Derby History Quiz
Johnny O' the Woods
Though not as well known as the more famous "Leatherman", the man pictured above was a frequent visitor to Derby known only by the nickname Johnny O' the Woods. He arrived on the scene about a decade after The Leatherman. Apparently no one knew exactly where he would call home, but he showed up on a regular basis and was noted for the heavy layers of overcoats which embellished his appearance. Judge Ralph Clark of Ansonia referred to him as one of the "true knights of the road" while addressing a 1994 meeting of the Derby Historical Society.
He was actually well known for his travels throughout the Valley and seems to have enjoyed a bit of notoriety. In fact a trust fund was set up in his name to take care of him. In several newspaper accounts from 1908, he is reported living on the streets and in vacant lots - or even spending time in jail to avoid the cold.
Since this quiz first appeared, Marian O'Keefe who suggested this quiz and provided the picture has done more research and has confirmed that Johnny O' the Woods' real name was John Brennan, and he was born in Ireland in 1838. According to the 1920 Census Data, he came to the U.S. in 1860. She also found that he died on April 5, 1922 and is buried in Middletown. Besides finding his death certificate, she also found a 1986 article in the defunct "The Valley Drummer" which described him in more detail. In this account, it was claimed that he was once married to a beautiful girl who was killed during their honeymoon when she was thrown from a horse drawn carriage. Supposedly, that is when Johnny took to his wandering ways.
When wandering, he could be seen carrying a cane and wearing from 6 to 12 overcoats. One story says that the cane and extra layers of clothing were to protect him from children throwing stones at him or dogs for which he had a great fear. It was said that he was always willing to do the odd job as payment for the food and simple shelter provided him, and many in the area were fond of him.
In 1917, he seemed to be failing physically and mentally, and Mayor Mead of Ansonia was able to get the probate judge to commit him to the state mental hospital in Middletown where he eventually died in 1922.
Correct answers were received from: Jack Vagnini, Millie Fatterusso, Mary Suess, Nick from Terryville, Ann Searles, Randy Ritter, Ruth E. Barnett, Fred Grant, Stephanie Anne D'Onofrio, Edward Baclawski, Jack O'Callaghan, John M. Rak, Lorraine O'Callaghann, James Allaire, Richard Chromik, and Joe Melewski.
To see our earlier quizzes and learn more about Derby's unique history, click here.