Leatherman

Fairy-Tale Files, published once weekly, feature three variations of a fairy tale chosen by one of Fairy Tale Review’s editors, readers, editorial assistants, or contributors.


The beginning of a 17th century ballad became the Mother Goose nursery rhyme “One Misty Moisty Morning,” which describes an encounter with “an old man clothed all in leather.” Here is the version from a 1785 Mother Goose book:

One misty, moisty morning,
When cloudy was the weather,
I chanced to meet an old man
Clothed all in leather.
He began to compliment,
and I began to grin,
How do you do, and how do you do?
And how do you do again?


This nursery rhyme predates the wanderings of “The Leatherman” through CT and NY. From the 1883-1889, he walked the same 365 mile loop between the Connecticut and Hudson Rivers wearing a 60 pound leather suit he had sown from the tops of discarded boots; he slept in caves along his route. This circuit always took him exactly 34 days. He rarely spoke, and never revealed his identity or the reason for his endless trek. I grew up hearing stories about this mythic character who had once slept in caves around my hometown, Meriden, CT.


Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder once went on a hike in the Hudson River Valley, where he learned about the Leatherman and visited one of his caves. He was inspired to write the song “Leatherman” (1997):

“ . . . Died a long time ago in the 1880's. Leatherman. Leatherman.
Covered with leather but it wasn't tight. Underneath a moon in the woods at night.
Making the rounds ten miles a day. Once a month they'd spot him and here's what they'd say.

"Here he comes. He's a man of the land. He's leatherman
Smile on his face. Axe in his pack.
He's leatherman. Leatherman. Leatherman."
Comes out of the caves once a day to be fed.
He wasn't known to stay much but, "Thanks for the bread . . .”