Friday, October 5, 2018

Born Under a Bad Sign: the Tale of Elmer McCurdy

When the stars are aligned against you from birth, it's called a "bad sign".

Some people have all the luck.....and then, there's Elmer McCurdy, a man so ill-fated that even death itself did not end the indignities life threw at him.
Elmer McCurdy

Elmer McCurdy was born on New Year's Day 1880, and if you think that's an auspicious beginning, you'd be wrong. For starters, his mother was an unwed 17-year old and his father unknown. To avoid the shame of illegitimacy the baby was given to his mother's brother and his wife to raise as their own.
I don't know what his early life was like, but upon learning his aunt was actually his mother things took a bad turn. Elmer began acting out and drinking heavily. 
Unable to hold down a job as a plumber's apprentice due to alcoholism, he eventually turned to a life of crime. But he couldn't manage a crooked life any better than he could a straight one. 
In his first attempt at train robbery, his overzealous use of nitroglycerin not only blew open the safe but obliterated most of the $4,000 dollars inside and fused the silver coins to the safe walls.
In his next criminal attempt he and his cronies spent two hours chiseling through the wall of a bank ,and not learning from his earlier mistake, McCurd again used too much nitroglycerin. The explosion blew the vault across the bank but failed to blow the door off. The robbers had to make do with $150 in change found outside the vault.
Were they ready to call it quits? No. Hearing that a Katy train with $4,000 would be passing through, the gang set off to intercept it. Only they robbed the wrong train! Instead they stopped a passenger train and in what one newspaper of the day called "one of the smallest in the history of train robberies," made off with only $46.
It was after this last bumble, McCurdy, who had gone off to drown his sorrows, was shot dead after a stand off with the law in Oklahoma.
The undertaker embalmed the body using arsenic and dressed him up to lay him out properly. But when no next of kin came to claim him, poor Elmer was stripped of his suit, put in rough clothes, stood up in a coffin with a shot gun, and labeled "The Bandit Who Wouldn't Give Up". If the undertaker wasn't going to get paid for the embalming, he was going to recoup his losses by charging a nickel a viewing.
And that's only the beginning of the story of Elmer's corpse. Some years later, a man showed up claiming to be Elmer's brother and took possession of the body. Only he wasn't his brother, he was one of the Patterson brothers of the Great Patterson Carnival Show. 
At this point Elmer embarks on the next phase of his death: carnival side show freak. 
After traveling with the Pattersons, he went on to find himself in the Museum of Crime standing along wax figures of other outlaws such as Bill Doolin. He made the circuit of other carnivals including a stint at a Mount Rushmore roadside attraction where he lost some extremities during a windstorm. 
Dead Elmer even had a brief career in the film industry. While showing the movie, Narcotic, McCurd stood in the lobby as an example of what the use of narcotics could do to a person. He also appeared in the 1967 movie She Freak.
By this time the mummified body had shrunk to child-like size, so it's not surprising that somewhere along the line people forgot this was once a man. His last indignity was to be stripped naked and painted red to take his place hanging by the neck in Laff in the Dark Fun-house in Long Beach, CA.
When will this nightmare end?! In 1976, that's when.
He was still hanging around 65 years after his death when, ironically, the film crew of The Six Million Dollar Man knocked his arm off while shooting a scene in the fun-house. When human bone was detected in the broken arm, Elmer was rescued. 
How did they know the mummy was Elmer McCurdy? One of the clues to his identity was the discovery of a 1924 penny and ticket stubs from the Pike Sideshow and the Museum of his mouth!
Finally Elmer McCurdy was laid to rest with dignity. He's buried in Oklahoma next the real body of outlaw Bill Doolin. It's said that between his death and his burial, the body of Elmer McCurdy traveled the equivalent one and half times around the globe.
Oh, and to make sure his traveling days were over, two inches of concrete was poured over his casket.
I'd like to thank author Andrea Downing for reminding me about poor,old Elmer so I could drag him out once again in time for your Halloween entertainment. Hankering for more? Andrea and I have a twofer for you! Two historical western romances connected by a paranormal detective agency. You'll find an unwitting time-traveler, a haunted honeymoon and there will be chills and laughter along the way...and, of course, romance.
Here's what Sunshine Lake Reviews has to say:

Available on Amazon
The Wild West gets even wilder when Nat Tremayne sends out his agents from Psychic Specters Investigations offices in St. Louis and Denver. Across country and across time, these agents will stop at nothing to unravel the mysteries that beset poor unsuspecting ranchers and cowboys who have no idea what they’re seeing . . .or not, as the case may be.
In The Ghost and The Bridegroom, P.S.I. Agent Healy Harrison is sent to Tucson to rid a rancher of the ghost in the bedroom interfering in his marriage to a mail-order bride. Healy doesn’t think she’s destined for romance—until she meets Pinkerton detective Aaron Turrell. But when their two cases dovetail, will their newfound love survive the ultimate showdown the between mortal and immortal.

In Long A Ghost and Far Away, agent Dudley Worksop aims to unravel the mystery of Colby Gates’ dead wife. Lizzie not only seems to have reappeared as a ghost, but has time traveled from 2016 to the 1800s. Can revenge be had for her murder? And can the couple be reunited across country and across time?
These stories originally appeared in The Good, The Bad, and The Ghostly.


Andrea Downing said...

Good grief! I didn’t know most of this though the irony of the Bionic Man tv crew finding Elmer had certainly struck me. Thanks for telling Elmer’s life story—or maybe I should say his death story��

Patti Sherry-Crews said...

I even left stuff out. His afterlife was more eventful and remarkable than his life.

Kristy McCaffrey said...

That's quite a story. And ewww on him hanging around for so long after death. Creepy.

Patti Sherry-Crews said...

I'm sparing everyone the later photos of him after he'd been painted red and all. I don't want to be responsible for anyone's nightmares. But you can look them up herself...if you dare! Fall is my favorite season and I especially love the spooky stories around Halloween. Thanks for stopping by.

Hebby Roman said...

Oh, my gosh, Patti, that is one of the saddest stories I've ever heard. Good grief, you're right about him being born under some kind of wrong star or something. That's just so downright weird and creepy, too!!!

Patti Sherry-Crews said...

I know, Hebby, it is a sad tale.