How a Real Corpse Ended Up in a Fun Park Spookhouse

Atlas Obscura
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April 11 2014 9:52 AM

How a Real Corpse Ended Up in a California Fun Park Spookhouse

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It was 1976. Crew members from the TV show The Six Million Dollar Man were preparing to shoot on location at the Pike Amusement Park in Long Beach, California. The plan was to capture Steve Austin, the titular pricey fellow, riding in one of the cars along the track of a spooky ride called the "Laff in the Dark." The ride featured a tunnel in which ghouls, demons, and skeletons would pop up and scare you as your car jolted from side to side in the dark.

While sprucing up the set, a Six Million Dollar employee spotted a mannequin hanging from a noose in the corner. He reached for the mannequin's arm — and the arm broke off in his hand. Looking at the dismembered limb, the worker was astonished to see what looked like bone beneath layers of desiccated skin. This was no mannequin. This was a man.

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The hanging corpse in question was once Elmer McCurdy, an outlaw who died in a gunfight with police 65 years before being found in the funhouse. In 1911, the mischief-making vagabond robbed a train near Okesa, Oklahoma, then took his spoils — $46 and two jugs of whisky — north, where he holed up in a barnyard on the Kansas border. Police pursued him and ended up killing him in a shootout among the hay.

McCurdy's body was taken to a funeral home in Pawhuska, but no-one claimed it. Seeing a money-making opportunity, the undertaker embalmed him and allowed visitors to view the preserved corpse if they placed a nickel in its mouth.

Five years into this lucrative scheme, a carnival man turned up at the funeral home claiming to be a long-lost relative of McCurdy and requested to take the body so it could be laid to rest properly. He was, of course, lying through his teeth. Within weeks, the McCurdy corpse was the star attraction of a traveling carnival.

For 60 years, McCurdy's mummy made the rounds of carnivals, wax museums, and haunted houses, until it turned up, inexplicably, at The Pike in Long Beach. By this time, the legend of Outlaw McCurdy was long forgotten, and the body was assumed to be a fake. After the Six Million Dollar discovery, police identified McCurdy and sent the body to Summit View Cemetery in Guthrie, Oklahoma, for long-delayed internment.

McCurdy's grave is marked by a stone that lists his death date as 1911 and burial date as 1977, with no elaboration on the matter. A thick layer of concrete atop the casket ensures the corpse won't go walkabout again.

Visit Atlas Obscura for more on Elmer McCurdy. For the full run-down of McCurdy's travels — pre- and post-mortem — check out Mark Svenvold's book, Elmer McCurdy: The Life And Afterlife Of An American Outlaw.

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