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Wednesday, August 16, 2000 Back The Halifax Herald Limited

Stone marker erected for Meteghan mystery man

A photo of Jerome,the name given the Meteghan mystery man.

By Brian Medel / Yarmouth Bureau

Meteghan - Some claim he was Canada's first welfare recipient. Others prefer to recall the legless man, known only as Jerome, as an aristocrat who was mutilated, perhaps by pirates, and marooned on a rocky Digby Neck beach.

A large stone marker bearing the name Jerome was unveiled Tuesday in the Meteghan parish cemetery where this mystery man was buried in 1912 after living most of his life among Acadians.

In those days most grave markers were wood and didn't last long, says Jean Doucet, president of La Societe Historique Acadienne de la Baie Ste. Marie. The group sponsored the memorial, which includes a plaque with the only known photo of Jerome and a brief history of his life in French and English.

On Sept. 8, 1863 a fair-skinned stranger believed to be in his 20s was found by two fishermen at Sandy Cove, Digby County. Both of the man's legs had been freshly amputated. A jug of water and some bread had been placed nearby.

The man was unable or unwilling to speak and is said to have uttered no more than two or three words after being found. One of the words was thought to have been Jerome, and he was soon given that name.

A strange sailing vessel had been seen in St. Marys Bay the day and evening before Jerome was discovered. Some say it was a Spanish warship.

Jerome's hands weren't calloused and his clothes were cut from fine cloth. Speculation up and down the bay soon led many to believe he had attempted a mutiny and was punished by amputation. Others suggested he was tossed from a pirate ship. Most thought, however, that he was heir to a fortune and had been crippled and cast away to make way for someone else seeking his inheritance.

None of the stories has ever been proven.

"What I think is the most likely scenario is not the most romantic one," says Germaine Comeau, an award-winning playwright, whose 1976 play The Return of Jerome was adapted for radio and won a Radio-Canada prize in 1987.

Two years prior to the discovery of Jerome, a man was found pinned under a fallen tree in New Brunswick. Both of his legs were frozen and had to be amputated by a doctor in Gagetown on the St. John River. The unidentified man, thought to be European, was taken to Saint John and placed aboard a ship. A few people think he was marooned on Digby Neck.

"For me it would have been the most likely (scenario)," said Ms. Comeau.

"But why they would put him in Sandy Cove, though, I have no idea."

And the ship which is thought to have landed Jerome was indeed a mysterious vessel, swore local fishermen.

"It was a different ship than they were used to seeing at those times," said Ms. Comeau.

Soon after he was found at Digby Neck, Jerome was taken to the home of Jean Nicholas, a Corsican, and his wife, Julitte, in Meteghan, across the bay.

Mr. Nicholas, fluent in five languages, was never able to converse with Jerome.

"When I did my research all articles said that he said three . . . words," said Ms. Comeau.

"One that sounded like Jerome. . . . And they asked him where he came from and he apparently said Trieste. That's in Italy. And there's Columbo. He apparently said Columbo. That might have been the name of the ship he came on."

In 1870 the provincial government placed Jerome in the care of Didier and Elisabeth Comeau of St. Alphonse, where he lived out the remaining 42 years of his life. The government provided $104 a year for his upkeep.

"Apparently he was filled with rage when certain words were spoken," said Ms. Comeau. Pirate was one of them.

"Everybody thought he was carrying some kind of a secret. There was something he knew and that he was not allowed to say."

Jerome died April 19, 1912, four days after the sinking of the Titanic.