Friday, March 4, 2011

Leather Man, century-old hermit, to be exhumed

This is Leather Man, a famed hermit who wandered New York's Westchester County and Western Connecticut more than a century ago. He slept in caves, rarely spoke to anyone, and wore a suit made from old leather boots that he picked up along the way (hence his nickname). Leather Man is a legend in the area and his grave, apparently mismarked, is something of a local attraction. Now, historians and scientists plan to exhume his body for study and to move the remains to a better location than the "pauper's area" of the local cemetery. Others disagree with that plan, as evidenced by the site Leave Leather Man Alone, which Xeni previously posted about. The New York Times reports on this fascinating story:
 Images 2011 03 03 Nyregion Towns1 Towns1-Popup-1 His headstone reads Jules Bourglay, but that was not his name. Nor is there any reason to believe it was Isaac Mossey, Rudolph or Randolph Mossey or Zacharias Boveliat, as he has sometimes been identified. He was said to have been born in Lyon, France, the son of a wealthy wool merchant who was driven mad by economic ruin and a broken heart. It was reported that he had vast real estate holdings; that he once had a thriving business in Poughkeepsie; that he might be Portuguese; that he was a devout Catholic; that he was a fugitive from justice; and that he was a black man. There is no proof that a word is true.

He was given a pauper's burial at the edge of Sparta Cemetery, and, in 1953, as his fame continued to spread, the bronze plaque was added, a few paces from busy Route 9. But, as a result of research conducted by Dan W. DeLuca, author of the 2008 book "The Old Leather Man," it became clear that the name on the headstone was wrong. And with traffic on Route 9 increasing -- to 16,000 cars a day -- officials of the Ossining Historical Society, which maintains the cemetery, felt that the site, visited regularly, was unsafe. They decided to move the body to a spot with a proper and accurate marker near the flagpole in the center of the cemetery, and bring in experts to see if the body can tell us what the old man never did.

There's no guarantee there will be enough remains to determine anything. But Nicholas Bellantoni, the Connecticut state archaeologist, said analysis of bone and teeth could provide clues to the Leather Man's origins and health. At best, it could provide information about whether, as some have speculated, the Leather Man was autistic, which might explain his behavior.

"We're trying to do right by this man; he deserves better than a stone with someone else's name in the pauper's area," Mr. Bellantoni said. "We're never going to solve all the mysteries of the Leather Man, but if he couldn't speak, or chose not to, maybe his biology will have the chance to teach us about him -- not through legend, but through actual scientific knowledge."

"Looking for Answers From a Wanderer at Rest" (NYT)

Sent from James' iPhone

No comments:

Post a Comment