Good morning, history buffs! Take a break from the Thanksgiving prep chaos to reflect on how your life could be worse…
Yes, if you think you have it rough, read on as I relay the unfortunate story of Elmer McCurdy. It’s so unfortunate (how unfortunate is it?) that it prompts me to suggest to those in the area to pay respects at ELMER MCCURDY’S GRAVE- Summit View Cemetery, 1808 N. Pine St., Guthrie, OK.
Before I tell his story, here are the simplest directions to finding his gravesite.
First of all, for some reason there are two cemeteries right next to each other, divided simply by a wire fence. If you see this entrance…
… don’t use it. You want the entrance at the sign pictured above that says Summit View Cemetery. Go straight after entering and turn left at the flagpoles. When you get to the intersection next to the office, turn right. Turn at the second left and his grave will be ahead on your right, in a section labeled as Boot Hill.
Now let me tell you why I am sending you there.
Elmer McCurdy, born in 1880, was screwed from the start. First of all, his mother allowed him to go through life with the name Elmer McCurdy, in a time when perfectly decent names existed such as George, John, or even Clarence, names that would have dulled the sting of a last name like “McCurdy.” This lack of insight might be due to immaturity. His mother was a 17-year-old single girl (it is suspected that her cousin impregnated her, so adding to bad name tastes, we had potentially poor choices and inbreeding). Elmer was raised by his aunt and uncle. As a teenager, he was finally told the truth about his mother and, well, he wasn’t particularly pleased about it. He began drinking heavily and getting into other mischief.
He tried straightening himself out as a young adult by getting a job as a plumber with his grandfather, but the economic situation of the country (aka The Great Depression) soon lost him that job. His mother and grandfather died shortly after that. He then got tuberculosis from his days working as a miner.
After his short stint in the army, he learned how to use nitroglycerin for demolition and used this knowledge in an attempt to become a train and bank robber.
Sometimes, he actually pulled off his robberies. Many times, though, he just made the Wet Bandits in Home Alone look like Mensa candidates. He often would use too little or too much nitro (apparently, he didn’t pay enough attention during Nitroglycerin 101) or he would rob the wrong train, which would have little to no money on it. Finally, he died in 1911 during a shootout with police.
You’d think that would be the end of his bad luck, right? Nothing more can happen to you after you die, can it? Oh, how so very wrong you are… you see, Elmer’s troubles were just beginning. This is where the story goes from sad and pathetic to downright insane.
You’ll notice the 66 year discrepancy between his death and burial.
You see, after Elmer died, no one claimed his body. The funeral director refused to bury him for free, so he decided to make money by displaying him in the funeral home and charging a nickel a peek. Apparently, the arsenic-based embalming fluid helped preserve him pretty well and finally mummified him because five YEARS later, someone claiming to be Elmer’s long-lost brother came around for the body.
This “long-lost brother” turned out to actually be a carnival owner. Elmer’s body was once again displayed for money. Later, the carnival was sold and the new owner kept the body on display until selling him to an exploitation film director. Elmer changed hands so many times over the next several decades that eventually owners had no idea he was a real corpse.
This is how Elmer lived his… death… until 1976. While filming of an episode of The Six Million Dollar Man at Long Beach’s amusement park called The Pike, a crew member bumped into Elmer, causing Elmer’s arm to fall off and revealing real muscle and tissue. The police were called, and an autopsy was performed to identify the body. By now, he had been covered in wax and paint, several fingers and toes were missing, he weighed only 50 pounds, and the coroner found a penny and ticket stubs in his mouth. Through dental records and other modern forensic techniques, the body was identified and an Oklahoma funeral home convinced the police to allow them to bury the body for free.
The burial was attended by 300+ people. To make sure no one would steal him, two feet of concrete was poured over the casket.
Elmer now lies quite peacefully at Summit View Cemetery in a small section called Boot Hill alongside the cemetery’s other (some notable) outlaws.
This is why you don’t burn your bridges while you’re living; you never know what will happen to your unclaimed dead body.
… well, on that note, Happy Thanksgiving!
Until next time, dahlings…