The Leatherman is a transient man who was famous for travelling a 365-mile circuit between the Connecticut River and the Hudson River, year after year roughly from 1857 to 1889.
The Leatherman was first appeared roughly 1857. Famous for his hand-made leather clothing, he walked his circuit between the Connecticut and Hudson rivers and completing his journey in precisely thirty-four days. stopped at towns along his 365-mile circuit every five weeks for food and supplies. An article in the Burlington Free Press dating April 7, 1870 first referred to him as the "Leather-Clad Man." The article mentioned he spoke rarely and when addressed would simply communicate in gestures, grunts, and monosyllables. When he did speak, he was fluent in French and rarely used broken English. When asked of his background, he would abruptly end the conversation. Rumors speculated he was from Picardy, France.
How he earned his money to buy supplies is unknown. One store record stated he purchased "one loaf of bread, a can of sardines, one-pound of fancy crackers, a pie, two quarts of coffee, one gill of brandy and a bottle of beer." He would also live in lived in rock shelters and what are locally known as "leatherman caves." He heated his rock shelters with fire, making him survive blizzards and other foul weather. His methods prevented him from losing any fingers which was common for transients in the time period, however his face was reported to be frostbitten during the winter.
The Leatherman was popular in Connecticut. People in the towns he walked through would have food ready for him which he often ate on their doorsteps. It was considered an honor if The Leatherman ate food from your doorstep. Some schools let their best student give him food when he passed by. However, he refused meat on Fridays, which indicated he was Roman Catholic. Ten of the towns exempted him from the state of Connecticut's "tramp law" that was passed in 1879. In 1888, the Connecticut Humane Society arrested him and hospitalized. He was diagnosed as "sane except for an emotional affliction." Because had money and desired freedom, he was shortly released afterwards.
On March 24, 1889, the body of the Leatherman was discovered in his Saw Mill Woods cave on the farm of George Dell in the town of Mount Pleasant, New York near Ossining, New York. It was determined he passed away from mouth cancer from tobacco use.
The Leatherman was buried in the Sparta Cemetery in Ossining, New York sixteen miles near Route 9. His initial gravestone read, "FINAL RESTING PLACE OF Jules Bourglay OF LYONS, FRANCE "THE LEATHER MAN" who regularly walked a 365-mile route through Westchester and Connecticut from the Connecticut River to the Hudson living in caves in the years 1858–1889." The name "Jules Bourglay" first appeared in a story published in the Waterbury Daily American on August 16, 1884. One theory is that Bourglay became the Leatherman after losing his true love after blowing his fortune in the leather business and wore the suit as penance. This was later retracted in March of 1889 editions and also in The Meriden Daily Journal on March 29, 1889. Researchers and his death certificate further confirmed that the Leatherman was never identified.
In 2011, he was exhumed for forensic testing to determine his origins, with some speculating he may have had Native American roots, but only coffin nails were found in grave. 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. On May 25, 2011, the new tombstone was moved farther from Route 9 but still within Sparta Cemetery with a new tombstone, that simply reads, "The Leatherman."
- Pearl Jam wrote a song, "Leatherman", based on the Leatherman. It was a B-side of the single "Given to Fly", from the 1998 album Yield.
- Finnish singer-songwriter J. Karjalainen makes a reference to "Uuden-Englannin nahkamies" ("New England Leatherman") in the song "Mennyt mies".
- The Leatherman was the subject of a 1984 video documentary which was shown on Connecticut Public Television.
- In 1965, on his program Perception, Dick Bertel interviewed Mark Haber (1899-1994) about the Leatherman on Channel 3, WTIC-TV (WFSB since 1974) in Hartford, Connecticut.
- The life of The Leatherman is documented in the 2008 book "The Old Leatherman" by author Dan W. DeLuca.
Clothing and accessories
- His clothing, including his hat, scarf, and shoes were hand-made leather that weighed sixty pounds.
- Equipment such as scissors, awls, wedges, a small axe, and an extra axe head.
- French prayer book.