“I’m looking for something that says ‘Hobo Likes Leather’.”
December 18, 2016 11:46 PM   Subscribe

The Old Leather Man was a proto-hobo who has been preserved by history because (as mefites learned back in 2007) His legacy today is a place in the hearts of Connecticutuckians, an academic work by Dan W. DeLuca, the Pearl Jam song “Leatherman”, and The Road Between Heaven & Hell, a very sincere, oddball, thirty-minute public television documentary from 1984 narrated by a large, bearded man.
posted by Going To Maine (28 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
(This post is really about that documentary, because it’s an odd artifact from the backwaters of TV. But the rest seems like important, detailed, contextual boilerplate. Frankly, if you want to watch the documentary you should skip the lot of it.)
posted by Going To Maine at 12:21 AM on December 19, 2016

...and then there's a neo-hobo.
posted by fairmettle at 2:30 AM on December 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

I grew up in CT hearing about "The Leather Man", and at camp one summer we even got to explore a small cave that locals still called "Leather Mans Cave" due to him supposedly having used it for shelter at times on his travels.

Never knew about the documentary and can't wait to check it.
posted by Captain_Science at 2:53 AM on December 19, 2016

why would he do a route every 34 days? that would mean he arrived a different day of the week each time. wouldn't 35 make more sense? then people would know what day he was coming?
posted by andrewcooke at 2:58 AM on December 19, 2016

Aperiodicity keeps your enemies guessing.
posted by ardgedee at 3:32 AM on December 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

My less snarky guess is that he's probably working on a schedule that makes more sense on a solar or lunar cycle than on a Gregorian calendar, since the wilderness doesn't care much what day of the week it is.
posted by ardgedee at 3:39 AM on December 19, 2016

Either that or he just walked his path at a comfortable rate and that just happened to be how long it took to make the loop.
posted by The Horse You Rode In On at 4:33 AM on December 19, 2016 [5 favorites]

What is a boot suit? Google has nothing.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 4:58 AM on December 19, 2016

I-Write-Essays: apparently he got the leather he used to make his suit(s) and pack by recycling the tops of other people's discarded leather boots. So, a suit essentially made of boots.
posted by easily confused at 5:09 AM on December 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

just happened to be how long it took

sure, but i read / heard somewhere in the links that there was a lot of animosity towards tramps, that this guy needed to be different to survive, that the suit was part of that, as was the repeated route. in which case you'd think regularity was a good thing and would extend to the timetable.

i wondered if it was someone being dumb and reporting some kind of average when the data said that he normally took 5 week, but sometimes took 4, say. but you'd expect it to be sometimes longer, not shorter, so the average would be over 35.

i guess maybe i am over-thinking this.
posted by andrewcooke at 5:20 AM on December 19, 2016

I bet the length of the route was because people like a circus, but they don't like living next to a circus. By being both reliable and scarce, he was treated as an attraction rather than a nuisance.
posted by I-Write-Essays at 5:25 AM on December 19, 2016 [10 favorites]

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.

posted by FatherDagon at 6:57 AM on December 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

I've found the interview with Dan W. DeLuca to be the most informative of linked resources, which isn't surprising considering the time he spent collecting scraps of knowledge about Leatherman.
Also: no relation to Leatherman's Tool which is named after the company founder.
posted by hat_eater at 7:00 AM on December 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

"Fluent in French, he communicated mostly with grunts and gestures"

this is bitchier in a more direct way than I have come to expect from Wikipedia

or else it's the "eats shoots and leaves" of why there is no such thing as an implied "Although"
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:42 AM on December 19, 2016 [8 favorites]

the Pearl Jam song “Leatherman”

Can't find a Leatherman
Can't find a Leathermaaayuun
posted by Sys Rq at 8:20 AM on December 19, 2016 [3 favorites]

Two questions as I've only read the Wikipedia:

1) You could have someone arrested & hospitalized for having a frost-bite spot on their lip???

