Archive for June 3rd, 2011

One of the unique pieces of local lore attached to Ossining is the Leatherman, a well known drifter seen for decades around Westchester and Fairfield counties in the late 1800s who is buried in Sparta cemetery.

His origins were largely unknown. He was unique: a quiet, itinerant wanderer who walked a 365 mile loop through the Hudson Valley and Connecticut clad entirely in leather, slept in outdoor shelters of his own making, he seldom spoke (and when he did, it was often in French) and revealed little about himself. What we do know of him is largely derived from old newspaper records mentioning his comings and goings, and the odd word of mouth stories passed through the generations. I learned of the Leatherman in the late 1970’s from my scoutmaster.

He was kindly and helpful but immensely private. While a vagabond, he was well regarded enough for many towns to exempt him from local vagrant statutes, and he came and went freely. He died in 1889 near Ossining, and was buried in a pauper’s grave in Sparta Cemetery on Route 9. Recently, the Ossining Historical Society petitioned the court to move the grave due to its close proximity to the widening highway, and to exhume and study his remains for any forensic DNA evidence of his true ethnicity and perhaps his medical condition.

Over the protests of some, the exhumation took place May 25, 2011 and his grave was dug up and relocated to higher ground on the small, historic cemetery, further in from the road. The Leatherman had the last say in the exhumation. The fiercely private, enigmatic old soul will remain a mystery- all that remained of his corporeal form was the soil and a few coffin nails.


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