Elmer McCurdy is not exactly a household name. In life, Elmer McCurdy was a hard-drinking drifter. In death, he crisscrossed the country touring the carnival circuit, hit the Hollywood scene, and even made it to TV. And the story of the Elmer McCurdy mummy is a wild one.
The bizarre tale of Elmer’s journey from varmint to traveling corpse started in Oklahoma when he and his gang of bandits robbed the wrong train in October 1911. The crew made off with a paltry $45 and a load of whiskey. A posse closed in on the outlaw two days later and McCurdy swore he’d never be taken alive, Living up to his word, he died after an hour long shootout and was later identified as one of the five bandits that had robbed a train in Coffeyville, KS earlier that year.
His body was taken to the Johnson Funeral Home in Pawhuska, OK, where it was embalmed. After it sat unclaimed at the mortuary for six months, one observer noticed Elmer was perfectly preserved. Attempting to cash-in on a growing local interest in the “Embalmed Bandit,” the enterprising mortician dressed Elmer up with rifle in hand and put him on display for five cents per view.
Elmer McCurdy gained his fame more than 60 years after his death, in 1976, when memories of those wild days on the frontier were dying with the last people who’d lived them.
That’s when the crew of The Six Million Dollar Man borrowed an amusement park funhouse to shoot an episode. As one of the crew members moved a dummy, its arm fell off—revealing that the dummy was actually a mummy. McCurdy, specifically, as an autopsy later revealed.
It seems that after being shot, someone had gone to the funeral home and identified themselves as McCurdy’s long-lost brother in order to take the body. In fact, he was a carnival owner. (Carnivals did a brisk trade in outlaw corpses to attract crowds in the early days of the 20th century.) McCurdy’s body also spent time as repayment for a bad debt, playing a mummy in a freak show, and collecting dust in a wax museum storage space before he became a funhouse prop.
McCurdy was finally laid to rest on Boot Hill in Guthrie, Oklahoma, 66 years after he was killed. Were it not for a clumsy prop crew member, who knows where he’d be today.