Jerome Identified

An Early Mystery Solved

MANY OF MY listeners will recall an earlier broadcast when I told something of the story of "Jerome," the legless mystery man of the Fundy Shore. The text of that broadcast was also printed in one of my books, and was called, "Jerome, the Mystery Man of Nova Scotia." From the comment that I have encountered meeting ei ther radio listeners or my readers, I learned that the story of "Jerome" was considered by many of them among the most interesting of the Town Clock series of tales.

Through the years there has been wide speculation among those who have heard about "Jerome," of the real story that lay behind the mystery. Many in Nova Scotia through the years have known of Jerome, for the fame of the mystery man; spread to all parts of this continent many decades ago, and in fact, may very probably have been recounted on the other sides of the ocean. But the real story which led to the plight of the legless man is known to few.

At long last, the mystery of Jerome has apparently been solved by the yellowed pages of a newspaper printed early in this century, which has come to light. On it was told at length what appears to be the real story of "Jerome." The answer to a riddle which has puzzled me and many others for years. I was happy to have this aged piece of newsprint brought to my attention, for it not only added to my store of knowledge about Nova Scotia and its interesting tales, but gives me opportunity to pass it along to my listeners and readers.

Just to refresh our memories about this legless man, whose strange fate has given rise to so much speculation, let's review in brief his case. He was found on the shores of Sandy Cove in Digby County in August of 1863.

Left with a few ship's biscuits or a loaf of bread and a jug of water by his side, he had been put-ashore from a ship. Both of his legs had been amputated above the knees and were properly bandaged. The man who was to become known to the people of Nova Scotia by the single name of "Jerome" almost robbed us of this interesting story -- for when he was discovered there, he had edged forward, propelled by his hands, almost to the edge of the tide-water on the Bay Shore. It was evidently his intention, fearing further horrible tricks of fate, to roll himself into the water and end a life which seemed to hold little for him but suffering. However, he was found in time, and the carrying out of his obvious intention was thwarted. He was but five feet from the water's edge when discovered. Taken to a nearby home, "Jerome" lived for about sixty years in the district, as I told in the previous broadcast -- but in that time little was ever learned about him-he never read, he never wrote, and he seldom, if ever, spoke.

However, through the research carried out for some years by Judge A. W. Savary of Annapolis Royal, the cause of "Jerome's" loss of his legs, and the reason for his presence on the Sandy Cove shore was finally unraveled… and the results of the Judge's search for fact is recorded on the yellowed clipping from a newspaper of some decades ago. This old paper with the tale I am about to tell was brought to my attention by Miss Margaret Ells at that storehouse of knowledge -- the Nova Scotia Archives Building at Studley in Halifax.

The story in its entirety makes interesting reading, but to give it in full would take more time than we would have at our disposal. However, according to my new source of information, it is told that the man, who was somewhere in his twenties, and an Italian, was a stowaway who was put ashore from a schooner in New Brunswick. It is believed that for a time he was employed by a lumber operator in the Chipman district in New Brunswick. One night, in the depth of winter, possibly losing his way, the Italian was said to have fallen between the logs of a mill pond. Drenched and comfortless, he had spent the night in a saw mill, where he sought shelter -- and there he slept. Sleep under such conditions was an unwise move, as his subsequent fate revealed. His legs were so terribly frozen that after he was found, the nearest surgeon found it necessary to immediately amputate both limbs well above the knee.

Next in this strange chronicle, comes one of the most unusual chapters in a human drama. According to this story, which was unearthed by Judge Savary, so long ago, and which has just come to my attention, the local authorities faced with support of an unwelcome burden, a stranger in their midst who had no direct claim on them, chose a way to rid themselves of the man. Only a short . time after he had suffered the loss of his legs, the Italian was said to have been shipped down the river to Saint John. There, the master of a small fishing schooner -- or "smack" -- which was from the United States, was hired to dispose of the crippled man. For consideration of payment of ten dollars, the fishing skipper was to take the Italian on his boat and land him on some distant coast. He carried out his part of the bargain, and by chance, it would seem, Sandy Cove was the place.

Other angles are brought out by this latest description of the mystery, which claims that Robert Bishop, then a Justice of the Peace at Sandy Cove, and a William Eldridge, who later moved to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, were working on a hill at Sandy Cove on a day in August, 1863. They saw two of the pink-sterned schooners then prevalent in the Bay, head in to shore. One of them put off a boat, and drew in… but the steepness of the bank hid the boat from view as it landed. The two on the hill thought nothing special of the landing, for it was customary for boats to be sent in to secure water from a spring at that part of the coast. However, sometime later -- and there is a rather mixed point here in different records -- which suggests it might have been even the next morning, a young man of the village came running to Bishop and Eldridge. He told them there was a man without any legs on the shore.

