Leather Man, Mysterious 19th-Century Wanderer, Will Remain So, Peter Applebome, New York Times, May 25, 2011.
A mystery since the 19th century, the Leather Man will apparently remain that way forever.
[Image on Right: The Leather Man, in 1888]
From Sunday to Tuesday afternoon, a team of about 20 historians, geneticists, archaeologists, anthropologists and other researchers descended on the Sparta Cemetery in Ossining, N.Y., hoping to exhume the remains of the Leather Man, a homeless wanderer who fashioned his clothing from discarded boots and roamed around Westchester County and western Connecticut for decades in the 19th century.
He slept in caves and lean-tos, rarely spoke, accepted food and then moved on, but became a figure of mystery and some affection during his life and then, surprisingly, a source of enduring fascination long after his death on March 20, 1889. When plans were announced this winter to exhume him, study his remains and give him a better grave, more than a few voices called for leaving him alone, figuring that his secrets should remain that way.
And so they shall. Other than coffin nails and dirt, almost nothing was found in the grave, certainly not the genetic material or bones that might have provided clues as to where the Leather Man was born, or whether he was autistic or suffered from any diseases that might shed light on his life. “After 122 years, the Leather Man is ashes to ashes, dust to dust,’’ said Norman MacDonald, president of the Ossining Historical Society, who oversaw the effort.
On Wednesday afternoon, there was a reburial ceremony at the Leather Man’s new fieldstone headstone, with the coffin nails and dirt from the original site reburied in a fresh coffin and a respectful brass plaque commemorating his life. It is a big improvement from the original pauper’s grave with the wrong name on a tiny borrowed headstone a few steps from what is now busy traffic on Route 9. And after that, one hopes, the Leather Man, or what little is left of him, will finally be able to rest in peace.
CWL: Even odds that it is an American Civil War veteran with PSTD. Many wanders like Leatherman existed after the war. Check Shook Over Hell by Eric Dean. State asylums had a significant population of Civil War vets after the war. There is evidence that among the first postbellum hobos were many Federal and Confederate veterans. See Citizen Hobo: How a Century of Homelessness Shaped America by Todd DePastino.
Text and Images Source: New York Times, May 25, 2011