Elmer McCurdy had a desire for more in his life, but he didn’t truly become famous until he’d been dead for many years. Elmer was born in Maine in 1880. His early years were difficult and by the time he was a teen he began to drink heavily. He worked as a plumber, but often lost jobs because of his drinking.
At nineteen, he joined the U.S. Army and became a machine gun operator. He also trained to use nitroglycerin and do demolition. He received an honorable discharge in 1910 and met up with a friend who had also been in the army. He and the friend were arrested for having burglary tools in their possession, along with nitroglycerin. They claimed they were innocent and had no intent to rob anyone.
After being acquitted, Elmer began his very short life of crime. He wanted to put his knowledge of demolition to use and decided to join with some other men and rob a train. Elmer would blow up the safe. They had the nitroglycerin ready and were eager to get the silver coins the train carried.
The men stopped the train, but when Elmer put the nitro into the safe, he didn’t calculate correctly. He put in too much nitroglycerin and destroyed not only the safe, but also the silver coins. The men tried to scrape silver up from the wreckage, but had to leave to avoid capture. The robbers parted ways.
In 1911, Elmer joined with two other men to rob anther train. They thought they were stopping a train carrying cash, but ended up stopping a passenger train. The robbers came away with only $46 and a few odds and ends, such as whiskey, a watch and a coat. Elmer ended up with a bounty on his head and was tracked to a hayloft by three lawmen. Elmer was killed in a shootout the next morning.
|Elmer in coffin.|
In 1916, a man claiming to be a relative of McCurdy’s claimed the body. Instead of burying Elmer, the man put him on display in a show, exhibiting him as the Oklahoma Outlaw. Thus began Elmer’s time of traveling exhibition. From being part of a carnival for people to view to being a display in the Museum of Crime, Elmer’s identity became lost. People forgot who he was and that he wasn’t a bizarre prop, but had once been a person, and was now a mummified human.
That all changed in 1976 during the filming of an episode of The Six Million
Dollar Man. The episode, Carnival
of Spies, included the use of a wax mannequin hanging from a gallows.
During the filming the mannequin’s arm broke off and the workers discovered a
human bone inside. An autopsy was preformed, during which they discovered a
1924 penny a a ticket for the Museum of Crime in the figure’s mouth. Those
helped to find Elmer’s identity.
|By Source, Fair use, |
In 1977, Elmer was finally laid to rest in Guthrie, Oklahoma with great fanfare. In order to be certain Elmer stayed buried and wasn’t displayed again, two feet of concrete was poured over his grave. McCurdy wouldn’t be traveling anymore.
Have you ever heard of Elmer McCurdy? Have you ever visited a wax museum? The figures there can appear to be very real, but a bit macabre too. Leave a comment on my blog today to be entered in a giveaway for one of my books. I have pictured The Cowboy's Bride, but if you have that book, you may choose a different one.
Nancy J Farrier is an award winning author who lives in Southern California in the Mojave Desert. She loves the Southwest with its interesting historical past. Nancy and her husband have five children and two grandsons. When Nancy isn’t writing, she loves to read, do needlecraft, play with her cats, and spend time with her family. Nancy is represented by Karen Ball of The Steve Laube Literary Agency. You can read more about Nancy and her books on her website: nancyjfarrier.com.