The Leather man : 1800's Traveler (1 Viewer)

Nola Nick

Mar 9, 2014
Interesting stories about the "Leatherman" who walked a 365 mile circuit every 35 days around NY/CT.

Leatherman, June 9, 1885
The Leatherman (ca. 1839–1889) was a particular vagabond, famous for his handmade leather suit of clothes, who traveled a circuit between the Connecticut River and the Hudson River, roughly from 1856 to 1889. Of unknown origin, he was thought to be French-Canadian, or simply French, because of his fluency in the French language, his "broken English", and the French-language prayer book found on his person after his death. His identity remains unknown, and controversial. He walked a 365-mile route (taking 34–36 days) in western Connecticut and eastern New York.

Entrance to the Leatherman Cave inWatertown, Connecticut
Living in rock shelters and "leatherman caves", as they are now locally known,[1] he stopped at towns along his 365-mile loop about every five weeks for food and supplies.[2] He was dubbed the "Leatherman" as his adornment of hat, scarf, clothes, and shoes were handmade leather.[3]

This is the Tories den; it was also one of the Leatherman's rock homes, the site where his well was poisoned, and, according to legend, a boy hiked here one day and built a fire; returning the next day, he told his mom about his night. His mom asked him where he got the wood. His mother was furious, sending him two miles to get new wood. (The mother knew the wood belonged to the Leatherman.)
Fluent in French, he communicated mostly with grunts and gestures, rarely using his broken English. When asked about his background, he would abruptly end the conversation.[4][5] Upon his death, a French prayerbook was found among his possessions.[3][5] He declined meat on Fridays, giving rise to speculation that he wasRoman Catholic.[6]

It is unknown how he earned money. One store kept a record of an order: "one loaf of bread, a can of sardines, one-pound of fancy crackers, a pie, two quarts of coffee, one gillof brandy and a bottle of beer".[3][7]

Leatherman was popular in Connecticut. He was reliable in his rounds, and people would have food ready for him, which he often ate on their doorsteps.[5][8] Ten towns along the Leatherman's route passed ordinances exempting him from the state "tramp law" passed in 1879.[1]


The Leatherman survived blizzards and other foul weather by heating his rock shelters with fire. The Connecticut Humane Society had him arrested and hospitalized after finding a spot on his lip, which was thought to be a result of the Blizzard of 1888. He escaped the facility, not waiting to be treated.[3][7] His body was found on March 24, 1889 in his Saw Mill Woods cave near Ossining, New York.[4]


Inside the Leatherman Cave in Watertown, Connecticut
His grave is in the Sparta Cemetery, Route 9, Ossining, New York. The following inscription was carved on his original tombstone:

Jules Bourglay
who regularly walked a 365 mile route
through Westchester and Connecticut from
the Connecticut River to the Hudson
living in caves in the years

His grave was moved further from Route 9. When the first grave was dug up, no traces were found of the Leatherman's remains, only some nails, which were reburied in a new pine box, along with dirt from the old grave site. Nicholas Bellantoni, a University of Connecticut archaeologist and the supervisor of the excavation, cited time, the effect of traffic over the shallow original gravesite, and possible removal of graveside material by a road-grading project for the complete destruction of hard and soft tissue in the grave [9] The new tombstone, installed May 25, 2011, simply reads, "The Leatherman."[10]

Identity controversy

The Leatherman's former tombstone read, "Final resting place of Jules Bourglay of Lyons, France, 'The Leather Man'…", and he is identified with that name in many accounts.[1][11] However, according to researchers, including Dan W. DeLuca,[12] and his New York death certificate, his identity remains unknown.[13] This name first appeared in a story published in theWaterbury Daily American, August 16, 1884, but was later retracted March 25, 26 and 27, 1889 and also in The Meriden Daily Journal, March 29, 1889.[2][8] DeLuca was able to get a new headstone installed, when the Leatherman's grave was moved away from Route 9 to another location within the cemetery on May 25, 2011. The new brass plaque simply reads "The Leatherman." [1]

Exhumation and Reburial

Current gravestone
The Leatherman's original grave in Sparta Cemetery was within 16 feet of Route 9.[14][15]His remains were exhumed and were reburied at a different site in the cemetery on May 25, 2011. No visible remains were recovered during the exhumation. Rather, coffin nails and soil recovered from the original burial plot were reburied at the new site. Part of the reason for the exhumation process was to test his remains to determine his origins. He had been rumored to be of French descent but there were several conflicting reports.[16]
In the 1800s, a man wearing a head-to-toe leather suit walked a 365-mile circuit between the Connecticut and Hudson rivers, sleeping in cave shelters and completing his journey in precisely 34 days. And he kept it up for years.

