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Also known as "Old Leather Man" or "Leatherman." The latter is actually the preferred form, but I use a secondary variant to avoid confusion.

An important figure in the folklore of the Northeastern United States, the Leather Man was what we might describe today as a hobo, an itinerant homeless man. He has two primary claims to fame. First, he was always dressed in a head-to-toe outfit stitched together from small scraps of leather--it apparently made a distinctive squeak when he walked. Second, he traveled on a fixed route of approximately 365 miles, through western Connecticut and eastern New York State. Moreover, he walked this route like clockwork, appearing in the same place every 34 days. He maintained this schedule for 31 years.

He tended not to speak to many people, keeping to himself and dedicating himself to his travels. Most nights, he slept in caves along his route (I myself have visited one, on the Mattatuck Trail in Connecticut), and he would often leave neat piles of wood to dry, in anticipation of his next month's visit. The locals came to know him (to the point where they could figuratively set their clocks by his comings and goings) and, for the most part, respected his privacy. Housewives would often leave out plates of food for him, perhaps on a back porch, and he would eat these and leave without a word.

Those who did not respect his privacy rarely saw him again. One story relates how a woman conspired to take his photograph, something which he had earlier forbidden. She put out the customary plate of food on the day he was expected to visit. Meanwhile, a man with a camera had positioned himself behind a sheet which had been hung out to dry. The Leather Man sat down, the sheet was dropped, the picture was snapped. He got up and left, never to return. As you can imagine, very few photos exist of him.

He ran into trouble in 1888, the year of the famous blizzard in the Northeast. In late 1888 he was taken to Hartford Hospital for frostbite treatment, as he had lost function in his hands and feet. He did not stay long—it is said he escaped the next day and continued his circuit. And when he failed to make one of his regular stops near Ossining, NY in early 1889, locals fanned out to search local caves he was known to frequent. He was found in one, dead. They buried him in Ossining's Sparta Cemetery.

And so he lived and died. But who was he? He rarely gave out any information people could use; even when he did, it was unlikely his widely scattered benefactors would be able to piece together any kind of coherent story. Nevertheless, an official "legend" about him sprung up, and this seems to be largely the result of a 1952 newspaper article about him. According to this, his name was Jules Borglay, born in Lyons, France. He fell in love with Margaret Laron, the daughter of a local leather merchant, and the father took Jules in as an apprentice. He proved capable, and began to take a greater role in operating the business. His future seemed assured and a wedding date was set. Unfortunately, he had decided to buy a large stock of leather goods in 1855, just prior to a 40% drop in leather prices. The business, along with his future father in law, was ruined. In shame, Jules fled to the United States. Two years are thus missing from the chronicle, during which he (presumably) failed to establish himself in his new land and took to wandering.

This story, of course, should be taken for what it's worth: the result of one newspaperman's "research," talking to the old folks in Connecticut and eastern New York. Most likely the "legend" consists largely of rumor and speculation, but it does make a good story. The problem is that, once rumor and speculation are put into print, they tend to be perpetuated as fact. The prime example of this is George Washington and the cherry tree incident.

But he existed, that much is certain. And the photographs of him are haunting, but strangely captivating. I personally think his true story will never be known, but I find the mystery of the man much more compelling.

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