The headstone says his name was Jules Borgelay, but that’s highly unlikely. A lot of fanciful stories were made up about this strange fellow who for decades tramped in a continuous loop through the woods, fields and rural towns of Northern Westchester and Putnam counties. He accepted food handouts, slept in caves and wore a full suit of leather, even on the hottest summer days.
He walked a 365-mile path across the countryside in 34 days. People said they could set the clocks by his appearance, but he kept to himself. Photographs of him are rare, though one Leatherman researcher, Dan DeLuca, has collected all of the known photos and put them in one fascinating book fittingly titled, “The Old Leatherman.”
The fact is, his identity will probably never be known.
But here’s the latest. According to Norm MacDonald of the Ossining Historical Society with whom I spoke today, the bones of the Old Leatherman will be dug up next spring by a group of anthropologists and archaeologists.
“We’ve gotten court permission to open the grave,” MacDonald told me.
By examining bone and teeth fragments, the forensic team hope to solve at least part of the mystery as to who this man was. For instance, they may be able to tell where he came from (Though he rarely spoke, he was thought to be a French man) or whether he had autism, as some have suggested. Suffering from cancer of the mouth, his last days were extremely painful.
MacDonald would not divulge the exact day of the exhumation.
“We don’t want to make a circus of it,” he said. “We have a whole list of people who want to be there.”
After the study is completed, the remains will be reburied, MacDonald said, “in a more respectful location in the cemetery.”