The Leatherman was born around 1839 and died in 1889. A vagabond, he became well known in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut for traveling through these states for a period of approximately 30 years in a circuitous route, stopping in towns for food and water.
Quite regular in his route, the Leatherman traveled a 365 mile loop on foot 365 days per year, sleeping in naturally formed caves and rock shelters on his way, only stopping at various homes and schools for food and water. The local people he visited came to expect him as he would arrive almost like clockwork. His route usually took him 32 days and in anticipation, townspeople began to cook specially prepared treats for him. When he would stop at schools, giving the Leatherman food and water became a privilege for the most well-behaved and earnest students.
The Leatherman earned his moniker due to his attire. His clothing and shoes were made entirely of old boot tops that, presumably, he had stitched together himself. Clad in his leather suit, which weighed 60 pounds, he was a noticeable figure, spring, summer, fall, and winter. First person accounts of encounters with him all agree on one point - he was rather fragrant, particularly during the hot summer months.
The Leatherman spoke little English and, in fact, he did not speak much at all. It is reported that he used mostly hand gestures and monosyllabic grunts to communicate and when asked direct questions about himself, he would swiftly terminate the conversation and continue trudging along on his familiar route. To those who fed him, he would offer a “Thank you,” in a voice guttural from disuse.
it was reported that he spoke fluent French and indeed, when he died, a French Bible was found in his possessions, leading to speculation that he came from France or was perhaps French Canadian. His body was found on a farm in March of 1889 and his death was determined to be caused by mouth cancer, due to the use of chewing tobacco. Despite living outdoors for decades and sleeping in frigid New England conditions, he appeared to be in good physical condition, with only signs of frostbite on his face and extremities telling the tale of the life he had chosen.
The Leatherman remains a mystery. Theories abound about this intriguing man’s identity and over 100 years later, he is still a legend in the many towns he visited. On cold winter nights, families speculate about the enigmatic Leatherman and in the spring, intrepid runners, both local and from far away tackle a 10k trail race named the Leatherman’s Loop, which includes a quarry climb and a stream crossing as two of its many challenges. (I have run it and it is HARD!) Pearl Jam recorded a song about him and researchers continue to hunt for clues about him, but the Leatherman remains a cryptic real-life legend.