On September 8th, 1863, an unidentified man who almost died was found at the beach of Sandy Cove on the coast of the Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia with both legs cut off to stumps.
Local people then questioned him about his name and why his legs hurt so badly, but he did not speak English and only said very little, mumbled something that resembled “Jerome”, and so the villagers called him “Jerome”. For years he stayed with the villagers. However, until he passed away in 1912 they never discovered his true origins.
The mysterious man was found by a fisherman who had gone to the shore to gather rock weed. At that time, he noticed a dark figure alongside a big rock on Bay of Fundy beach. As the fisherman got closer he saw the huddled form of a man.
Both legs had been amputated just above the knees and beside him was a jug of water and a tin of biscuits. His legs were only partially healed but were obvious later on that they were amputated by a skilled surgeon and the stumps were bandaged. The man was also suffering from cold and exposure.
The fisherman recalled there was a ship the day before passing back and forth a half mile off shore on the Bay of Fundy side and thought that the man must have been brought in from the ship after dark and thrown overboard.
He was then carried to the home of Mr. Gidney in Mink Cove where he was wrapped in warm blankets and given hot drinks. Through the moaning and muttering, only one word was understood, “Jerome”. Then they decided to called him by this name. The fishermen, boat builders and families took care of Jerome but soon learned he was not going to talk.
Shortly after this discovery Mr. John Nicholas, a Clare man who spoke seven European languages, interviewed Jerome. After the one-sided conversation, Nicholas announced that by the stranger’s reactions to the questions and different languages he thought that the man was most likely Italian but seemed to understand French.
For the next seven years Jerome lived with Nicholas family and it was soon concluded that he kept silent not because of some physical limitation, but for another reason known only to him. When caught off guard Jerome would answer questions.
Once when asked the name of his home, Jerome answered “Trieste” which is a city in the Northern part of Italy. He also answered “Columbo” when asked the name of his ship. After being tricked into speaking, Jerome would become furious and shut himself up in his room.
Stories circled the town about Jerome’s life, his silence and the reasons why he was deliberately left on the shore. Although Jerome never had a very good relationship with adults, he got along very well with the local children. They would visit him, bring him candy and eventually he became quite fond of the sweet gifts.
Later, Jerome moved to Saint Alphonse to live with the family of William Comeau and while there, he received a visit from two strange ladies. The ladies asked if this was where they could find the man with the amputated legs.
Once the women were in the house, Jérôme led them into his room and a long conversation followed in which he took an active part. The family listened outside the door, but could not understand the language being spoken in the other room.
After the meeting, the two ladies left the house without another word. They then conversed outside and seemed to be of the impression that Jérôme was being well taken care of and they were to leave him where he was. The ladies never returned.
Another strange occurrence added more mystery to this silent man’s story. Charles, William Comeau’s son, had gone to Boston for work. While there, two women came to visit him from the Southern United States. They had read in the papers stories about a man with amputated legs who was found in Nova Scotia.
The woman proceeded to tell him that the unfortunate man’s name was Jeremiah and that he came from Alabama. They handed him a letter to give to “Jeremiah” and asked him to deliver it for them.
Upon his return to Clare, Charles did as he had promised and handed the letter to his father’s border. Jerome took the letter looked at it from every angle and then threw it into the fireplace. The family was shocked and disappointed with this and the story of “Jeremiah” was never known.
The Comeaus used Jerome’s relative fame to their advantage, charging admission fees to see the mystery man, living well on this and the government stipend. But Jerome did not seem to mind, and stayed there for the rest of his life, which ended on April 15, 1912.
In 2000, in the village of Meteghan, on the French Shore, a memorial plaque was dedicated to Jerome over a false grave, as it is not known with any real certainty where the castaway–who died on April 15, the same day the Titanic sank (effectively sinking the renown of his story for a while) — is actually buried.
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