Watertown, Connecticut – Every 34 days he appears, a shambling form that moves from the Connecticut River to the Hudson with grunts instead of words his only form of communication. To those unaccustomed, he can be a frightening sight, some sort of wild man descending from the mountainous terrain. But even to those he’s visited before, his presence is somewhat disquieting. It isn’t his appearance or his animal growls. Rather, it’s the fact that he died more than one hundred twenty years ago.
Not every haunting has to do with a house, hotel, or hospital. Some are based around people, personalities so big that a silly little thing like death could not stop them. Throughout Connecticut’s Mattatuck Trail there is such a legend, one so odd it couldn’t possibly be real. But amid the caves and steep climbs, there was once a mysterious figure that captured the imaginations and sympathies of all who came in contact with him. Though his real name may never be known, most people call him by his common moniker: The Leatherman.
While tales of vagrants, hobos, and bag-men fill the history books, there are very few that gained the notoriety of The Leatherman. Where exactly he came from is unknown, though most believe him to be a Frenchman. He’s been theorized to be everything from a traumatized war veteran to a European vagrant who wandered onto a boat, thus arriving in America. At one time he was believed to be a Frenchman named Jules Bourglay from Lyon, France, who was a leather-working tradesman. When a wealthy businessman refused to let Jules marry his daughter, he left for America. The story, however, has been proven false, shedding no light on exactly who he was. He first appeared in Connecticut in 1862.
The Leatherman was known for two things: First, his appearance. He wore, every day, a suit made entirely of heavy leather, roughly sewn together. His hat, boots, pants, coat and backpack were all made the same way, and he was never seen wearing anything other than his trademark outfit. Most estimate that the whole outfit weighed near, or more than, sixty pounds. The second thing for which he was known was his impeccable timing and route. The Leatherman walked ten miles a day, every day, completing a 365-mile circuit over and over again. It took him 34 days to complete each circuit, proven by the fact that he appeared at the same place, at the same time, every 34 days. So regular was he in his appearances that people who lived in the towns along his path took to setting out food on “their day.” In fact, ten of the towns along his route passed special exemptions from local “tramp laws” to keep him out of trouble.
He became so popular that people would skip church or dismiss school when the old Leatherman was coming to town. Though they fed him, the people on his route did not invite him into their homes. Instead, he lived in caves and under rock shelters through all kinds of weather. Thanks in no small part to his peculiar clothing, The Leatherman was able to last out blizzards and heat alike in the caves. But some still saw the hobo as a danger. Twenty-six years after first appearing on the streets, the Connecticut Humane Society had him arrested and forcibly placed with a doctor for evaluation. The doctor, however, found him to be perfectly fine, except that he had a slight emotional problem, and turned him loose. Less than a year afterward, The Leatherman was found dead in a cave in Briarcliff Manor, New York, not from the elements, malnutrition or exposure, but from mouth cancer due to too much tobacco use. In his personal effects was discovered a French prayerbook, but no other clues to his true identity. He was buried in Scarborough, New York by an Englishman who claimed to have known him from the old country named Sampson Fisher-King Bennetts. His headstone reads:
OF LYONS, FRANCE
“THE LEATHER MAN”
who regularly walked a 365-mile route
through Westchester and Connecticut from
the Connecticut River to the Hudson
Living in caves in the years
Though it was later proven that Jules Borglay was not The Leatherman, the name still stuck, although there have been reports that, when asked his name, he replied “Isaac.” He was so well known that his obituary was on the front page of the New York Sun Times.
The caves used by The Leatherman are believed to be haunted, especially the main cave that is in Black Rock State Park, along the Mattatuck Trail. There have been reports of phantom footsteps, cold spots, and even sightings of The Leatherman himself as he settles in for the night. Some people went in search of his caves to loot out an alleged fortune that the old eccentric buried there. They soon returned and reported that not only was there no treasure to be had, the caves were also protected by The Leatherman’s ghost. One treasure-hunter told a tale of, after poking around in the cave near Watertown, a strange cold breeze snuffed out his torch, then he saw The Leatherman stand up and gesture for him to leave.
The Mattatuck Trail at Connecticut’s Black Rock State Park is littered with caves that were once inhabited by The Leatherman. In fact, there are caves all the way into New York state that he once lived in. Today, many people go to the gaves to get a feel for just what drove the old man, and how he made his treacherous trek every day. From walking, even wearing hiking boots and shorts, one can see that it is not an easy climb. The sites are also prime spots for Geocashes and Letterboxes. And still, sightings of The Leatherman are reported, though none seem to find him threatening.
Holding true to his legend, the best possibility of catching a glimpse of The Leatherman is to visit the more active caves along his route (most notably the cave near Watertown) and track a sighting in 34 day intervals. While it’s no guarantee, there seems to be some credence to trying this method to find him. To see a large map of The Leatherman’s route (from “Team Mumu’s” Geocaching page), click here.
As an added bonus, here’s the song inspired by the legend, “Leatherman” by Pearl Jam!
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