Elmer McCurdy's Post Mortem Tour of America
March 29, 2007 10:41 PM   Subscribe

In 1977 Chris Haynes, a set decorator for The Six Million Dollar Man was setting up a scene to be filmed on location in the spookhouse ride of a Long Beach, CA amusement park called The Pike. While moving the various interior props around, Haynes discovered that the paper mache "mummy" hanging in the corner of the ride was in fact a homicide victim, a fact that had gone unnoticed by years of amusement park visitors. The story of how Elmer McCurdy's body was shot to death in 1911, only to be re-discovered & buried over six decades later, makes for an interesting read.
posted by jonson (26 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
For anyone interested in reading more about the hapless outlaw, a biography has been published. Finally, for the first three people to click this link, here's a fun collection of postcards (on geocities, sadly) with some commentary on what The Pike was like back in the 1970s.
posted by jonson at 10:43 PM on March 29, 2007

Great story.
posted by dhammond at 10:52 PM on March 29, 2007

I have always loved this story! I tried to search for it when Metafilter's Own A Savage was asking about Wild West myths but couldn't find it. Great post, you just took me back to the scary sleepovers of my childhood.
posted by Brittanie at 10:54 PM on March 29, 2007

not complete without pictures of the fun-house dummy
posted by jouke at 11:00 PM on March 29, 2007 [2 favorites]

Gather 'round my children, and I'll tell a tale of woe,
About a famous cowboy outlaw who lived a hundred years ago.
Today his soul at last is resting peacefully in hell
Though many years have passed away since through the gallows-trap he fell.

He was sitting propped up in a chair just after he was hanged,
And they photographed his body as a distant churchbell rang.
A circus man was waiting with fifty dollars in his coat
And he bought the cowboy outlaw so he could have him in his show.

And very soon he was embalmed and toured from town to town.
People paid to see the outlaw that they'd heard so much about.
He stood before them with a pistol against a painted scene,
The greatest cowboy outlaw that the world had ever seen

But in time he was forgotten and no one knew his name,
And when he began to fall apart they took his booth away.
They painted him with varnish and put a crown upon his head,
Come and see the king of Egypt said the sign out front instead.

And then one year the circus closed, the tents were packed away,
And he was sold to an amusement park on Massachusetts Bay.
He was sold for next to nothing and they packed him in the van,
They thought they'd bought a dummy but they'd really bought a man.

He was sprayed a special color to help him look a fright,
And they hung him from a gallows 'neath an ultra-violet light.
He hung there in a spookhouse for many, many years,
As youthful faces passed him by in tiny railroad cars.

Until one fine and fateful day in 1976,
He fell down from the gallows when the hangman's noose unhitched.
His arm broke at the shoulder as he clattered to the floor
And the man who went to fix him was stunned by what he saw.

And the teenage boys did holler, and the teenage girls did faint,
When they saw the bone protruding from the varnish and the paint.
A coroner came to serve him and ran a slew of tests,
They found out who he was, in time, and laid his soul to rest.

A hundred hears have come and gone since he spoke his final words,
"I'm not afraid to die and leave behind this rotten world
So go and pull the lever hangman, now my race on Earth is run."
And he thought his life was ended but it had only just begun.

The Cowboy Outlaw, by the awesome Brian Dewan
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:12 PM on March 29, 2007 [6 favorites]

That is VERY cool, Ambrosia - thanks!
posted by jonson at 11:18 PM on March 29, 2007

Double wow.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:54 PM on March 29, 2007

Radio alarm clock set on the AM news station to rouse me early to catch the bus to get to my 10th grade classroom back in '76. This was the story that I woke up to on a cold and still dark morning. They had yet to discover the identity of the dead man who had become a spookhouse prop. Haunted me for days and has stayed with me ever since.
posted by squalor at 12:14 AM on March 30, 2007

Punctuation nit: Shouldn't (paper mache "mummy") be ("paper mache" mummy)? It really was a mummy, but wasn't really paper mache.
posted by DU at 4:08 AM on March 30, 2007

The Cowboy Outlaw, by the awesome Brian Dewan

You beat me to it, Ambrosia!
(Well, it's good to know other people listen to Brian Dewan.)
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 5:21 AM on March 30, 2007

The second link contains a letter from Chris Haynes, who clarifies that he is a teamster, not a set decorator, and reveals that the arm broke off when he was attempting to show someone else the mummy's naughty bits. Classy!
posted by Biblio at 6:06 AM on March 30, 2007

I could have sworn this story was posted on Metafilter before.

I am possibly the only person posting today that visited that amusement park during the time that poor old McCurdy was being exhibited. I grew up in Long Beach because my daddy was sent there when he joined the navy and my folks never left. We seldom went to The Pike; it was a scabrous place.

I think this particular funhouse had a pair of mechanical dummies, a fat man and fat woman, clutching their stomachs and laughing hysterically, hanging over the entrance. I recall the place vividly because I demanded to go inside and then was chastised because I kept my eyes shut tight the entire time.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:29 AM on March 30, 2007

Wow, just wow.
posted by PHINC at 7:05 AM on March 30, 2007

Thirding the great Dewan song:

I didn't know this true story. Incredible!
posted by JBennett at 8:35 AM on March 30, 2007

I think the Six Million Dollar Man angle makes this post. Awesome.
posted by jessamyn at 8:35 AM on March 30, 2007

Fascinating post jonson and wonderful comment by Ambrosia Voyeur.
posted by nickyskye at 9:03 AM on March 30, 2007

Ha! That's a great story. My favorite part though is that not just one, but two, of the robberies were foiled by massive explosions. You've got take it easy with the nitroglycerine Elmer!
posted by GalaxieFiveHundred at 9:03 AM on March 30, 2007

I could have sworn this story was posted on Metafilter before.

Me too. An astounding tale, though.
posted by Miko at 9:04 AM on March 30, 2007

I think the Six Million Dollar Man angle makes this post.

I agree. I wonder if, after discovering the body, anyone on the set said "Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology."
posted by amyms at 9:54 AM on March 30, 2007

the arm broke off when he was attempting to show someone else the mummy's naughty bits

Now that's a blow-out in sector three.
posted by CynicalKnight at 10:17 AM on March 30, 2007

If he's an outlaw on the run, killed in hot pursuit, how can he be a homicide victim?
posted by anewc2 at 10:17 AM on March 30, 2007

jonson, DU: To pick another nit, the spelling is papier-mâché, not paper mache (it's French, dontcha know).
posted by Lord Kinbote at 10:18 AM on March 30, 2007

anewc2 - justifiable homicide is still homicide, no? And Lord Kinbote, I don't know how to make the chapeau & accent ague in HTML, so I just bastardized the word.
posted by jonson at 11:22 AM on March 30, 2007

I gotta wonder how freaked out I would be if the 'prop' body I was working with turned out to be real.

I suspect that my screams might be confused with that of a smallish girl.
posted by quin at 11:27 AM on March 30, 2007

anewc2, Homicide is strictly defined as the deliberate killing of a human by a human.
posted by Megafly at 11:33 AM on March 30, 2007

I can't be the only one who read those song lyrics and heard them in my mind to the tune of "The Beverly Hillbillies," can I?
posted by litlnemo at 4:39 PM on March 30, 2007

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