No one knows who he was or why he did what he did, but the legend of the Old Leatherman still fascinates. This week, archaeologists and historians set out to solve the mystery by exhuming his body. But their efforts have only deepened the mystery.

  • 10_dan_w___ection_custom-1a8b0356b67425efb7e519229ff07de096b9cf65-s1700-c85-jpg.22103

    Photo courtesy of Dan DeLuca
  • grave1_slide-a0c94c262f3cbebe883f745c23df2ec2d06f761a-s1700-c85-jpg.22104

    Craig LeMoult/WSHU
  • old_leathe_deluca_custom-65edcf11868db53841853c3fc8234514b29c545f-s1700-c85-jpg.22105

    Photo courtesy of Dan DeLuca
  • leatherman_loop_slide-dca987d8097a2c6fffb4c93596bc14e2adca08a0-s800-c15-jpg.22106

    Google Maps
  • 3_olm_amy__00_dpi_custom-20922d8f033b2ac5fe5628dd064c58b93e262f1c-s800-c15-jpg.22107

    Photo courtesy of Dan DeLuca
  • ossining_cave_slide-fc32ea613f832d3d5c07813f1025bf7eb3c51f05-s800-c15-jpg.22108

    Craig LeMoult/WSHU
  • olm_from_t_ection_custom-bf314185ea0527f773fc6117c914333f2e749b3a-s800-c15-jpg.22109

    Photo courtesy of Dan DeLuca
1 OF 7

View slideshow
Taking A 365-Mile Walk

In the woods off an old dirt road in Ossining, N.Y., a large rock face looms, with some smaller jagged boulders at its base.

"Here we are. This is actually where the Leatherman stayed," says author Dan DeLuca, who wrote a book about the iconic traveler.

DeLuca climbs down into what looks more like a crevice than a cave. More than 100 years ago, this spot was one of the homes of the Old Leatherman.

"He was all dressed in leather," DeLuca says, "made from old boot tops that he sewed together with leather lace."

That "boot suit" weighed 60 pounds, and he wore it even in the hottest days of summer. The Leatherman started walking clockwise in a huge circle between the Connecticut and Hudson rivers. And he completed that circuit every 34 days.

The Old Leatherman was so punctual that people could tell the time by his schedule.

"If normally he would stop at your house at 10, he would be there around 10, give or take 5 to 10 minutes," DeLuca says.

An Unlikely Celebrity

The Leatherman slept in caves and other shelters, where he tended gardens and stored food. He walked through more than 40 towns on his route. But he didn't speak much — just the occasional grunt of some fractured English, and sometimes a phrase in French, believed to be his native language.


A new grave marker for the Leatherman was placed in a cemetery in Ossining, N.Y., this week.

Craig LeMoult/WSHU
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."

But no one ever knew who he was, or why he lived like this. It's a mystery that DeLuca has been studying for more than 20 years. He started his research after a heart transplant forced him to retire.

"A lot of people, when they get a heart transplant, don't make it. They pass away," he says. "And I think the old Leatherman has kept me alive."

DeLuca is not the only one inspired by the legend. The band Pearl Jam recorded a song about him. And there's a race in Pound Ridge, N.Y., named after him.

His caves are visited by Leatherman enthusiasts, as is his grave, in Ossining, N.Y.

A plaque on the headstone has the name "Jules Bourglay." There was a legend that a Frenchman by that name lost the chance to marry his true love after he blew a fortune in the leather business, and wandered Connecticut and New York in a leather suit as a penance. Of course, DeLuca looked into that one.

"A great story," he says. "Not true, though."

Seeing A Chance For Answers

The grave site is situated right next to a highway; so many people visit it that concerns arose that someone could get hurt. So the local historical society decided to dig up the Old Leatherman.

The plan was to move him to a more central place in the graveyard, and give him a new stone without the false name.

The historians thought that while they were at it, they could also take the opportunity to do forensic tests on the remains, to check some of the theories about the Leatherman. For instance, tests might help determine whether he had Native American roots. And it's not known whether he was from France or America.

