLuca,[11] and his New York death certificate, his identity remains unknown.[12] This name first appeared in a story published in the Waterbury Daily American, August 16, 1884, but was later retracted March 25, 26 and 27, 1889 and also in The Meriden Daily Journal, March 29, 1889.[2][8] DeLuca was able to get a new headstone installed, when the Leatherman's grave was moved away from Route 9 to another location within the cemetery on May 25, 2011. The new brass plaque simply reads "The Leatherman." [1]

Exhumation and Reburial[edit]

Current gravestone

The Leatherman's original grave in Sparta Cemetery was within 16 feet of Route 9.[13][14] His remains were exhumed and were reburied at a different site in the cemetery on May 25, 2011. No visible remains were recovered during the exhumation. Rather, coffin nails and soil recovered from the original burial plot were reburied at the new site. Part of the reason for the exhumation process was to test his remains to determine his origins. He had been rumored to be of French descent but there were several conflicting reports.[15]

Towns visited[edit]

His circuit took in the following towns:[4]

Geocaching and letterboxing[edit]

Many of the locations on Leatherman's route in Connecticut and New York have geocaches[16] as well as letterboxes[1] near them.

Popular media[edit]

  • Leatherman was the subject of a 1984 video documentary which was shown on Connecticut Public Television. It can be found on YouTube.

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Connecticut State Forests – Seedling Letterbox Series Clues for Mattatuck State Forest (retrieved September 23, 2007)
  2. ^ a b c Hudson Valley Ruins (retrieved July 21, 2006)
  3. ^ a b c d Samantha Hunt, Jules Bourglay, Notable Walker. McSweeney's Internet Tendency, 11/2002 (retrieved July 21, 2006)
  4. ^ a b c History of Redding (retrieved July 21, 2006)
  5. ^ a b c NY Hudson Valley (retrieved July 21, 2006)
  6. ^ Piece broadcast on (US) National Public Radio, in Connecticut, 19 Dec 2008
  7. ^ a b Canning, Jeff and Wally Buxton, History of the Tarrytowns, Harbor Hill Books 1975
  8. ^ a b Research by Dan W. DeLuca (retrieved July 21, 2006)
  9. ^ "At last, a proper 'burial' for the mysterious Leatherman, New York and Connecticut's celebrity tramp". Daily Mail. May 26, 2011. Retrieved 5 December 2011. 
  10. ^ Leatherman's Cave, Watertown, CT at the Wayback Machine (archived August 8, 2009) (retrieved September 23, 2007)
  11. ^ LeMoult, Craig. "Search for Clues Only Deepens 'Leatherman' Mystery". Vermont Public Radio. Retrieved 5 December 2011. 
  12. ^ DeLuca, Dan (2008). The Old Leather Man: Historical Accounts of a Connecticut and New York Legend. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press. p. 113. ISBN 978-0-8195-6862-5. 
  13. ^ Dan Brechlin (3 January 2011). "Leather Man body may yield clues". The Record-Journal. Retrieved 11 January 2011. 
  14. ^ Sam Cooper (29 November 2010). "Who was the Leather Man? Experts hope forensic tests will solve mystery.". The Republican-American. Retrieved 11 January 2011. 
  15. ^ "At last, a proper 'burial' for the mysterious Leatherman, New York and Connecticut's celebrity tramp". Daily Mail. 26 May 2011. Retrieved 26 May 2011. 
  16. ^ Leatherman's Circuit (retrieved September 23, 2007)