Wednesday, September 17, 2014

An Outlaws’ Mummy

When one thinks of mummies they think of Egypt and ancient Pharaohs but this story is about an American mummy from the Wild West.

An epitaph on a gravestone in Summit View Cemetery in Guthrie, Oklahoma reads:

ON OCT. 7, 1911
FOR BURIAL APR. 22, 1977

Elmer McCurdy wasn’t buried until 66 years after he died.

A Feckless Outlaw

Even though McCurdy claimed to have killed a man he was a clumsy outlaw at best.

He was arrested only once, the reason--drunk and disorderly conduct.

In March of 1911, McCurdy decided to try his hand at train robbery. His target was a train that was due to pass nearby Lenapah, Oklahoma. This train was carrying a substantial amount of silver but McCurdy used too many explosives and the blast ended up melting the safe.

McCurdy later robbed a bank in Chautauqua, Kansas. He again used too many explosives.

McCurdy then joined a band of outlaws and the group set their sights on a train that was due to carry a large sum of Osage tribal payments. But the group misread the train timetable and hit a passenger train instead.

For their efforts they walked away with $40 and a jug of whiskey.

A posse found McCurdy later drunk in a barn near Bartlesville. In a stupor McCurdy announced he would never be taken alive. He got his wish when a shootout ensued.

A Notorious Corpse

The fame McCurdy craved in life he actually achieved after death.

The funeral director in Pawhuska preserved the body with arsenic fluid so the authorities could make a positive ID. Then while he waited for relatives to claim the deceased outlaw the director displayed the body for public viewing.

To the delight of all he posed the corpse wearing suspenders, a broad hat and holding a gun in one hand. Visitors paid a nickel to view the dead train robber. In one account it is said the paying public put these nickels in the corpses' mouth.

At one point this director distastefully put roller skates on the corpse and propped him in a corner of the room--so he would lunge out at the paying customers.

Warning: as this story unfolds it becomes more unsettling and macabre.

A Sideshow Mummy

Before and after mummification.
In 1916, five years after McCurdy’s death, two men showed up claiming McCurdy was their brother. These two were actually carnival owners. They proceeded to bill and display McCurdy’s mummy around the country as “The Outlaw Who Never Gave Up.”

By the time McCurdy was sold to a wax museum many had forgotten the form was a real mummy.

After being displayed in various museums the mummy was next used as a backdrop in the low-buget 1967 campy horror film entitled She Freak.

The mummy ended up at The Pike an amusement park in Long Beach, California. Here it was displayed in a horror funhouse hanging with a noose around its neck.

It had now been years since anyone knew that this mummy was a real corpse.

A crewmember working on a television show entitled Six Million Dollar Man in 1976 was in this funhouse preparing this supposed dummy for a film scene that it would be in. 

This man accidentally broke the arm of this prop while painting it a neon red color. To his shock and horror he discovered a broken bone--real skeletal remains under the now stone solid form.

A Proper Burial

Hanging in funhouse
with broken arm.
A forensic investigation was opened and two items were found on the body. An old ticket to the Los Angeles Museum of Crime plus a 1924-penny was discovered in the mummy’s mouth.

This information eventually led the investigators to McCurdy.

The remains were then transported back to Oklahoma. An old hearse that had not been used since 1913 was dusted off and two white horses were hitched to it.

McCurdy then was taken in a funeral procession to Summit View Cemetery were he was finally laid to rest.

A concrete truck was brought in to pour cement in the grave so the mummified body would never be disturbed again.

But this story doesn’t end here. Some claim that McCurdy is so used to wandering he leaves his grave at night and moves about in this old frontier cemetery.

Here is a short history about McCurdy's travels after death.

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