Beth Castrodale, author of In This Ground, how did you get the idea for the Unknown Vagrant and the controversy surrounding him?
While doing research for the novel, I came across accounts of a controversy over the exhumation of a mysterious nineteenth-century vagabond in Ossining, New York. He came to be known as Leatherman because of the suit he’d made for himself out of cast-off scraps of leather. And he became something of a legend because his unusual behavior.
As noted in a Village Voice article on Leatherman, “[e]very 30 days, traveling on foot, he’d complete a rigorously predictable circuit of some 360 miles between the Hudson and Connecticut rivers. He would regularly pass through what were then just small farming villages, living mostly off the charity of the townspeople. Farmers claimed they could set their watches by him; newspapers took note when he fell just a few hours behind his typical schedule.” Because Leatherman rarely spoke, no one was able to learn much about him.