The Legless Man Who Washed Ashore

On September 8, 1863, an unidentified man was discovered on the beach of Sandy Cove, Nova Scotia. What made the discovery even stranger was that both of the man’s legs were cut off to stumps. When locals questioned him, said few words. Because he spoke so little or seemingly refused to give any information or answers, it was hard to tell whether it was because he was being shy or if it was because he didn’t speak English.

Nonetheless, locals did manage to get some answer out of him, or least they thought so. When asked for his name, they believed the unidentified man said his name was “Jerome,” and so that was the name given to him by the locals from that moment onward. Whether or not “Jerome” actually was the man’s name was never determined.

Legless Man Found on Beach

On the day Jerome was discovered, an 8-year-old boy named George Colin “Collie” Albright came across him when Jerome was brought to the Albright home in the village of Digby Neck where he would be nursed back to health. Upon examining his injuries further, Jerome’s legs were found to have been amputated above the knees, where evidence suggested that a skilled surgeon did it. Moreover, the stumps were healed partially and were even still bandaged when he was discovered. Aside from his amputated limbs, Jerome also suffered from cold and exposure.

Following this discovery of this mystery man washing up on shore with two freshly missing limbs, many people became intrigued and wanted to catch a glimpse of him for themselves. Many visited his bedside to find out what they could about him. Through these interactions, Jerome was discovered to be unable to (he could have just as simply refused to talk about himself) to understand French, Latin, Italian, or Spanish.

As far as what parts of his personality could be gathered, Jerome shunned the attention of the curious. Instead, he would growl like a dog at unwanted guests.

Furthermore, as far as physical clues to his past, the man’s hands were noted as being too soft, suggesting was not a manual laborer. Also, his physical appearance was described as being from the Mediterranean.

As time went on, the family of the boy who took Jerome in struggled to support having another mouth to feed, and so Jerome was moved from house to house for a period of time until the mainly Baptist community of Digby Neck, decided that he had to be a Catholic just based off on his appearance. Subsequently, he was sent to the neighboring French community of Meteghan. To bring financial support to Jerome, the government of Nova Scotia also voted a special stipend of two dollars a week.

By this point, people continued to try and get Jerome to break his relatively mute stance, and he was sent to stay with Jean Nicola, a Corsican deserter who spoke several languages. Unfortunately, Nicole was unable to get Jerome to talk, but despite that, Jerome would stay with Nicola for seven more years. During this time, Jerome quickly became a favorite of the ladies of the household — Jean’s wife Julitte and his stepdaughter Madeline.

Following the death his wife, Jean returned to Europe and Jerome was sent to stay with Dedier and Zabeth Comeau in St. Alphonse, located near Meteghan. Using Jerome’s fame to their advantage, the Comeaus charged admission fees to anyone still curious about the mysterious man. Jerome never seemed to mind and stayed with the Comeaus for the remainder of his life.

On April 15, 1912, Jerome died, though his exact age, and cause of death is not known.

Legacy and theories

  • One suggestion about Jerome’s identity and the circumstance preceding the discovery is that he was a sailor who may have attempted mutiny and thus was punished via amputation.
  • Another says that Jerome could have actually been an heir to a fortune and was consequently “gotten rid of” so that someone else could take his inheritance.

Since Jerome spoke very little throughout his known lifetime, possible explanations were proposed:

  • The difficulties Jerome had in producing speech could be linked to a brain injury, most likely in Broca’s Area, which is the part of the brain that regulates speech. If this were to be the case, Jerome would have been incapable of speaking in any understandable language; this may account for his ability to make animal-like noises rather than replicating any human language.

Jerome, becoming quite the popular legend in Nova Scotia, so much so that several books were written on this peculiar case.

In 1994, a feature film was produced, directed by Phil Comeau, called Jerome’s Secret.

In 2008, a book was published by local historian Fraser Mooney Jr. of Yarmouth, Nova Scotia — Jerome: Solving the Mystery of Nova Scotia’s Silent Castaway. In the book, he offers a solution to the man’s origins.

According to his book, in 1859 on the other side of the Bay of Fundy in Chipman, New Brunswick (a few years before Jerome’s appearance), it was said that a young foreigner was reported to have fallen through river ice. As a result, the foreigner suffered gangrene in both his legs which required amputation by a local doctor.

From there, the stranger became known as “Gamby” because he repeatedly called for gamba, which was Italian for “legs,” upon awakening. 
Soon afterward, the stranger became a burden to the locals, and it is rumored that a passing schooner was paid to take him away. Going by this suggestion, the captain could have then sailed to the opposite side of the bay to Nova Scotia. Despite this, his account has been called speculative and nothing but fiction.

Who do you think Jerome was? Or do you think this story is nothing more than a legend?