Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Wanderer

"This singular being, whose nationality is unknown, converses with no one and wanders forlornly without a seeming motive, or definite object in life." -- Bristol (CT) Press, 1874

The nameless man in the photograph above wandered along regular circuits through western Connecticut and adjoining New York State from perhaps as early as 1856 until his death in 1889. Because of his handmade leather clothing he was popularly known as "the Leather Man," and to this day all the more specific identities that have been proposed for him have proved to be inventions. He spoke little and his first language may have been French, though accounts of his facility with English and his degree of literacy vary. Though homeless and "without visible means," he was generally regarded as inoffensive and allowed to continue on his way unmolested. He slept in caves and improvised shelters and survived on handouts -- in kind, as he refused money -- and on vegetable plots he planted along his route. Once, briefly and near the end of his life, an attempt was made to commit him to a hospital, but he refused to be admitted. His body was found in a rock shelter in Mt. Pleasant, NY in March 1889.

There are a surprising number of extant photographs of the Leather Man -- at least twenty-four, according to historian Dan. W. DeLuca -- and he was apparently not averse to posing. A number of the photos date from his last months, when his lip was disfigured by the cancer that eventually killed him, and those images are frankly painful to look at. The one above, however, seems to preserve his dignity intact. According to DeLuca the image was captured by F. W. Moore in 1888 and retouched by H. N. Gale in 1889.

For more information, Dan DeLuca's The Old Leather Man: Historical Accounts of a Connecticut and New York Legend is the best place to start.

No comments: