MARY LOUISE KELLY, Host:
As Craig LeMoult from member station WSHU reports, the effort has only added to the mystery surrounding him.
CRAIG LEMOULT: Off an old dirt road in Ossining, New York is a large rock face with some smaller, jagged boulders at its base.
DAN DELUCA: Here we are. This is actually where the Leather Man stayed.
LEMOULT: Dan DeLuca climbs down into what looks more like a crevice than a cave. More than 120 years ago, this spot was one of the homes of The Old Leather Man.
DELUCA: He was all dressed in leather, made from old boot tops that he sewed together with leather lace.
LEMOULT: Oh, and that boot suit? It weighed 60 pounds, and he wore it even in the hottest days of summer. In 1883, he started walking clockwise in a 365-mile circle between the Connecticut and Hudson Rivers. And he completed that circle every 34 days. DeLuca says The Old Leather Man was so punctual that people could tell the time by his schedule.
DELUCA: If normally, he would stop at your house at 10:00, he would be there around 10:00, give or take five, 10 minutes.
LEMOULT: It's a mystery DeLuca's been researching for more than 20 years. He started his research after a heart transplant forced him to retire.
DELUCA: A lot of people, when they get a heart transplant, don't make it. They pass away. And I think The Old Leather Man has kept me alive.
LEMOULT: DeLuca's not the only one inspired by the legend. The band Pearl Jam recorded a song about him. There's a race in Pound Ridge, New York named after him. And his caves are visited by Leather Man enthusiasts, and so is his grave here in Ossining, New York.
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LEMOULT: The plan to take the DNA became a bit of a controversy. Don Johnson is a middle school history teacher in North Haven, Connecticut, who teaches his students about the Leather Man. He's also the creator of the website LeaveTheLeatherManAlone.com. He says the Leather Man was intensely private.
DON JOHNSON: Thirty years, 100,000 miles, never telling anybody who he was. That legacy, to me, should speak to us today as, do we want to respect him and memorialize him properly? Then leave him alone. Leave his bones alone.
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LEMOULT: In a way, actually, the whole thing of the mystery of the Leather Man has been, you know, we didn't know who he was. Now we might not even know where he is.
NICK BELLANTONI: Yeah. No, he's, you know, he's having a good laugh.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
LEMOULT: For NPR News, I'm Craig LeMoult.
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