Who was the old Leatherman, Connecticut’s Wandering Hobo?

The old Leatherman was a 19th-century figure who is remembered for his 60-pound “boot-suit”, his regular circuit of New York state every 34 days and the fact that no-one knows his identity.

The Old Leatherman was around before the Civil War and everyone knew who he was. His suit was made from old boot tops stitched together with leather lacing. His shoes were carved from spruce wood about three-quarters of an inch thick with leather uppers. A leather cap with a visor completed his costume. The outfit weighed 60 pounds.

His circuit took him through at least 41 towns in southwestern Connecticut and southeastern New York, sleeping in caves, accepting food from townspeople, and speaking only in grunts and gestures along the way. He survived by gathering and preserving food, fishing, tanning leather and had a number of gardens in different locations. He provided for himself and had a strong knowledge of Indian lore, which he was using to survive.

The Old Leatherman was so punctual that people could tell the time by his schedule. Most of the towns on his route accepted him for who he was, and left him alone to live out his life. People began offering the Leatherman food, considering it an honor if he stopped at their home. Some schools let the best student go outside to give him food when he passed by on “Leatherman Day.” In later years, writers sometimes used affectionate nicknames for him, noting that “Old Leathery” or “his Leathership” had passed through town on his regular rounds. He would talk to people who talked French but he didn’t ever understand English well and only answered in grunts and hand gestures.

In 2011, Historians tried to run forensic tests on the Leatherman’s remains.

In his grave, They found some nails and a few animal bones. But that’s it — there was no trace of the Leatherman. Connecticut state archaeologist Bellantoni thinks the most likely explanation is found in the area’s unusually acidic soil, which aided decomposition. Now it seems people not only don’t know who the Leather was – they don’t know where he is.

His legacy today is a place in the hearts of Connecticutuckians, an academic work by Dan W. DeLuca, the Pearl Jam song “Leatherman”, and The Road Between Heaven & Hell, a very sincere, oddball, thirty-minute public television documentary from 1984 narrated by a large, bearded man. And there’s a race in Pound Ridge, N.Y., named after him.

H/T damedCT, Village Voice, NPR

Siobhan O’Shea is a freelance writer. She writes about pretty much everything but especially likes to bring readers’ attention to new tech, marketing, human behavior, and other oddities.