They went down and found him. The man had been placed near the spring, with scant supplies left in the matter of food. The legless one had apparently traveled towards the shore, lifting himself with his hands in a sitting position, and proceeding with his stumps thrust forward. In this way he had almost gained what he considered the one release offered from his sufferings -- death in the rushing waters of Fundy's tide.

Questioning was almost utterly useless. When efforts were made to find something about him, and what caused his plight, he could give but the one name -- "Jerome" -- and by this name he was known through the number of years that he lived in the district. When asked where he came from, he uttered but one word -- "Colombo" -- and there was some doubt, records say, whether he meant a place, or was trying to add this as another name, or perhaps to give the name of the ship that had landed him. Pen, ink and paper were offered the man but he gave to understand that he could neither read nor write.

Asked how he had lost his legs, he had one word -- "cool." This puzzled those who questioned him for many years, until finally by chance, the whole story was bared. Then it was found that the word "cool" was not the ramblings of a mind which had at times seemed weak, if not demented. For surely it had been "cool" yes, even far more than "cool" the night Jerome slept in that isolated sawmill and was so terribly frozen about the legs that they had to be cut away.

With the hopelessly crippled man on their hands, steps were taken to care for him, and members of the Provincial Parliament of the day, saw that $2.00 a week was secured from the public funds for his keep.

"Jerome," as he came to be known, was placed in the home of an Acadian Frenchman on the opposite side of St. Mary's Bay. Apparently an Italian, it was considered he would be a Roman Catholic, and it was considered suitable that he be placed in a home of that religion. Later on, an Italian gentleman, John Mecchi, of Meteghan Cove, on many occasions interviewed Jerome, but the man's mind had apparently been badly twisted by his fate. The Meteghan merchant could get little of a helpful nature from Jerome, but he gained enough to suggest that the legless man was a native of the Adriatic coast of Italy.

For some sixty years, while Jerome lived on the Bay shore, the people of Nova Scotia had no inkling of the story that lay behind him. Speculation was rife. Was he robbed of his legs and placed on a foreign shore for some hideous crime? Was he a begrudged heir to some estate in a far land, and so treated by others of the family? What was this mystery ship that had left such a strangely mutilated and almost silent being? These questions were asked and pondered on time and again around the firesides of the district. Gradually, Jerome became a part of the life of his new home district, although entering little into it.

This new source of information on Jerome, brings to light the fact that it is also chronicled that about the year 1879, Samuel Gidney of Mink Cove happened to be on a boat that harbored at Little River, Maine. In the evening, two men at that place came aboard the boat. They asked where the visiting schooner, bound for Boston, hailed from. Being informed that it came from Sandy Cove in Nova Scotia, one of the visiting pair asked if any aboard knew of a legless man being found on the Sandy Cove shore. On being told that he was still in Nova Scotia, one of them replied that he was the one who had left the cripple on the shore. According to his story he had brought Jerome from New Brunswick. Parties there had hired him to take the legless pauper away to save town charges. Later, in writing to Judge Savary on the matter, Mr. Gidney said the skipper who had been instrumental in placing Jerome on the shore had given his name, but Gidney had forgotten it. From this man, who for ten dollars, agreed to rid the authorities of the public charge, the way Jerome had lost his legs was revealed, although this information never reached Nova Scotia at that time.

From another source, it is learned that during the time that Jerome was in the Chipman district in New Brunswick, one of the few words he would utter was made up of the letters G.A.M.B.Y., and it was by the name of "Gamby" that he was referred to while there. Just what district authorities decided to have him shipped from the Province of New Brunswick, has not been revealed in the documents that apparently reveal "Jerome's true story. Neither is it known whether they specified that the legless Italian was to be brought to Nova Scotia, or just left it to the discretion of the fishing smack's master what was to be done. In any event, "Jerome" was fortunate in finding Nova Scotia a hospitable land, ready to provide for the care of such a waif of fate. And for many years, he lived on the shore of St. Mary's Bay, there to end his days-and to give rise to many strange stories that have been woven about him.

Thus, my friends, if you never before heard this sequel and answer to the riddle of "Jerome," you are now in possession of it. I will wager that very few, if any, of my listeners, have heard it before. Believe it or leave it, nevertheless it would seem to be a reasonable answer to this famous mystery in Nova Scotia's storied past, and "Jerome" is not as great a mystery to you as he was fifteen minutes ago."

Source: William Coates Borrett, "Jerome Identified" in Down East: Another Cargo of Tales Told Under the Old Clock, (Halifax: Imperial Pub., 1945), 22-29.

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