Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Leather Man

I first inflicted the Leather Man upon my family some thirty years ago. I was in third grade at Wampus Elementary School in Armonk, New York. We'd had an assembly in the cafeteria that day. An odd looking man stood before us, as we students were chatting away, clearly not ready to give this gentlemen our full attention. He had shaggy hair and wore a long woolly sweater. Although our visitor was from a local historical society, he looked as though he was from another time and place.

Finally our guest held up a large turtle shell, about the size of a manhole cover. He then pulled out a thick stick and struck the shell three times. The strikes reverberated throughout the room, even over the sounds of a hundred chattering children.

"That is the sound you would hear...when the Leather Man would come upon your home!" Our assembly became deathly silent. It is a testament to the power of effective story tellers because I don't know who this man was, or if he still is lives, but because of that seizing introduction, I have never forgotten the Leather Man.

Who was the Leather Man? He soon became somewhat of a joke in our family because I came home to my family dinner table that night and gave a breathless word-for-word replication of that amazing man's story. The Leather Man was a hermit who lived in the late nineteenth century. He made his rounds in upper Westchester County and western Connecticut, constantly wandering from farm to farm. He'd beg for food by day and sleep in caves by night.

The Leather Man spoke little and tended to communicate through gestures and grunts. He was presumed to be French based upon a prayer book he carried with him. No one knew where exactly he came from, what his name was or why he wandered. If he were asked a personal question, he was most likely to quickly make his exit.

In absence of a formal name he was known as the Leather Man as his outfit, head to toe, was made of boot leather and was believed to have weighed 60 pounds. Some historians have theorized that the Leather Man was autistic or perhaps suffered from Asperger's, based on his inability to socialize while maintaining a wandering routine that became almost mathematical in its predictability.

The Leather Man died in Briarcliff Manor, just a few miles from my house. The small cave where they found his remains has now been overrun by developers building mansions for hedge-fund overlords. (Okay, I know that this is a bit extreme of me and I don't know the exact spot where the Leather Man's final cave was, but I do know that Trump mowed over a large swath of Briarcliff Manor to build a golf course and housing pods for the magnanimous).

A recent article appeared in the New York Times prompted a frantic phone call from my mother: "Slimbo, it's the Leather Man!" She was delighted to see her whimsical boy's obsession manifest itself decades later. It appears someone wants to exhume the Leather Man to see if testing his remains could provide some answers about his life. Many people believe this to be a severe violation of the one thing the Leather Man treasured: his secrets.

I tend to agree. The world needs the Leather Man as he was - an enigmatic wanderer who, amid all our national obession with industriousness and convention, chose simply to exist on his terms and live inside himself. Some mysteries don't merit solving as they are beautiful in and of themselves.

1 comment:

  1. Your obsession with the Leather Man is appropriate to the obsessions of the man himself. He had his own way, his own manner, and he remains himself to us even now, as a mystery. Which is how he probably wanted it, anyway. Personally, I hope they find out who he truly was, but I want that for my own interest's sake. It's ironic that the man who wanted to be left to himself must have his remains unearthed. It would be a fitter tribute to leave him alone.