2) What made those crackers so fancy???
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 8:24 AM on December 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

1) You could have someone arrested & hospitalized for having a frost-bite spot on their lip???

Don't believe everything you read on Wikipedia.

From the Wikipedia article:
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.
Two sources are cited:
Samantha Hunt, Jules Bourglay, Notable Walker. McSweeney's Internet Tendency, 11/2002 (retrieved July 21, 2006)
Canning, Jeff and Wally Buxton, History of the Tarrytowns, Harbor Hill Books 1975

There is also a record from the time the Connecticut Humane Society had Bourglay arrested and hospitalized. The doctors diagnosed Bourglay with an "emotional affliction" but, apparently, this disorder was not reason enough to keep him confined to a mental institution, so soon he was free to walk again.

Bourglay died from cancer. He had been a smoker and at the time of his death the disease had eaten parts of his lips, cheeks, and mouth, a malady sadly apt for a man who didn't want to speak.
History of the Tarrytowns:
“Representatives for the Connecticut Humane Society became so concerned about the Leather Man that in December 1888 they had the old man arrested and taken to a Hartford hospital. But he wanted his freedom. He had money and refused to stay, so hospital authorities judged him sane except for an emotional affliction, and released him to his wanderings.”
Frost bite on the lip is not in the cited sources. Thanks,, you jerk.
posted by zamboni at 9:01 AM on December 19, 2016 [7 favorites]

> this is bitchier in a more direct way than I have come to expect from Wikipedia

I read it with an implied "but not English"; When you're monolingual in something other than the local tongue, gestures and simple words is what you'll be defaulting to, too.
posted by ardgedee at 9:03 AM on December 19, 2016

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 gill of brandy and a bottle of beer"

I used to fantasize about planning a long autumnal walk across however much land I would need to walk across to walk 10-20 miles per day but arrive in the right place to sleep in a motel every night (still do fantasize about it, but never could figure out the mapping and planning to make the route come out right). now if I finally ever do it I don't have to make up my own list of what to carry with me. I think I would let the sardines go by the way but the rest is a 100 percent good supply list.

2) What made those crackers so fancy???

a regular old cracker is an insult to a fine sardine
posted by queenofbithynia at 9:17 AM on December 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


I've always preferred Connecticutions.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 9:22 AM on December 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


posted by zippy at 10:22 AM on December 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

Interesting that he wasn't just living on handouts, he was paying money for supplies. I wonder how he was earning? There aren't any mentions of him doing farm work or odd jobs, though I only read a couple of the articles.
posted by tavella at 10:39 AM on December 19, 2016

I've never heard of this story; thank you for posting it. I was wondering the same thing about his occupation -- I imagine he could have had a regular business making deliveries or carrying news/messages/etc from one town to another, but you'd think that would be part of the story if so. And if he were making leather goods etc, you'd think that would be recorded. Is it possible people just gave him enough handouts?
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:46 AM on December 19, 2016

Not saying this is what Leatherman did, but a similar story may shed some light.

Hitchhiking in Guatemala I ran into an old friend of my parents. He was in his late fifties, estranged from wife and grown up children. He had sold his restaurant Italy, literally cashed out with a couple hundred thousand dollars in a fanny pack.

He had divided his money, some in Mexican and Guatemalan banks, most buried in secret spots around small towns, mostly Zapatista communities and Mayan villages.

His 'decadent' bases where in Antigua in Guatemala and San Cristobal de las Casas in Mexico. He would spend a couple days there visiting doctors, checking email, etc... Then spend the rest of the time walking and hitchhiking the Mexico/Guatemala border.

He was on a 3 month loop more or less, and looked like a crazed dirty hobo. He was the one who recognized me, and it took me like 45 minutes of conversation to figure out who he was.

My father later told me that Giuliano had been diagnosed with some kind of progressive disease, and he was convinced if he stayed in Italy, or kept any fix address, his wife or the government would take his money and put him in hospital.

