Urban legends are stories that are just too good to be true. From the infamous “Hookman” who supposedly haunted Lover’s Lanes in the fifties and sixties to stories of deadly hairdos and maniacs stalking teenage babysitters, spooky fireside tales are basically the everyman’s horror story. They are told as if they are true, but more often than not they’re anchored more in shared anxiety than shared reality.
But now and then, an urban legend turns out to be more fact than hookum. Such is the case with the tale of the Corpse in the Funhouse. The story goes that The Six Million Dollar Man, a popular television show in the 1970s for those who are not up on their forty year old pop culture references, was filming an episode in a funhouse when a worker bumped into one of the props, a dummy painted in red fluorescent paint, knocking its arm off. When the tried to glue it back on, he was horrified to discover a bone sticking out!
From funeral parlor, to sideshow, to funhouse
The supposed “dummy” in the funhouse turned out to be the very real mummy of one Elmer McCurdy. Old Elmer thought himself quite the bandit, and in 1911 he made good on his nefarious plans by robbing a train in Oklahoma. Unfortunately for Elmer, all he managed to net from his heist was $46, two jugs of whiskey, and the ire of the local sheriff. Vowing to never be taken alive, Elmer went on the run. He wound up surrounded by the posse and was true to his word.
After being shot to death, his body was taken to the local funeral parlor. The undertaker embalmed the failed outlaw and found he did a pretty good job. When no family showed up to claim the corpse, the undertaker decided that his work was so good that he couldn’t help but put it on display (people liked to display corpses back in the day.) So he propped old Elmer up in the foyer and charged people a nickel apiece to see him (the change was deposited in the mummy’s mouth.)
McCurdy generated a steady flow of nickels until 1915 when two men claiming to be his brothers appeared. The undertaker reluctantly gave his cash cow to the supposed next of kin, who were actually two enterprising carnival promoters who promptly put McCurdy’s mummy into their side show as “The Outlaw Who Wouldn’t Give Up.” His mummy toured Texas, and from there took a winding road that passed near Mt. Rushmore, into L.A., through a few low budget movie sets, finally ending in the Long Beach funhouse where he was finally discovered during the Six Million Dollar Man Shoot.
Elmer McCurdy, laid to rest
After his discovery in the funhouse, Elmer McCurdy’s 66 year odyssey came to an end. He was laid to rest in Guthrie, Oklahoma in Boot Hill Cemetery. He was carried to his grave in a hearse pulled by two white horses. Elmer’s strange story came to an end when he was buried. Having found more fame in death than in life, McCurdy can finally rest peacefully.
The Associated Press. “Elmer McCurdy Goes Home to Boot Hill.” The Lakeland Ledger. April 23, 1977. pg 6B. Retrieved from: http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1346&dat=19770423&id=UrcwAAAAIBAJ&sjid=0foDAAAAIBAJ&pg=5721,5601106
The Associated Press. “Died With His Boots On.” The Evening Independent. December 11, 1976. pg 2A Retrieved from: http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=950&dat=19761211&id=HUxQAAAAIBAJ&sjid=klgDAAAAIBAJ&pg=5207,2770127
Mikkelson, Barbara. “Dead Man Gawking.” Snopes.com. November 9, 2006. Snopes.com. Accessed on: January 31, 2014. Retrieved from: http://www.snopes.com/horrors/gruesome/mccurdy.asp
United Press International. “Amusement Park Mummy Was Elmer McCurdy, A Wild West Desperado.” Ludington Daily News. December 10, 1976. Retrieved from: http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=110&dat=19761210&id=UPdOAAAAIBAJ&sjid=40sDAAAAIBAJ&pg=3903,5751259