Tuesday, June 21, 2011

An eviction and an exhumation

Leather Man, New England, 19th c. (1st image, another image here)
A man of unknown identity and uncertain age was a well-known itinerant in Connecticut and New York for 50 years. Referred to as the "Leather Man" because he was clad in hide year-round, the vagabond traveled a never-changing 365-mile loop through at least 41 towns, but moved on as soon as anyone probed him about who exactly he was. He was not Jules Bourglay, as it reads on the headstone which had been placed in 1953 over his grave in Ossining's Sparta Cemetery. The Leather Man had received a pauper's burial in 1889, when his lifeless body was found in one of the caves in which he slept. In 2011, a team of historians, geneticists, archaeologists, and anthropologists will examine and investigate the remains of the Leather Man, which are being exhumed to move them to a more central location within the cemetery. Connecticut state archaeologist Nicholas Bellantoni explains, “We’re trying to do right by this man; he deserves better than a stone with someone else’s name in the pauper’s area. We’re never going to solve all the mysteries of the Leather Man, but if he couldn’t speak, or chose not to, maybe his biology will have the chance to teach us about him — not through legend, but through actual scientific knowledge.” North Haven middle school teacher Don Johnson holds the opposite opinion, feeling that the best tribute to the man who kept so much to himself is to leave his secrets buried with him: “If anyone’s actions spoke louder than words, it was his....If there’s any place left where you can keep your secrets, with the Internet and everything out there, it should be your bones.” As the Leather Man may have wished, those bones had long disintegrated when his grave was opened last month.

David Burgess, England, 21st c. (2nd image, additional images here)
David Burgess, 63, has been squatting in a remote shack in Exmoor National Park in Somerset for the past 26 years. He shored it up with timber found on the adjacent beach, added a tarpaulin for a roof, and outfitted the interior with hammocks fashioned from salvaged fishing nets, furniture crafted from driftwood, and a floor of dried leaves. Unable to keep deer from eating the food he has tried to grow himself, Burgess works as a landscape gardener to afford the canned and dried food that he heats on a stone grill. Officials of the park want him out of the building, which he has damaged by altering it. The 17th c. bark-drying house is part of a complex of structures that includes a limekiln and the remains of two other buildings. In his defense, Burgess says, “We belong to the land, the land doesn’t belong to us....I am not doing any harm and I pick up rubbish.” The park responds, "[W]e would be happy to discuss with him some arrangement whereby he could continue to enjoy the area.”

No comments:

Post a Comment

You may add your comments here.