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The Legless Castaway: Victim or Villain

The Legless Castaway: Victim or Villain

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Published by Charles Francis
The tale of Jerome, Nova Scotia's legless castaway, is a famous one. Here is an alternative suggestion as to his origins. It suggest he might have a connection to a mysterious death in Danforth, Maine.
The tale of Jerome, Nova Scotia's legless castaway, is a famous one. Here is an alternative suggestion as to his origins. It suggest he might have a connection to a mysterious death in Danforth, Maine.

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: Charles Francis on Aug 15, 2008
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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The Legless Castaway: Victim or Villain?

By Charles Francis One of the most fascinating Nova Scotia mysteries is that of the young legless castaway who was found on a St. Mary's Bay beach around 1860. The man, who either never spoke or seldom ever spoke and whose legs had been amputated above the knee, has come down through the decades known only as Jerome. Jerome spent fifty or so years living on the largesse of the Nova Scotia government and the kindness of others in a variety of homes on Digby Neck, the French Shore and the Annapolis Valley. During that time period neither Jerome's full name- if Jerome was indeed his Christian name- nor his origins were ascertained. His remains lie in the Catholic cemetery in Meteghan. The above few facts are all the established and agreed upon points involving the inexplicable enigma of the legless man of St. Mary's Bay. Jerome's true identity, how he came to Nova Scotia and where he had been before that are mysteries that have fascinated story tellers and folklorists for over a hundred years. Nova Scotia raconteurs Clara Dennis and Helen Creighton have written of him. So too has American Edward Rowe Snow. A movie has even made about him, the 1994 Le Secret de Jerome. There are almost as many versions of Jerome's story as there are tellers of his tale. Most versions include the following salient points not mentioned above. The legless man may have muttered something close to Jerome when asked his name. At some point he may have been on a ship named Colombo. And his legs may have been amputated because of frostbite. The last two points come from what the legless man may have said in response to questions regarding how he came to be on a beach in St. Mary's Bay and why his legs were missing. However, the ship Colombo is unknown in Fundy waters and no Nova Scotia doctor has ever been found who admitted to removing Jerome's legs for any reason. As the amputations were relatively recent when Jerome was found, however, it is assumed by most that the operation was done somewhere in the general area of the Bay of Fundy. Most of the research into the mystery of the legless man has been done in Nova Scotia. Those investigations turned up a variety of possible origins both ethnic and geographic for Jerome as well as a paucity of reasons for his amputations. Jerome could have come from New York, Alabama, France, an eastern European country, including Russia, or the Mediterranean island of Corsica. The possible Corsican origin has led to his sometimes being referred to as the "Corsican Amputee." There are two principal explanations for the amputation: it was done at sea as a result of an accident or it was done after Jerome spent time in a logging camp somewhere to the west of but not far from the Bay of Fundy. Jerome's Corsican origins relate to one of the first St. Mary's Bay residents to give him shelter. This was Jean Nicholas or Nickola. Nicholas/Nichola was part Corsican and believed Jerome understood the rather obscure patois of the island. The explanations for the amputation are a bit more concrete, however. If Jerome's legs were place on land for his Fundy would have been the amputation taking amputated on a ship, it would have been expedient to find a recuperation. Few if any vessels that frequented the Bay of equipped to care for an amputee. That leaves the question of place on land somewhere around Fundy's western shore.

Researchers into the mystery of the legless man did find a Dr. Peters in Gagetown, New Brunswick who performed a double amputation. The operation was done as a

result of gangrene. This in no way explains how Jerome ended up on a St. Mary's Bay beach. There is, however, an account of the legless man being brought to Nova Scotia. A member of the Gidney family that provided Jerome with succor at one point in his life was in a Maine seaport. Here he was approached by two men who claimed to have been paid to take a legless man to Nova Scotia. They were inquiring as to his welfare. The Mainers indicated that the legless man had been a stowaway on a vessel from the Mediterranean and that he had worked in a lumber camp in New Brunswick. Few researchers into Jerome's origins have followed up on this connection to the western shore of Fundy. There are some references to a mysterious legless man found there though. In Backward Glances at Sunbury and Queens, F. A. McGrand references an unidentified man who was found with his lower extremities frozen. They had to be amputated. The occurrence took place sometime in the decade of the 1850's. Gagetown, where Dr. Peters practiced is in Queens County. There is no mention as to where the unidentified man was found. The tie in to Jerome is obvious though and has been commented on in passing by New Brunswick writer Ruby Cusack. There is also a story from the Maine town of Danforth that bears more than passing mention. Danforth, Maine is on the New Brunswick border. The nearest New Brunswick community is McAdam. It is timber country. In 1870 two Maine men, J. J. Butterfield and Arthur Schillinger, found a body in an abandoned lumber camp not far from Grand Lake. The international boundary runs through Grand Lake. Danforth town officials were unable to determine the identity of the dead man. About all they arrived at was he had been there for a long time. Moreover, when they attempted to move him, his head fell off. Later the boss of the old camp was found. He said the dead man had complained of being sick and was sent home in the company of another logger. Neither were heard from again. The camp boss was unable to furnish the names of either logger. He placed the date of the disappearance of the two as some ten years earlier. Intriguingly, the description he gave of the man who accompanied the sick logger fits that of Jerome in terms of age and the fact that he seldom if ever spoke. The chief question involving the dead man at the time was why his head fell off. While foul play was suspected, the body was too decomposed to identify any wounds. Could his companion have killed him? If he had, it would have been natural for him to cross frozen Grand Lake to New Brunswick. If it was indeed Jerome and he froze his legs on the trek across the border, New Brunswick officials would have wanted to send him back to Maine where he had been working rather then bear the expense involved in his long term care and maintenance. Maine towns in the nineteenth century were notorious for not wanting to assume responsibility for indigents if they could help it. If Jerome really was from some European country or the island of Corsica, this would explain how two Maine mariners came to be paid for transporting him to St. Mary's Bay. They were paid to get him away from some Maine town that didn't want the expense of keeping him. As a final note, there was a ship named Colombo. It was a British Crimean War transport. The Crimean War took place between 1854 and 1856. Corsicans were French citizens and as such fought in the war on the side of the British. A number were known to have deserted. Deserters were first incarcerated in Odessa. From there they were transported on the Colombo. If Jerome, the legless man had been a deserter during the Crimean War, it would explain his reticence at being identified in the British colony of Nova Scotia. In

like manner, if he had killed a man in Maine, this would further explain his reluctance in talking. He would not have wanted to return to the United States for a possible murder inquiry.

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