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Dressed in a suit of coarse leather — a patchwork garment he made from discarded boot tops — with a bulky pack and hand-hewn wooden shoes, he was a mystery from the outset. He refused to discuss himself. He rarely spoke at all, in fact, communicating almost exclusively in grunts and pantomime. He would regularly pass through what were then just small farming villages, living mostly off the charity of the townspeople. Farmers claimed they could set their watches by him; newspapers took note when he fell just a few hours behind his typical schedule.
He lived and traveled alone, sleeping in a rotating series of crude lean-tos and caves in and around the surrounding forest. The caves are probably the most enduring aspect of the Leatherman story. Some of them have been excavated by archaeologists; today many of them, in parks scattered throughout the area he roamed, are marked, and still regularly visited. He was never known to stay indoors for more than a minute or two. His appetite was legendary.
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Leatherman did this, without pause, for 30 years, chronicled at every step by an enthusiastic press. More has been recorded — exponentially more — about the Leatherman than the vast majority of his contemporaries. Or his age. Or where he came from. That anyone took notice of Leatherman — that they did anything other than scorn him — is remarkable enough on its own. But his story is one that has endured, undoubtedly more fascinating for all the gaps.
People still carry on his memory, through scholarship or imitation or just simple admiration. For DeLuca, the mystery had always been a big part of his attraction to the Leatherman. And the truth, as DeLuca is proud to tell you, is that no one knows who the Leatherman was.
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Least of all DeLuca. Now I collect information about the Leatherman. It declared the Leatherman a known entity. The goal was to relocate the thing away from a busy highway, primarily for reasons of safety. Doing likewise became a way to honor his memory. When DeLuca heard about the relocation plan, he saw a chance to get rid of that loathsome stone.
The notion of disturbing the Leatherman — so private in his life — struck some as disrespectful. And by the summer of , what might be a minor movement had begun to emerge, in the most modern form.
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A website: LeaveTheLeathermanAlone. When he first appeared around , the Leatherman was regarded almost anthropologically. People were fascinated with the way he lived: transient at a time when most people remained where they were born; an apparently voluntary ascetic when most embraced the comforts of the modern world. Some facts about his background were pieced together, or inferred. On the rare occasions he did speak, to utter a greeting or to ask for alms, it was in broken English with a heavy French accent. He may have worn a rosary at some points, and was known to refuse meat on Fridays.
From this people deduced that he was Catholic and French, possibly French Canadian. But that was about it. Since he ranged so widely, he became rather famous. And people were intrigued.
And where does he go to? And who is he? DeLuca first heard about the Leatherman as a teenager growing up in Meriden, Connecticut. But to a young teenager interested in basketball cards, he was a figure in the background. DeLuca never gave him much thought. When it faltered, he took a teaching job at his alma mater. Originally it was just a hobby. But he also wanted to know what would drive someone to choose such a life. He started compiling old newspaper accounts and saving them in a box. In the mid-Eighties, at age 40, DeLuca suffered a serious heart attack.
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That led, eventually, to a heart transplant, which laid him up for months. It dawned on him that, almost by accident, his casual probing might have uncovered new information. He started going deeper into the archives at historical societies across the state. In the late nineteenth century, Chauncey Hotchkiss spent years cold-mailing people who might have met the Leatherman. Later there was Leroy Foote, who did the same in the early part of the twentieth century.
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In , Allison Albee wrote probably the first scholarly accounts of the Leatherman, which appeared in the quarterly bulletin of the Westchester County Historical Society. All of them devoted the better part of their adult lives to the research. Then in , W. He was educated in Paris, where he met and fell for the daughter of a leather merchant named Mssr.
Bourglay requested her hand in marriage, and she accepted, much to the chagrin of her father. If he failed to manage the firm competently, the story went, Bourglay pledged to leave Paris forever. It was a good story. Lost love.
A man driven mad and, ultimately, into a leather suit by a broken heart. It was a tale that would have resonated with the people of the time. Readers in were just emerging from what was likely the first-ever worldwide economic collapse, precipitated by the Panic of — an economic crash that caught many off guard, blindsided, just like Bourglay.
He had been tossed about by the same cruel new industrialized order that was also threatening small-scale farmers in Connecticut and Westchester. It was relatable. It was also utter horseshit. Not a shred of the story checked out, and for good reason: Sailson had invented it all.
Early researchers attempted, unsuccessfully, to verify the account, going so far as consulting actual birth records in France. The Bourglay lie was far from the only time Leatherman had been the subject of fanciful yarns in the local press. There were stories about imagined hoards of gold and riches he kept concealed under a stone somewhere in the woods. Then there was the account of A. Hammer, who, writing in the New Haven Daily Palladium , described stumbling upon a trapdoor deep in the forest.
A malachite mantle of massive size supported several Venetian vases filled with giant ferns. The proof was hidden deep in the papers of a former editor for the Waterbury Daily American , the paper whence the story had sprung: DeLuca found correspondence between Sailson and the editor in which the writer admitted his fabrication. To strip Leatherman of his name.
How many historians find their greatest satisfaction in un-answering a question? But there was more to the plan than just that. If they could find a bit of bone or a tooth, he thought, they might be able to extract DNA.
And that could tell them a lot. Bellantoni had known about the Leatherman since he was young, and had worked with DeLuca before. But they might help us overcome some of the folklore, some of the innuendos that were being said about him. Or French Canadian? Testing could actually shed some light on some of this. What kind of wear would one expect to see on his vertebrae, or the bones of his feet, after the life he led? The sometimes fanciful stories told about Leatherman might have served a kind of anthropological purpose. As Andrea Tucher, an expert on early news media at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, points out, local newspapers at the time existed not just to inform, but as a way of establishing a sense of community and belonging.
In the case of the Leatherman, the stories might have bolstered the idea that the towns he passed through were filled with generous, kindly types, tolerant of the stranger in their midst. Some of the more extravagant accounts might have had a similar community-building agenda. The underground-mansion story, for example, was probably not meant to be believed. Local readers would easily see through it, while non-locals, those not in the know, might not.
It was a way of privately laughing at outsiders, Tucher says. The fascination with Leatherman, then, might have reflected a kind of local pride. Leatherman was an eccentric, to be sure, but to the townsfolk along his route, he was their eccentric. Children would gather to wave or call out to him, gestures he generally did not acknowledge, except maybe with a smile.
In April of , near Forestville, Connecticut, Leatherman was accosted by a couple of locals. He was probably in his sixties by then, and it did not go over well with the villagers, who had grown protective of their beloved stranger. The Waterbury Daily American recorded what happened next:. During this time, some boys say, the old man was crying and his tormenters were trying to make him take off his hat and cross himself, which he refused to do.
You will understand events in light of the times in which they happened.
Best of all, the author shows the role of God throughout history. The Companion Guide is available in two different formats; simply choose the one that best fits your style. The CD-ROM allows you to print tests, quizzes, exercises, worksheets, maps, and appendix pages from pdf files. This works well if you need copies for several children, or you don't have access to a copier. Mystery of History Vol. Click product title for product reviews, where available Page 1 of 1. Add to Cart. Please wait.