Yarmouth resident Fraser Mooney Jr., with some of the research he’s collected about Jerome throughout the decades, wrote a book about the mystery man in 2008 and is still searching for answers about his life.
© Tina Comeau
YARMOUTH, N.S. – He’s still always looking for clues.
Sometimes they may be buried in the research he’s amassed over the years.
Other times they may part of a to-do list: check the ship registries, organize a scrapbook, travel to Italy.
No one knew what to make of the stranger discovered on a beach in Sandy Cove, Digby County, in September 1863. Both of his legs were amputated. He didn’t speak, except to eventually incoherently mumble something that people thought sounded like Jerome. But was that his name? Where did he come from? How did he get here? What had happened to him?
In the 154 years since, the questions have never, with certainty, been answered – but not for lack of trying by those passionate, and curious, about unlocking the Jerome mystery.
Among them is Yarmouth resident Fraser Mooney Jr., who in 2008 published a book through Nimbus Publishing titled Jerome, Solving the Mystery of Nova Scotia’s Silent Castaway.
He offered theories and suggestions about Jerome in his book, and yet as recently as one day in April 2017, he finds himself pausing and rewinding a television show called Rick Steves’ Europe, filmed in Cinque Terre in Italy when something catches his eye.
“He visited a cemetery on a cliff side overlooking the ocean. The camera panned over some gravestones and I spotted the grave of Gerolamo Colombo. One theory is that Jerome's real name was Gerolamo and Colombo was one of the handful of other words he spoke. Relatively common names in Italy, which lends support to the theory our mystery man Jerome was Italian.”
FROM DAY ONE
Jerome was a mystery from the day eight-year-old George “Collie” Abright found the cold, wet, legless man near a rock on a Sandy Cove beach, his bandaged stumps still seeping blood, according to some. In his book, Mooney writes about how villagers recalled an anonymous ship in the area the day before. Had someone on that ship abandoned the legless man? And, if so, why? Or was he a sailor attempting a mutiny? A wounded military officer? A descendant of royalty someone wanted out of the way?
Answers were in shorter supply.
Those who helped Jerome in the hours, days, weeks, months and years ahead didn’t think he spoke English. Some spoke other languages to him trying to engage him in conversation, but that never worked.
Mooney says people have described him in various ways: moody, hostile with adults, fond of children, prone to violent outbursts. Mooney believes he was likely confused, frustrated and angry. After all, wouldn’t you be?
HOMES FOR JEROME
At some point Jerome was sent from Digby Neck to Meteghan, where he lived with Jean Nicola until Nicola’s death. From there he went to nearby St. Alphonse, where the family of Dedier and Elizabeth (Zabeth) Comeau took him into their home.
Throughout the years other things would happen – such as the appearance of two mystery women, Mooney writes in his book, who, as the story goes, had an actual conversation with Jerome.
The amateur sleuths in his midst, however – those he lived with, those who visited, those who just wanted to catch a glimpse of the strange man – could never crack the mystery of Jerome.
Mooney says his research points to Jerome (prior to his discovery in Sandy Cove beach) maybe having being a man injured in Chipman, New Brunswick, who was referred to as Gamby, who also had both of his legs amputated above the knees. But even if it was the same person, Mooney says it still doesn’t explain how he ended up on that Sandy Cove beach. Or even how he got to North America in the first place, as everyone seemed to agree his origins were elsewhere.
CURIOSITY ABOUT JEROME
When Mooney first heard about Jerome his interest was piqued, so he went to the library but didn’t find much.
“For a legendary character in our neck of the woods, there wasn’t a lot written about him,” he says. But the more Mooney travelled on this path of mystery – and, he hoped, discovery – the more he came across. Others were curious as well. In 1994 a film called Jerome’s Secrets was directed by Phil Comeau.
Mooney, meanwhile, continues his search for clues.
“Something I really haven’t had the opportunity to do to the degree I would like is tracing the shipping registries of ships that would have come to Nova Scotia from overseas at the time,” Mooney says.
JUST THREE QUESTIONS
Imagine, though, he if could just talk to Jerome. The scenario is put to Mooney: Jerome is sitting beside you. You can ask him only three questions. He will answer you. What would you ask?
“What brought you here?” is Question 1, that's a given.
Question 2? What would he ask Jerome next?
“One of the things that came across to me is how Jerome became part of the fabric of the community. I would like to know how did you feel about the Comeau family who took care of you?”
As for a third question, Mooney reflects on the fact that despite being analyzed, gawked at, prodded, etc., Jerome hated attention and perhaps more than anything would have just preferred to be left alone.
“So I think instead of a question it would be more of an apology for the intrusion that I and others have done to him,” he says.
Mooney notes it is fitting that Jerome died on the same day the Titanic sank on April 15, 1912, his death an overlooked postscript on a day when enormous tragedy captivated everyone’s attention.
“For a man who only wanted to be ignored and overlooked, he found the perfect time to die in obscurity,” Mooney says.
As for how long he’ll continue to seek answers about Jerome, Mooney isn’t sure he’ll ever stop.
“I can’t seem to quit Jerome,” he says, resting his hands on his stack of research, thinking about that to-do list he has yet to complete.