The Awful Robber Who Became Famous After Death in the Carnival
Elmer McCurdy, the bandit who wouldn’t give up.
Elmer McCurdy was a scoundrel and failed outlaw. If McCurdy was on your team, you were guaranteed the job would end in disaster. Despite this, McCurdy met most of his success in death.
Once dead, he was admired by thousands and was considered a famous person to go and see. He continued this career for sixty-five years, finally finishing with a cameo appearance in the hit show a six-million-dollar man. So how did Elmer McCurdy go from failed outlaw to hit sensation?
McCurdy was born in 1880 to a single mother in Maine, Washington; he never knew his father. Her brother agreed to adopt his nephew to save the young woman’s embarrassment.
Unfortunately, George died when McCurdy was young, and his wife Helen moved in with her sister-in-law, Sadie, to bring up the young boy. Several years later, Sadie admitted that she was his biological mother.
McCurdy did not take this family lie well and started drinking heavily. The local area regarded him as a teenage tearaway. At twenty, he faced more tragedy when his mother died.
Fame and Fortune
McCurdy left home, travelling West, determined to find his fortune. He started by working with his grandfather as a plumber. But unfortunately, it was not long before his heavy drinking caused him to lose his job.
His subsequent occupation was to enrol in the army. Here, he learned about explosives, especially how to use nitroglycerin effectively.
After the war, he travelled to Oklahoma to find a job, but his drinking again stopped him from succeeding.
A Terrible Criminal
With no money to buy his alcohol, he turned to a life of crime. He travelled from town to town, robbing banks and trains. In any gang, he was considered the explosive guy, using his knowledge from the army.
In this profession, though, he was equally as unlucky. In 1911 whilst using explosives to get into a safe, he set light to the safe, melting all the silver within it. On another occasion, he made so much noise he woke the whole town up.
In October 1911, McCurdy decided to rob a train in Oklahoma to steal the Osage National Tribal Payments. But, in true McCurdy fashion, this job went extremely wrong. Getting the times of the train wrong, he ended up robbing a passenger train instead.
Instead of the enormous haul he was expecting, he only managed to steal two jugs of whiskey, $46, and a conductor’s watch. Then, taking the spoils to a nearby farm, he hid in the barn to drown his sorrows.
Joining the Carnival
The police quickly found him in the barn. Intoxicated, he fought with them, and a gunfight started. On 7th October 1911, he was fatally shot and died. His body was taken to Pawhuska funeral home, where the undertaker preserved him in arsenic.
There the body stayed. With no family, no one came to claim him, so the undertaker had an idea he would put the preserved corpse on display. Visitors would pay to come and see him.
This was not the end of his story, though, as five years later, two brothers decided they wanted the corpse displayed in their carnival. The undertaker refused to sell, so they devised a clever plan.
One of the brothers acting as a relative of McCurdy, claimed the body. The undertaker had no choice but to hand him over. From then on, McCurdy spent time travelling the country displayed as a sideshow attraction known as The Bandit Who Wouldn’t Give Up.
Six Million Dollar Man
Over the sixty-five years, McCurdy passed through many different hands. Eventually, he came to rest at the Nu-Pike Amusement park, thrown into storage.
In 1976, an episode of six million dollar man was filmed using the amusement park as the backdrop for a story. A man working on the program found what he thought was a dummy hanging from a noose.
Taking the dummy down, he threw it to one side, causing an arm to fall off. The bemused man was shocked when he realised that the arm was not fake and that of a man.
From here, the story of Elmer McCurdy, the most unsuccessful outlaw, was discovered. McCurdy was finally put to rest at the Summit View Cemetery in Oklahoma sixty-five years after his death.
In life a failure, in death a success. Just like many artists....