Explaining the Mystery
Ages 14-16

MysteryQuest 25

Explaining the Mystery

Author: Catriona Misfeldt

Series Editor: Roland Case


A critical thinking challenge for students, ages 14–16

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On September 8, 1863, a man whose legs had been cut off at the knees was found on the beach of Sandy Cove, Nova Scotia. He had no identity papers, money, or belongings, and didn’t speak. Unable to look after himself, Jerome was cared for by local Acadians. He spent the rest of his life almost in silence. Many rumours developed about this mystery man and his origins. These theories — ranging from the believable to the unbelievable — were transformed into a widely-told Maritime legend.

Because of notable similarities between Jerome’s circumstances and those of an individual named Gamby, one theory is that these men are one and the same person. Gamby, thought to be an Italian, was found on a logging trail in the winter of 1859. His legs were frozen and eventually amputated at the knees. The people of Chipman, New Brunswick looked after him for several years before paying to have him removed from the area because it was too costly to care for him. Jerome showed up in Nova Scotia around this time. Many believe that Jerome and Gamby were different people; others think they were the same person. You’ll have an opportunity to decide what you think.

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In this MysteryQuest, you are invited to consider whether the “Frozen Man from Chipman” theory is a believable explanation of Jerome’s identity and his arrival on the shores of Nova Scotia.

First, you will read brief summaries of Gamby’s life. Then you will examine three historical accounts looking for evidence that might or might not link Gamby with Jerome. You will then consider the criteria for a good historical explanation. You will assess how well the “Frozen Man” theory meets these criteria. Finally, you will offer your overall conclusion on the believability of the theory as an explanation of Jerome’s identity.

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STEP 1: Learn about the “Frozen Man”

Before assessing whether the “Frozen Man” theory is believable, you need a clearer picture of what is known about Gamby and where he came from. Read the five very short documents written by historians found in the Secondary Sources section of Evidence in the Case. Record information from the five documents about Gamby and his life on a single copy of Summarizing the Accounts. Where possible, note any consistencies or inconsistencies in the information in these overviews compared to what is known about Jerome.

STEP 2: Examine historical documents

You are now ready to examine the three newspaper articles listed in Evidence in the Case. The articles, written in the early 20th century, make claims about possible links between Gamby and Jerome. Read each account very carefully, looking for specific details that may help you assess the accuracy of the theory. For each newspaper article, record relevant information on a separate copy of Summarizing the Accounts. Where possible, note any consistencies or inconsistencies in the information in each newspaper account compared to what is known about Jerome.

STEP 3: Consider what makes a good historical theory

In deciding whether a proposed theory offers a good explanation of a historical event or not, you should consider four criteria:

  • Is the theory highly consistent with the body of evidence presented in various historical documents (there is no conflicting evidence)?
  • Does the theory clearly explain many aspects of the event (leaves few or no gaps in the accounts)?
  • Is there lots of relevant evidence to support the conclusions presented by the authors?
  • Have the people based their theory on information drawn from credible sources that are reliable and trustworthy?

To help you think about these criteria, review the newspaper articles and your completed copies of Summarizing the Accounts, looking for the following:

  • How closely do the different newspaper accounts support each other?
  • How much evidence do the authors provide for their conclusions?
  • Do the authors indicate whether their information is from believable sources?

As an additional help, read the three short government documents about the treatment of Gamby found in Evidence in the Case. Does the evidence in the government documents contradict or confirm the claims made in the newspaper accounts?

STEP 4: Assess the theory

Consider all the evidence provided by the documents you have examined to help you assess the extent to which the “Frozen Man” theory is a good historical explanation of Jerome’s identity. Use the rating scale (“very good” to “very poor”) on Assessing the Theory to record your assessment for each of the four criteria. Provide evidence to support your ratings.

STEP 5: Explain your conclusion

Based on your ratings, offer an overall conclusion about whether the “Frozen Man from Chipman” theory is believable. Use Justifying My Conclusion to record your answer and the reasons that support and might challenge your position.

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The evaluation rubric Assessing the Evidence and Ratings may be used to assess how well you were able to identify relevant evidence from the documents, identify possible consistencies and inconsistencies, and assess the believability of the theory.

The evaluation rubric Assessing the Justification may be used to assess how well you were able to provide reasons for and against your conclusion and justify your assessment of the theory.

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Examine additional documents
Explore other historical documents included in Gamby, the “Frozen Man” from Chipman. Does this additional information cause you to change your assessment of the believability of this theory?

Examine alternative theories
Locate the documents in Theories that describe three other theories about Jerome’s identity. How consistent are the facts within and across theories? Which theory or theories seem most plausible?

Do you know this person?
Develop an “Information Wanted” poster or newspaper ad providing a detailed profile of Jerome as deciphered from the clues about his background, qualities, and personality.

Explore other challenges
Apply your detective skills to a related mystery associated with Jerome’s life:

  • MysteryQuest 27 invites you to judge, according to the standards of the time, the treatment of Jerome.
  • MysteryQuest 26 invites you to determine which aspects of Jerome’s life explain why his story has continued to attract significant attention over the years.

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Activity Sheet: Summarizing the Accounts

Activity Sheet: Assessing the Theory

Activity Sheet: Justifying My Conclusion

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Secondary Sources

Gamby, the “Frozen Man” from Chipman

Strange Discovery Near Chipman

Taking Care of a Stranger

Prohibitive Costs

Was This Person Jerome?

Primary Sources

Newspaper and magazine articles

C.O. Foss, “Interesting sketch of ‘Gerome’,” Yarmouth Herald, September 5, 1905

A.W. Savary, “Authentic Story of Jerome the Legless Mystery of Meteghan, Now Related by A.W. Savary,” St. John Daily Telegraph, April 1, 1909

Amphibia, “More About Jerome the Legless,” St. John Daily Telegraph, April 5, 1909

Government documents

New Brunswick Provincial Archives, Queen's County, Health and Welfare, Overseers of the Poor, RS154 E3a, John M. Lean, “Queen’s County to John Brown a/c [1861],” January 23, 1861

New Brunswick Provincial Archives, Records of John H. T. Manners-Sutton, Lieutenant-Governor, RS347 C8, John O’Leary, George Benison, Samuel White, “Overseers of the Poor for the Parish of Chipman Queen’s County 1861 for money to pay support of a poor foreigner,” ca. March 31, 1861

New Brunswick Provincial Archives, Queen’s County, Health and Welfare, Overseers of the Poor, Chipman Parish, 1839–1877, RS154 E3e, Overseers of the Poor Chipman, “Overseers of the Poor a/c Chipman [1863],” January 19, 1864