In Search of The Old Leather Man, Part I

A mysterious figure, the Leather Man, inspired curiosity everywhere he went.

Dressed all in leather with a leather pack and tin pail, the peripatetic Leather Man wandered in a regular path between the Connecticut and Hudson Rivers making the trip once every 34 or 35 days.

He first came to the notice of the local press in 1869 and by the time his wanderings became predictably regular in 1883, he had become a local legend whose appearance in town were anticipated, noted, and commented on.

His identity was unknown. Although some reports claimed he was the love lorn Jules Borglay, doing penance for a love affair gone wrong in his home in southern France, he in fact, rarely ever talked and then only in monosyllabic answers to questions, so his identity as Borglay was highly unlikely. 

Dan W. Deluca, whose recent book The Old Leather Man , has effectively proved the Leather Man could not have been Borglay and that we really do not know who he was.  Even his identity as French was in question.

His wandering stopped in March of 1889 when he was found dead in one of his rock shelter dwellings in Mount Pleasant, NY, just north of Ossining. Throughout the prior year it had been reported he had exhibited signs of lip cancer that had spread to his lower jaw and a coroner’s inquest confirmed this was the cause of his death.

At public expense, he was buried in a simple pine box supplied by the Ossining Funeral home of White Dorsey in the pauper’s section of the Sparta cemetery just off Route 9 in Ossining.

Partially as a result of the mystery surrounding this local legend, there was a recent attempt to locate his grave and disinter his remains by the Historical Society of Ossining.

In addition to learning something about his identity, a more compelling reason was to move his grave site away from the very busy highway where the increasing volume of visitors to his grave were in danger of fast moving local traffic. 

The plan, then, was to find his body and rebury it in a central and more prominent location about 150 feet away from his original resting place.

Little did I, or others involved in the process, know what we would find.

Editor's note: Read the rest of Dan Cruson's first-person account at ""

Don Goodrich June 05, 2011 at 09:03 PM
Jane, There was a book published about a year ago where I first heard this nixing of the Jules Bourglais story but there was no explanation in the book either just more mystery. Yes he was a leathersmith in France and was working for his fiance's father's leather business, made some bad investments and bankrupted the father, hence leaving France to "punish" himself for ruining his future father in law's business. There seemed to be alot of evidence supporitng this unfortunately all those who knew him or the story first hand are long dead.
Jane Goode June 06, 2011 at 12:13 AM
Thanks for that! I wonder if we'll ever really know who he was....
Craig Zac June 06, 2011 at 12:26 AM
I think the whole "forlorn lover from France leather worker, bad investment, bankrupt, fatherinlaw story just sounds too contrived. Either he made it up and told folks that or it was just folklore... i mean its believed the leather man didn't really talk much more than but in monosyllable answers, and if he came here from France, who then got him to talk that much to get his story? To me it just sounds like all those other urban legends.. the woman who waits for her dead husband and / or son to come home by sitting in her window with one lamp on... or the homeless guy who walks around and everyone says he is really a multi-millionaire who just lives like a homeless man. Every neighborhood has one..
Jane Goode June 06, 2011 at 01:08 AM
Very true. Having a son with Asperger's, who speaks very little (by choice), I can see that he probably did have Autism. I guess we'll never really know, unless they are able to locate his grave, and do whatever tests need to be done to determine how he died, etc. I wonder where the author of the book on Leatherman got all his info.
Don Goodrich June 06, 2011 at 11:22 AM
Craig, it is true the Leatherman spoke only in grunts and monosyllabic "words" and only in French. What I have read is that his backround was researched by people who had been contact with him and observed his behaviors and skills. Imagine what might have been discovered with our hitech search capabilities today. He is a true "folk legend" and we will probably never know the actual truth. Just the fact that this character was local makes it more intriguing for us who live here. Going to his cave in Pound Ridge Reservation has such an eerie feeling. It is unfortunate that more wasn't attempted to find his story when those who met him were still alive.


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