Sunday, May 29, 2011

Stranger bedfellows

(Thanks to The Old Leather Man, by Dan W. DeLuca, for the above picture and most of the information.)
What do the Leather Man, unwashed wanderer, and Hughette Clark, millionaire recluse, have in common? Depending on how you look at it, very little or a very significant characteristic.
The Leather Man’s name, birthplace and date of birth are unknown. He died, alone in a cave, in March of 1889, wearing the same oft-patched leather garment he had worn through all his wanderings. He was approximately 50 years old.
Hughette Clark was born in 1906, the daughter of the 67 year old, William Clark and the 28 year old Anna La Chapelle, formerly William Clark’s ward. Huguette spent almost her entire life in the rarefied air of Upper East Side mansions. She died in Manhattan’s Beth Israel hospital at the age of 104, still worth millions.
The Leather Man ate cured meat, windfall apples, dandelion greens, nuts and berries. He chewed tobacco he found discarded at railroad stations and post offices.
Huguette Clark’s favorite lunch was saltines with sardines.
Starting in 1856 – when he first entered the general consciousness – the Leather Man walked alone on country roads and railway beds, and slept in caves and in abandoned cabins. His journeys took him through Connecticut and New York and sometimes to the Berkshires. Then in 1883 he began to walk what would become his famous and reliable circuit: every 34 days he completed 365 miles through Westchester, Putnam, Dutchess and Columbia counties in New York and Fairfield, Litchfield, Hartford and Middlesex counties in Connecticut. Local towns folk and town papers often took note of his passing through, but he rarely spoke or interacted with others.
After her brief unconsummated marriage in 1929, Huguette moved back into the family’s Fifth Avenue mansion and lived there with her mother and a chorus line of servants. Surrounded by her exquisite dollhouses and their perfectly dressed occupants, she occupied herself by painting, playing the harp and watching the “Flintstones”. (What about those animated cave folks did Huguette find so compelling? Was it the bone barrette in Pebbles’s hair? Or was it the prehistoric approximation of a 1950’s suburban foursome, in which the husbands act like cavemen and the wives are delicate flowers with some actual common sense?) In the late 1980’s Huguette, under as assumed name, moved into a NY hospital suite. She brought her French dolls with her into seclusion. She never left the hospital again.

Apparently, the preeminent wish of both Huguette Clark and the Leather Man was to be left alone, to live alone and unknown, and to die that same way.

And since I am trying to keep the hagiography to a minimum, I won’t mention that both Huguette and the Leather Man surely have more in common with the eremites, stylites (pole-sitters), and peregrinating ascetics of early Christianity, than with most of their 19th, 20th and 21st century peers.

St Anthony Abbott,in the Desert, by Zurburan


Rebecca Rice said...

I love this.

But one question: How do you know that Hugette's marriage was unconsummated? Inquiring minds desperately want to know!

Christine Lehner said...

For more about unconsummated marriages, see St Ethelreda and Tonbert, or Sts Amator and Martha, or St Theodoric. Just for starters.

pond said...

I was planning on sending you the obit of Hugette but then realized that "oh wait. C will surely blog on this." and I bet myself. YES, I won!
...which hospital in NY would let someone come to live for 20 years?