Cowboy Outlaw

There’s always a moment in these stories where someone makes a really gruesome discovery. In the case of Elmer McCurdy, outlaw, that moment came in 1976, when a camera crew preparing for an episode of the Six Million Dollar Man accidentally dislocated Elmer’s arm, thinking he was a mannequin in an amusement park. True, he was spray painted day-glo orange, and was entirely dead, but Elmer had once been alive, and that’s no way to treat a former human.

Recently, my officemate Kevin filled me in on the details of McCurdy’s story, and a wonderful song that has been written in his honor. Here’s a rundown of the tale from The New York Times:

In December 1976 a very dead body was found hanging in a rundown Long Beach, Calif., amusement park ride called ”Laff-in-the-Dark.” The grotesque discovery was made during a location shoot for the television series ”The Six Million Dollar Man,” and though the glow-in-the-dark painted corpse had nothing to do with the plot, the irrepressible show business newspaper Variety headlined its story ”Bionic Man Meets Dummy Mummy.” Local officials quickly determined that the body in question was indeed a mummy, but not one from some ancient civilization. An autopsy revealed not only its American origin but also its all-too-American way of death: fragments were found of a bullet that had blasted its way diagonally through the torso to lodge in the left hipbone. Ticket stubs for a Los Angeles ”Museum of Crime” some yokel had slipped in its mouth, along with a corroded penny dated 1924, provided a starting place for investigators; they soon came up with the name of Elmer McCurdy, an Oklahoma outlaw who was killed by a posse in 1911 after a botched train robbery.

For the rest of the story, read the Times article or check out the summary on Snopes. If you’re really curious, there are at least two books on the subject. There’s also a lovely song, written by the inimitable Brian Dewan. An excerpt of the lyrics appears below:

He was sprayed a special color to help him look a fright,
And they hung him from a gallows ‘neath an ultra-violet light.
He hung there in a spookhouse for many, many years,
As youthful faces passed him by in tiny railroad cars.

Until one fine and fateful day in 1976,
He fell down from the gallows when the hangman’s noose unhitched.
His arm broke at the shoulder as he clattered to the floor
And the man who went to fix him was stunned by what he saw.

And the teenage boys did holler, and the teenage girls did faint,
When they saw the bone protruding from the varnish and the paint.
A coroner came to serve him and ran a slew of tests,
They found out who he was, in time, and laid his soul to rest.

(Photo by carletaorg on Flickr)


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