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The Strange Tale of Elmer McCurdy - Traveling Mummy

Updated on January 22, 2015

The Haunted House Mummy

The Legend: This is a common story which has been incorporated into many television shows and horror movies throughout the years. As the story goes, a group of youths go through a haunted house attraction in a travelling carnival show. Hundreds of people young and old passed through the attraction everyday, but this group became a little more inquisitive. One of the members of the group took special attention to a mummy prop, claiming that the haunted house seemed 'lame' and the prop hardly looked real; until the 'mummy's' decomposing arm came off, revealing it to be a real corpse.

The Truth: This story is based on a terrifying incident which happened in 1976, while a crew was filming scenes for The Six Million Dollar Man. As they were preparing to film a scene in an amusement park in Long Beach, California, one of the crew members accidentally bumped into a 'hanging man' prop in the fun house. Just as in the legend, the 'prop's' arm fell off, and upon trying to 'repair' it, the crew discovered human bones inside.

A image of McCurdy, possibly from his 'Wanted' poster.
A image of McCurdy, possibly from his 'Wanted' poster. | Source

The Life and Death Of The Man Behind The Mummy

The body was actually that of the infamous gangster Elmer McCurdy, who was killed in a shoot-out in 1911. It appears that McCurdy's scandalous reputation would cause his corpse to be forced to wait a very long time for its final rest. Very little is known about the life of McCurdy before his venture into a life a crime. Several accounts state that he had been a member of the US Army, where he learned to work with explosive materials; particularly, nitro-glycerin. He later decided to put this knowledge to a more 'profitable' use, and decided to attempt to rob banks with a gang of other criminals. It was McCurdy's job in the gang to blow up the safes in the bank, allowing the rest of the gang to grab the cash and run.

Despite his initial success, the fact remains that all crime sprees eventually must come to an end. McCurdy and some of his crew decided to rob a train in 1911, which they believed was carrying several thousand dollars in bank notes. As it turned out, the train actually was a passenger transport, and the gang only made out with about $46 and two jugs of whiskey. The authorities eventually found McCurdy hiding in a hay shed nearby with his share of the profits. After an hour-long stand-off, shots were fired, and McCurdy was killed.

The Body of Proof

After McCurdy was killed, he was taken to a local undertaker and embalmed, as was common practice. The undertaker believed he did a fantastic job of preserving the image of the renowned criminal, and propped up the body in his funeral home for people to come and view. People came from all around to see the corpse of a legendary gangster, and as part of a very strange tradition, each person who viewed the corpse left a nickel in his mouth - supposedly for good luck, and to ward away death from themselves.


The undertaker enjoyed making his nickel profits, and kept the body for some time. That is until McCurdy's brothers came to collect the corpse of their dear departed. As records and apparently screening processes weren't widely available at that time, the undertaker turned the corpse over. These men, however, were no brothers to the deceased - in fact, they were carnival promoters. They, too, were impressed with the skill with the body had been preserved, and added the corpse as an attraction in their travelling sideshow.

Soon, the fact that the corpse was real was forgotten, whether because the promoters never revealed this information, or perhaps they just didn't care. Either way, the corpse of McCurdy traveled through carnivals and sideshows as a simple 'prop' for over 50 years before it was discovered.

Try not to remember this next time you see a convincing prop in a haunted house...


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    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 

      3 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      KMS, this was real interesting to know. Thanks for sharing this story.

    • anemixflarie profile image


      3 years ago

      Wow I had heard of this but hadn't read the whole story, thanks for sharing!! :)

    • florypaula profile image


      3 years ago

      This is really spooky. The photographs freaked me out a little knowing that they are of his actual body. Interesting facts, but also creepy.

    • rdsparrowriter profile image


      3 years ago

      Fascinating story :)

    • Kiss andTales profile image

      Kiss andTales 

      3 years ago

      The point is God can return your DNA back , because he knows each and every one of us.

    • Kiss andTales profile image

      Kiss andTales 

      3 years ago

      I was just reading this hub , good story put togather, interesting

      Man does things for the love of money, and people will support

      Strange or unexplained things they do

      not know of.

