In the spirit of Halloween, we will share with you this week the tale of the Leatherman.
While this journeyman’s full story can not be shared in its entirety here, we will do our best to summarize this legend of Connecticut, specifically Fairfield County. (A full documentary on the Leatherman can be found on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z-SXFVLnV-4)
Around 1860, there were many harmless and itinerant wanderers roaming the countryside of Connecticut, usually looking for work. One man stood out among the others, a wandering hermit known as the Leatherman .
He came to the doors of farm kitchens, presenting a striking appearance with his homemade leather outfit, asking for neither work nor lodging but making it clear that he would accept a meal. He did not speak but seemed to mumble incomprehensibly, and made an impression on those who were generous to him by returning regularly every month or so for another visit, and he kept these regular visits up all the year round farmsteads, in some cases for more than 25 years, according to the website The Legend of The Leatherman.
He traveled a circuit between the Connecticut River and the Hudson River, roughly from 1857 to 1889, according to Dan DeLuca, author of “The Old Leather Man: Historical Accounts of a Connecticut and New York Legend.”
Of unknown origin, he was thought to be French-Canadian, 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 year after year. His repeating route took him between towns arriving in a new town every 34—36 days in western Connecticut and eastern New York.
According to the book, the Leatherman survived blizzards and other foul weather by heating his rock shelters with fire. Indeed, while his face was reported to be frostbitten at times during the winter, by the time of his death he had not lost any fingers, unlike other tramps of the time and area.
His rouet took him through the following local towns and cities: Brewster, NY, Ridgefield, Branchville, Georgetown, Redding, Danbury, Stratford, Bridgeport, Trumbull, Norwalk, New Canaan, Stamford, Greenwich and Wilton.
The Connecticut Humane Society had him arrested and hospitalized in 1888, which resulted in a diagnosis of "sane except for an emotional affliction" and release, as he had money and desired freedom. His ultimate demise was from cancer of the mouth due to tobacco use.
His body was found on March 24, 1889 in his Saw Mill Woods cave on the farm of George Dell in the town of Mount Pleasant, New York near Ossining, New York.
His grave is in the Sparta Cemetery, Route 9, Ossining, New York. 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.