Web Resources
'New York Times' Story From 1886
'Yankee' Magazine, 1985
Slideshow: The Leatherman's Trail
The plan to take the DNA became a bit of a controversy. Don Johnson is a middle school history teacher in North Haven, Conn., who teaches his students about the Leatherman. He is also the creator of the websiteLeave the Leatherman Alone.

Johnson says the Leatherman was intensely private, spending "30 years, 100,000 miles, never telling anybody who he was. That legacy to me should speak to us today as, do we want to respect him and memorialize him properly? Then leave him alone. Leave his bones alone."

Despite those misgivings, archaeologists, soil scientists and amateur historians filled a tent erected over the grave site this week.

As they dug, the scene was one of excitement — somewhere between a scene from the TV show CSI and a circus tent.

Connecticut state archaeologist Nick Bellantoni lay on the gravesite, carefully scraping at it with a small tool. He found some nails, and a few animal bones. But that's it — there was no trace of the Leatherman.

Now it seems that the mystery of the Leatherman has deepened — from people not knowing who he was to not knowing where he is.

"Yeah ... he's having a good laugh," Bellantoni says.

They held a funeral for the Old Leatherman on Wednesday afternoon and reburied some of the dirt where they believe he decomposed. The Old Leatherman died more than 120 years ago, but the mystery surrounding his legend is now stronger than ever.
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Sometimes traveler is traveling.
Staff member
Jul 28, 2011
Rochester, NY
Wow - 30 years, 100,000 miles. One hellofa trek! For some reason I have hear of "leatherman" somewhere's in the past but can''t put my finger on it and thanks for the cool article!!

Kim Chee

I deleted myself
Edited with the addition of the body of the artical(s) to accompany OP's links.


Aug 6, 2014
Cheyenne WY
Cool story for sure.A lot of walking and was cool to see he wasnt treated like a freak show,as he would be today and probably locked up some where "for his own good".


Emperor of the North Pole
Nov 4, 2006
Mostly in New Bedford, Mass when home.
Upon his death, a French prayerbook was found among his possessions.[3][5] He declined meat on Fridays, giving rise to speculation that he wasRoman Catholic.[6]
There are many pilgrims who walk on pilgrimages as penance. I am one of them & have walked with Romeiros & in the tradition of the Romeiros solo. I walked between 6-15 miles a day for a week visiting up to 13 Catholic churches during Holy week. The group who I was introduced to this were called Romeiros & started walking 500 years ago on the Island of Saint Michael in the Azores. We too carry a wooden staff as many Christian Pilgrims, wear a shall/cape("The capes signify the robes that Jesus was given by the Romans when they persecuted him") WE wear a colorfull scarf (that represents the bleeding crown of thorns of Jesus). he obviosly has a leather hat but all of the rest seems accurate to that of a pilgrim. A pack/bag that is concealed under the shall represents the cross. We all have our crosses to bear comes to mind while walking & praying the rosary & visiting Catholic churches (& not taking the pack off upon visiting to keep suffering as Christ suffered & died for our sins on the cross.)

The French have a long tradition of Pilgrimages. This "Leatherman" sure resembles a humble pilgrim who has few belongings & walks in penance to God for his sins. I wonder what Catholic Churches were there during that time & if they could corroborate my theory that he was on a circuit to visit Catholic Churches. Some towns maybe he was passing through to get supplies or take shelter & probably didnt have a catholic church in all of them but this sounds so probable to me.
Nola Nick

Nola Nick

Mar 9, 2014
Highwayman, I think your onto something with the pilgrimage idea. It did say when he was found dead he had a French bible with him.

Years ago, I met a guy who has been walking around the country full time for 12+ years. There are certain people who just seem to just be outside of time and culture and he was certainly one of them. Great guy to talk to and I imagine he's still out there doing the same. If anyone runs into a guy who fits that description named Jerald let me know I'd love to cross paths with him again.

Thanks for the link ratqueen. I'll have to check that out!


I deleted myself
Growing up my mom told me interesting stories of her childhood growing up in West Chester county New York, one of them was the legend of the "Leather Man". Recently I researched the topic and found a pretty interesting documentary about the subject. Turns out he is a legendary tramp, who walked the same 365 mile route for years on a 30 something day time table. He wore a suit of leather, hence his name. I had thought it to be a urban legend until I found this...

Documentary from the 80s:


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