The “Leatherman” and Ossining History

J Philip Faranda January 31, 2011

The story of the "Leatherman" is a beloved piece of local history. I first learned of the Leatherman when I was in the Boy Scouts, probably around age 12 or 13. 

In the late 1800's, a peculiar traveling drifter appeared in Westchester and Western Connecticut clothed completely in a suit of leather. He made the same trip every 34 days in a 360 mile loop that included towns in Westchester, Putnam and western Connecticut. He seldom spoke, never slept indoors, and was by and large a friendly mystery. 

And they say that people could set their clocks by his arrival in their town. People would give him food and some assistance, but he spoke little and had a background that is by and large unknown to us even today. He just traveled his path, roughly 10 miles a day, and slept in caves and shelters he constructed for himself, year in, year out. He suffered from cancer of the mouth, and despite efforts to render medical care, he went off on his own and was eventually found in his Ossining cave after he perished in 1889. And by that accident of history, the Leatherman became a bigger part of our local lore. He was interred in historic Sparta cemetery near the Briarcliff border, and despite being homeless, indigent and anonymous, he was given a funeral and a headstone. 

The Ossining Historical Society recently got court permission to exhume the Leatherman's remains for a scientific study and to relocate the grave away from literally touching what is now Route 9 to a better part of the cemetery. There are some who do not want this to happen, but I support it. One article mentioned that because of his silence and compulsion to walk the same route for years, that the Leatherman may have had autism. Some believe he was French, and DNA evidence may give us insight that we could not have gotten in the 19th century.

Whoever he was, he was a peaceful soul who never harmed anyone and actually brought out some very good things in those he touched-people often gave him food or supplies, and he did show gratitude. Yet just being himself and doing what he did made him somewhat of a local Paul Bunyon, with his own tall tales around scout campfires, and my blog would never be complete as a journal of the area I love without a mention of the peaceful man who did his rounds here every 34 days.

A book about the Leatherman was published in 2008 entitled The Old Leatherman. I have it on my short list.  

The Leatherman


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