Editor's note: This article is the second of a two-part series in Dan Cruson's first-person account of "In Search of The Old Leather Man." Cruson was part of a team called in to help locate the body of the elusive Leather Man. .
To perform the actual exhumation of the Leather Man, Dr Nicholas Bellantoni, a human osteologist and Connecticut’s State Archaeologist, was contacted and agreed to perform the archaeology necessary to locate the grave and identify the remains.
Dr. Bellantoni had theorized the Leather Man’s eccentricities may have been due to autism. Since modern DNA testing has identified an marker for autism, he hoped such tests might confirm his theory.
I was invited to join him along with five other members of the Friends of the Office of State Archaeology (FOSA) to assist with the archaeology and so on Sunday May 22, we found ourselves under lowery skies in the Sparta cemetery.
Joining us were a host of dignitaries including Dan Deluca, Norman McDonald, the Ossining town historian, and the Ossining Chief of police who came in case the predicted protestors. The chief came to enforce security but became so interested in our methods that he actually spent three days helping us screen back dirt.
Another visitor of interest was the director of the White Dorsey Funeral Home, the same one that had seen to his burial 122 years before. Using the home's records, we were able to substantiate that he had been buried in a pine coffin, and that the grave was somewhere in the extreme southeast corner of the cemetery.
There had been a marker set in 1953 over where the grave was presumed to be but the location was more a matter of supposition and local tradition. Based on that tradition, an iron pipe originally had been placed at the spot, but had been removed.
Sunday was taken up with preparatory work including stripping the top soil off of the grave area with a light bulldozer. A large carnival tent was raised over the site to limit curiosity seekers and protect us from threatening inclement weather.
By the time we finished for the day, we had discovered a characteristic discoloration that extended under the asphalt pavement of the cemetery driveway, which we had the bulldozer dig up. In this discoloration we had recovered some badly corroded nails and a couple small fragments of bone.
Monday, as threatened, it poured. Protected by the tent, we continued to slowly dig through the discoloration with trowels and dental picks and pass the excavated dirt through a 1/8th inch mesh screen to recover anything that we may have overlooked.
By mid afternoon disappointment began to set in. More nails were found, but they were too large to be coffin nails and they exhibited no regular pattern as would be expected if they had secured a coffin lid.
The bone eventually was identified as animal bone by a visiting bioarchaeologist from Southern Connecticut State University. Some charcoal and coal slag was also recovered along with some fragments of glass some small pieces of iron.
Late afternoon brought the realization that we had just excavated a patch of fill from a local waste dump, which had been used to level out the ground before the asphalt of the driveway had been laid down. This was probably the best documented refuse pit in the county.
Other tools were brought in to probe the area around the grave site, such as ground-penetrating radar which sends pulses of electricity into the ground and records their return echo to reveal discontinuities in the soil of the type that would have been created by the digging of a grave.
We also took soil cores looking for the characteristic mottled soil which is found in a grave shaft. All yielded nothing.
Wednesday had been picked for a news conference and the reburial ceremony, which was a cause of some consternation without a body. The decision was finally made to put into the replacement coffin some of the earth from where he was reputed to have been buried along with some of the nails that were found in the vicinity.
And so he was ceremoniously reburied in spirit, elusive in death as he had been in life.