What Happened to the Leatherman?

Plus, where the street has no name and painkilling chili

A Leather-bound (Cold) Case

A few years ago, there was talk of unearthing the Leatherman’s grave and doing DNA testing to find out who he was and where he was from. What ever happened to that? —Olivia Martell, South Salem

A: The Leatherman was a—let me find the right politically correct term—homeless individual? Vagabond? Explorer? Well, anyway, he was this guy who roamed the mountains and woods from the Connecticut River to the Hudson River from about 1858 to 1889, clad head-to-toe in a homemade leather outfit.

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He lived in rock shelters and would make regular stops in the local towns for supplies. He communicated mostly with hand gestures and grunts but was said to be fluent in French. He was well liked, and many folks left food on their stoops for him. It’s even been rumored that 10 cities actually wrote exemptions to vagrancies laws just for the Leatherman. He survived brutal winters and was once arrested and hospitalized in Connecticut because a group of well-meaning townsfolk believed he needed medical attention. He left a few days after being admitted.

His body was believed to be found near Mount Pleasant in 1889. He was buried in Sparta Cemetery on Route 9. In 2011, the grave, reportedly only a few yards from the busy road, was exhumed. There was a controversy about the exhumation and whether to test his remains to better determine his identity.

“When we exhumed his grave, we found coffin nails, but there were no remains left, like bones or teeth, that would stand up to DNA testing,” said former Ossining Museum president Norm MacDonald, who oversaw the project. “We know no more about the Leatherman than we ever did.”

The Exit Not Taken

Q: Approximately 0.6 miles south of where Mountain Road in Irvington
terminates at the Saw Mill Parkway, there is a concrete road to the right that appears to be abandoned (there is a tree across it). It is not on any map. Is it an abandoned road? —Jeremy Harris, Port Chester

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A: For this one, I turned to the always-reliable Patrick Raftery of the Westchester Historical Society.

Patrick told me that prior to the construction of the Saw Mill River Parkway, Harriman Road (apparently as a dirt road) continued eastward through Irvington Woods, crossed the Saw Mill River and connected with Saw Mill River Road (Route 9A) at Park Avenue. You can see the road linking to the proposed parkway on 1929 maps. When the parkway was built, the village of Irvington wanted to have a Harriman Road exit, but this never came to be. It’s possible that construction on the exit was started and halted, but as far as Patrick knows, the exit was never actually functional.

Dr. Pepper

Q: Is it true that Acorda Therapeutics does something with chili peppers for people with HIV and AIDS? —Suzanne Delores, Edgemont

A: Kinda. The NASDAQ-traded biotech company in Ardsley makes pharmaceuticals that improve neurological function for people with conditions like multiple sclerosis, spinal-cord injuries and, yes, conditions related to AIDS and HIV.

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Qutenza is a prescription drug Acorda manufactures that is designed to help people with neuropathic pain. It is made from synthetically derived Capsaicin, the active ingredient in chili peppers. Acorda synthesizes an identical chemical to the ingredient in the pepper without actually using any of the vegetable.

The Capsaicin is applied via a transdermal patch to alleviate pain. It is a particularly attractive painkiller because there are no addictive qualities to it, and it is non-narcotic.

Make no mistake, however: This is a potent substance. It is believed to derive its painkilling properties by the stimulation of nerves and the subsequent messages they send to the brain. Capsaicin is also the main ingredient in pepper spray, the Mace-like substance used for self-defense and crowd control. 

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