      A thought if man can preserve a body Lu 12:7But even the hairs of YOUR heads are all numbered. Have no fear; YOU are worth more than many sparrows.

    • KMSplumeau profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago

      Thank you! I'm so glad you liked it! I tend to love stories like this, about little strange bits of history that few of us ever hear about. Thanks again for reading, I look forward to checking out your hubs as well!

    • Brynn Thorssen profile image

      Carrie Peterson 

      3 years ago from Colorado Springs, CO

      FANTASTIC!! Shared on Facebook.

    • KMSplumeau profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago

      Thank you for reading, I'm glad you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Thanks again!

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Really cool. I am glad you brought this out to the forefront. I look forward to reading more from you! Voted up

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 

      3 years ago from Oklahoma

      I had heard the urban legend before. I did not realize there was a true story behind it. Fascinating work.

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Fascinating Hub! I wasn't aware of this story and really found it very interesting. I enjoyed your writing style also, full of informative information in a very readable format. Thank you for sharing this with us!

    • kenneth avery profile image

      Kenneth Avery 

      3 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama


      Very good hub with a very interesting storyline. Voted up and all of the choices. You are a talented writer and I urge you to keep it up.


    • peachpurple profile image


      3 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      even a dead criminal body cannot be laid to rest, what a shame to those profiters

    • KMSplumeau profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago

      I'm so glad you enjoyed it =) Thank you for your feedback.

    • ladyguitarpicker profile image

      stella vadakin 

      3 years ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

      Thus was a very interesting an unusual story, that I liked.

    • VJGSA profile image


      3 years ago from Texas

      Wow. Truth is once again stranger than fact. Reminds me a bit of the trend in days gone by of propping and posing bodies and photographing them.

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Interesting, yet creepy! Thanks for sharing. Great hub! How did you first learn about this story?

    • FatBoyThin profile image

      Colin Garrow 

      3 years ago from Kinneff, Scotland

      Wonderfully ghoulish tale! Sounds a bit like the sort of thing PT Barnum used to do before he got famous, exhibiting people with abnormalities and such like.

    • KMSplumeau profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago

      It's terrible what was done to Elmer's body, and I think it just goes to show how important things like record keeping and proper identification is today. But when you look at his life, Elmer was a bank robber, true, but reportedly never actually hurt anyone. These carnival men stole a man's body and used it for profit. Who is the worse criminal here?

    • vkwok profile image

      Victor W. Kwok 

      3 years ago from Hawaii

      I am deeply horrified that someone's body, even a notorious criminal, was treated in such away.

    • vespawoolf profile image


      3 years ago from Peru, South America

      Wow, I didn´t know there was a basis for this urban legend. I can imagine how this could happen--gaining profit from the mummified body.

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      What an intriguing and fascinating story - thank you.

    • Say Yes To Life profile image

      Yoleen Lucas 

      3 years ago from Big Island of Hawaii


    • CorneliaMladenova profile image

      Korneliya Yonkova 

      3 years ago from Cork, Ireland

      Really scary story but absolutely captured my mind. Thanks a lot for sharing. I won't be able to sleep this weekend :)

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is an interesting and scary story! Thanks for sharing the weird tale. I won't be able to forget the idea of a body being left in a carnival for some time!

    • KMSplumeau profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago

      Thank you for reading! I love urban legends and scary stories, but they're so much more interesting when they are true.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      3 years ago from Queensland Australia

      This was a great hub KM. I had never heard the story of Elmer McCurdy before but it is fascinating and creepy. As a child I love going on the ghost trains and haunted houses at the fairs.Who knows some of those fake corpses may have been real after all :) Voted up.

    • KMSplumeau profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago

      Thank you so much for your follow and feedback! I really enjoyed your hubs as well. Keep up the good work yourself! Happy Hubbing!

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 

      3 years ago from SW England

      Fascinating and spooky! I've never been on a Ghost Train as I'm not that keen on fairs and the like. However, a spooky story is always a crowd-puller. Imagine coming 'face-to-face' with the rotting corpse yourself!

      I enjoy reading about legends of any kind and I certainly enjoyed this one.

      Thanks for following me; off to reciprocate!



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