On the one hand, it was sad to see this once brilliant designer and restauranteur living the life of a hobo, on the other hand he looked happy, and people in the village seemed to like him and care for him.

More power to him, that part of the world is beautiful, the people are great, and the Zapatista experiment is something to see.
posted by Dr. Curare at 11:38 AM on December 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

So - summarizing from the DeLuca interview -

DeLuca thinks (but doesn't have proof) he was of French-Canadian and Indian descent and was raised by his Indian grandfather who taught him wilderness skills that he used to live a passably comfortable life sheltering in caves, tending his own garden plots along his route, fishing, tanning leather, etc. He spoke with people who spoke French but would only communicate by grunts with people speaking English. He was orderly in his shelters and handicrafts, and apparently very focused on being on time on his route (DeLuca suspects he may have had OCD or similar); never stole or bothered people, but developed friendships along his route and "people went out of their way to feed him what he liked, and they looked forward to his next visit."

DeLuca says it's a misconception that he traveled one specific circuit for 30 years. Instead, he had many routes through CT/NY/VT/MA for most of that time, and (DeLuca thinks) would go up to Canada to visit his grandfather until the grandfather died around 1880-2. Only after that did he settle into the very regular 34-day circuit of the same specific towns, which he then kept up for about 6 years until his death in 1889; by this time he was no longer finding his own food, instead relying on friends along the route.

Looking in the Amazon preview of DeLuca's book (all contemporary newspaper clippings, I dare you not to get sucked in), it sounds like he was born around 1835ish. The clippings describe townspeople visiting his cave and how he used hollowed-out logs for food storage and leather tanning.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:39 AM on December 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

Also, in reading those newspaper clippings, the news writers' views of him are widely varying -- some are clearly more about making jokes, some are more sympathetic and sound more as if they've actually had contact with him.
Dec 5 1888, Hartford Evening Post, Middletown:
The old leather man is like Jeff Davis. He wants to be left alone.

Dec 6 1888, Bristol Weekly Press, Forestville:
The leather man passed through here last Friday. He looked much worse than last time. His mouth is in bad shape.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:46 AM on December 19, 2016

An 1872 history of Madison County relates the story of one Lucy Dutton a/k/a "Crazy Luce", a woman of great beauty, who, upon being stood up at the altar by a fiancé who had instead married her sister, went "mad" and proceeded to spend the remaining 30 years of her life restlessly wandering the area around Cazenovia, New York (story at bottom of page). She is described as climbing fences in terrible conditions to avoid dealing with others--and Cazenovia gets epic winter weather. Someone recently erected a marker to her memory on Route 20 at the foot of Cazenovia Lake. Though perhaps not as widely traveled, she certainly spent more time on the move than the Leather Man.

I imagine there are others who have wandered, but not all are remembered.
posted by kinnakeet at 1:04 PM on December 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

she is described as climbing fences in terrible conditions to avoid dealing with others

not even all others, though! just dudes! this is remarkable, I am always torn between the shame of finding whimsy in old-timey mental illness and the wish to be skeptical about the past's habit of calling madness in women what might be perfectly reasonable:

"She had a great repugnance to the society of men, and would climb fences in the most tedious wintry weather to avoid meeting them. Her friends, knowing this peculiarity, humored her - the men by never appearing to notice her, when in her presence.

this woman may have been ill and may have been unhappy but she had the psychic power to built her own mobile crone island through inducing men to behave, when in her presence, as though they were not there. not sure whether this is a formidable forcefulness of mind that modern women have lost, or a pure gallantry that modern men have no more, or no more care to have.

(really I am not making light of whatever happened to her. but going stark mad in one single instant so as to rove to and fro over the earth for 30 years and then suddenly awaken from her madness, as if from a dream, just in time to die, is definitely maybe not exactly what mental illness is understood to be nowadays. anyway I am sure it was not so great for her but it is one of the greatest stories I ever heard.)
posted by queenofbithynia at 1:58 PM on December 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

« Older the spice must flow   |   A magician, a glass pitcher and your childhood... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments