Mystery of Leather Man

Years ago, people were much more accepting of the odd ones among us, the mysterious ones, the different ones, the ones who we now say "aren't quiet right" and call upon the police to remove. In the early 1860's, just such a person made his first appearance in Connecticut and New York - the legendary Leather Man.

Historical picture of Leather Man
A wandering vagrant started making an appearance in certain towns and settlements  in 1862. He rarely spoke, never saying more than a couple of words at a time and even then it was mostly in French with an English word or two thrown in. He never told anyone his name and when someone asked about his background or what he was doing, he would mumble an unintelligible word or two and quickly move on. Just as peculiar was his clothing; dressed from head to toe in crude pieces of thick leather which had been hand-stitched together with leather thongs. It was a suit of clothes that weighed over 60 pounds, yet he wore it all year without fail, in summer heat and the bitter cold of winter. For lack of a better name, everyone began calling him "Leather Man."

Over time, people began noticing this strange man would return every 34 days. As a matter of fact, he would return to the same exact place within 10 minutes of the same time he had been there exactly 34 days earlier. No matter if storm, rain or snow, his appearances were on such a consistent schedule that you could almost set your watch by it. Eventually the more curious began following him and finally pieced together that Leather Man walked a circuit of 365 miles, always traveling clockwise. For his nightly shelter, he had a number of small caves which he had outfitted with a circle of rocks to enclose a fire and leaves and small twigs for a bed. Every morning before leaving, he would gather an armload of wood and leave it inside the cave where it would remain dry and ready for his next time there. 


Leather Man's route
As his appearances continued, many people took it upon themselves to feed and assist the harmless, always smiling odd man. With almost the exact time known when he would be in a particular spot, housewives would have a home-cooked meal prepared for him. Leather Man always accepted food and water with a smile, a small little bow of gratitude and grunt of thanks before hurrying on his way to keep to his schedule. Some of the men offered tobacco and matches which he also accepted in the same manner. Several school houses along his route would award their "Student of the Month" with the privilege of carrying a meal out to Leather Man as he passed by. It became a mark of pride among the students as to who would get to hand the meal to him every 34 days. However, he always refused money, alcohol or clothing and he never took up anyone on an offer of accommodation in their home for the night. 

In the winter of 1888, a severe blizzard struck Maine with day after day of below-zero weather and multiple feet of snow. Through it all, Leather Man continued walking his route, but for the first time in 26 years, he fell behind his schedule. With what was considered super-human will and endurance, he trudged through the howling, freezing winds and fought through the mounds of snow and arrived within a few hours of his usual time. People begged him to come in and take shelter at their fire, but he would just shake his head and kept plowing forward. After the storm had passed, he had completed his journey in 36 days rather than the usual 34 and people noticed he had a large black spot on his lip, a sure sign of frostbite. The Connecticut Humane Society heard about it and had him arrested and taken to a hospital for treatment. When his guard briefly turned his back and before a doctor could see him, Leather Man made his escape and resumed his walk through the woods. Other lawmen along his route refused to arrest him as he had never broken any laws and from then on he was left alone to continue his curious habit. 

One of Leather Man's caves
Leather Man maintained his punctual pacing and strange practices for 27 years. On March 24, 1889, he didn't make his expected appearance in Ossining, New York and people became worried. A search party found him dead in his cave where he had spent the night before. No foul play was evident and it was thought he had died of natural causes. The hardship and exposure he had suffered in the previous year's blizzard was thought to be a contributing factor in his death. He was buried in a shallow grave in a simple pine box just off Route 9 outside of Ossining. A collection was taken and a headstone was placed at his grave.

In 2011, Route 9 was scheduled to be widened so Leather Man was exhumed to be moved further away from the road and into a nearby cemetery. When his grave was dug up though, only a few coffin nails were found with no sign of his body. A new pine box was made and the nails along with some of the dirt from his first grave were placed in the new coffin which was buried in the cemetery. A new headstone was erected which simply says, "Leather Man."

Today there are legends about his true identity, but nobody has obtained any proof and he officially still remains unknown. There are stories about treasures supposedly buried in his caves, but the caves are well known and many people have dug in and around them with no treasure found. There have also been numerous reports over the years that his ghost continues walking along his trail, something he is damned to do for all eternity. Some have reported mysterious lights glowing in his caves at night, but actually, more than 150 years after his first appearance, only a huge mystery remains. Who was Leather Man? Where did he come from? Where was he and what did he do before his appearance in 1862? Why did he lead such a self-imposed solitary life? Why the particular route he traveled? Why the tight schedule? And why did he always wear only leather?

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