Jerome, The Mystery Man of St. Mary’s Bay
Gisele Thibault (Immersions, Université Sainte-Anne)
In the Metaghan cemetery in St. Mary’s Bay, a grave bears the simple inscription “Jerome – 1912”. It is the grave of a man whose name and origins are still unknown today. In this grave lies Jerome, the man who was the subject of the greatest mystery of St. Mary’s Bay.
The mystery began on the evening of August 22, 1864, when the inhabitants of the little village of Sandy Cove noticed a ship, rather near shore, that was not flying a flag. All of the observers agreed that the ship was unknown to them, for the fishermen and sailors of this coastal village knew practically every ship that came to the harbours of St. Mary’s Bay. Moreover, the ship was behaving strangely; it went back and forth as though the crew were observing the village. The villagers felt uneasy, for they still remembered the raids by American pirates during the War of 1812.
When night fell, the ship was still tacking back and forth off Sandy Cove. The night was uneventful, and in the morning the inhabitants discovered with relief that the mysterious ship had disappeared. Not even a sail broke the line of the horizon.
The quiet of the village was soon broken, however, by the cries of a young man running up from the beach as fast as he could. The first two villagers he met, Robert Bishop and William Eldridge, didn’t at first believe what he was saying, and went to the beach themselves to check out his strange story.
To their great surprise, they found a little man beside a rock. Next to him was a tin of biscuits and a jug of water. They quickly realized that if the man appeard to be small it was because his legs had been amputated above the knees. According to accounts of the time, the amputation was fairly recent and the wounds, while carefully stitched up, were not completely healed. Everything indicated the work of a skilled surgeon.
Some witnesses said the stranger was wearing clothes of high quality, like the uniform of a naval officer. But all of the buttons and badges had been removed. Even his undergarments were made of fine cloth. Other witnesses said that while his clothes were of good quality, they were definitely not such as a naval officer would have worn. But they all agreed that any clue as to the origin of the clothes had been carefully removed.
Filled with compassion for the unfortunate man, Bishop and Eldridge carried him to the home of a Mr. Gidney, and naturally attempts were made to find out his name, where he was from and why he had been abandoned on this shore. Neither by word nor gesture did the stranger reply to their questions.
The people of Sandy Cove, who were unilingual Anglophones, supposed that this silence was due to his not understanding English. So they sent for Mr. Jean Nicolas, a resident of Metaghan who was a native of Corsica and spoke several languages. Mr. Nicolas had no success, but believed the stranger was probably French or Italian, took him into his home.
During his seven-year stay in the home of Mr. Nicolas, the stranger said a few words, each time when taken by surprise. Once, when he was asked his name, he answered something that sounded like “Jerome.” Another time, when Jean Nicolas asked where he came from, he grumbled a word similar to “Trieste.” Lastly, when somebody inquired about the ship that had brought him there, he seemed to say “Colombo.” Each time he realized that he had been tricked into breaking his silence, he went into a black rage that lasted for days.
After Jean Nicolas died, Jerome went to live with the family of Dédier Comeau, who received $104 a month for his keep until he died in 1912. Monsignor Daly Comeau, a friend of the Comeau family, described Jerome as follows:
“He would never look us in the face. He always kept his eyes down. When Mrs. Comeau called him for his meals he would respond with an ill-tempered grumble, but would obey. When she told him, ‘Change your shirt; I want to wash it,’ he would answer with more grumbling. Every time I saw him he was in a rather bad mood, or else displayed complete indifference toward whomever was in the same room.”
Accounts of certain incidents only deepen the mystery. Charles Comeau, Dédier Comeau’s son, went to work in New York, where one day he received a visit from two ladies from the southern United States. They questioned him at length about the mysterious man living in his home. Finally they said they knew him, that his name was Jeremiah Mahoney and that he came from Alabama. They gave Charles a sealed letter with instructions to deliver it to Jerome. When Charles returned home and gave the letter to Jerome, the family waited, hoping that at last they would learn Jerome’s identity and story. But Jerome simply took the letter, turned it over in his hands a few times, and without showing the slightest emotion threw it, still unopened, into the fire.
Another time, two richly dressed women arrived unexpectedly at Dédier Comeau’s home and followed Jerome as he dragged himself immediately into his room. According to witnesses, there was a long conversation in which Jerome took part, but though they listened at the door the Comeaus learned nothing, for the discussion was in a foreign language. They hoped these two ladies would at least provide some information about Jerome’s identity, but they left without revealing anything.
What else do we know about Jerome? It is clear that he was neither deaf nor mute, and that for some reason he wished his identity to remain a secret. When he was handed a book or newspaper, he would open it and hold it upside down if he knew he was being watched, but the moment he thought he was alone, would turn it right side up and apparently read with interest. Though he displayed complete indifference to ordinary conversation, he would become terribly angry if he heard words like “traitor”, “pirate” and “forban” (another word meaning “pirate”).
Jerome lived in St. Mary’s Bay for 48 years. Both during his lifetime and after his death, many researchers have attempted to shed light on his mystery. Who was he? Where was he from? Why did he come here? Was there some terrible secret hidden away in his head that he couldn’t reveal? The answers to these questions are probably buried with him in the Meteghan cemetery.