A guy who described himself as "a lizard in the snow" of Wisconsin, Jody Samson would sit at Sportsman's Bar and Grill on First Street in New Glarus, order the daily special, and wash it down with a Fat Squirrel, the pride of the nearby New Glarus Brewery.
To most in New Glarus, Samson was that guy.
To the rest of the world, Samson, who was found dead of pneumonia in his workshop Dec. 27 at 62, was a legendary sword and knife maker and designer. With a world following in sword and sorcery circles, Samson was lured to New Glarus from California in 2001 by the owners of Albion Swords. He set up shop in downtown New Glarus, called it "The Far Side," smoked cigars and exploited the collectability of old designs of swords and knives.
Howard Waddell, co-owner with his wife, Amy Waddell, of Albion, the largest producer of authentic swords in the U.S., said that in the world of authentic swords and knives, Samson was among the top designers.
"We are walking around in a stupor," Amy Waddell said Monday, about the effect of Samson's death on the staff of artisans at Albion.
He had complained of a cold Christmas week, she said. Green County Coroner Jan Perry said the death is not suspicious. Samson had been dead for about a day before he was found, by Amy Waddell's brother, Lars Hansen, also a sword designer for Albion.
"He had complained of cold-like symptoms for about a week," Perry said. "Someone saw the lights on in his workshop and found him dead."
Samson, who had no known survivors, was a workaholic, Waddell said, going to his shop from his Main Street apartment about 1 a.m. daily to work.
"His legacy is huge; nearly every sword maker we know was inspired by swords appearing in 'Conan,' " Waddell said. That would be the famous Samson-designed weapon from the 1982 movie "Conan the Barbarian." In the movie, Conan, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, wreaks vengeance on his enemies.
Samson got his start making knives by hanging around the workshop of prolific knife maker John Wesley Cooper, in Burbank, Calif., in the early 1970s. Samson also was known for his work creating butterfly knives, which are a special type of folding knife, for Bali-Song. His work commands top prices. The "Conan the Barbarian Atlantean" is listed at $2,775, Waddell noted, and he also wrote fantasy stories for which he designed swords.
Margaret Ryser, co-owner of the Sportsman's, found him to be a very nice guy.
"This was his second home, he was so versatile and well-informed," she said.
A memorial written by fellow designer Leif Hansen described Samson's workshop, with its smell of Swisher Sweet cigars, the sound of Zeppelin in the background, and black steel dust (which he called "the Devil's dandruff") everywhere from grinders.
"I've never met anyone as fiercely and tirelessly creative as Jody Samson," he wrote.
A memorial service for Jody Samson, sword designer and maker, will be at 6 p.m. Friday at Sportsman's Bar and Grill in New Glarus.