New Canaan ‘Ghost Story’: Traces of the Leatherman

“His story died with him, as he so obviously wished, leaving only a haunting memory, of a strange lonely figure, to posterity and to God.” — Katherine Crissey Weed Comstock, New Canaanite, 1950

Halloween is approaching and New Canaanites are preparing for the throngs of costumed characters ringing doorbells with hopes of receiving treats at every stop—an appropriate time to look back at one of the area’s most unique and mysterious costumed characters, a man who knocked on New Canaan doors looking for handouts back in the mid- to late-19th Century. For the figure known throughout history only as “The Old Leatherman,” the handouts meant more than satisfying a sweet tooth—they were for survival. Accounts of the Leatherman first surfaced in the 1850s. A mysterious stranger wearing a 60-pound outfit made entirely of patched leather began appearing in lower Westchester County. His weathered, bearded face partially obscured by a leather hat, the Leatherman gained notoriety among residents alarmed at the sight of the vagabond, who on rare occasions spoke only French and a little broken English.