A Straight Dope Classic from Cecil's Storehouse of Human Knowledge

Was a dead body found inside an amusement park "mummy"?

January 14, 1977

Dear Cecil:

A few years ago there was a story in the papers about a TV crew that accidentally discovered a dead body inside a "mummy" in a Long Beach amusement park fun house. But I never saw anything more about it. Did they ever figure out how the body got in there, or who killed the guy? Was anybody ever brought to justice?

Cecil replies:

The mysterious Long Beach Mummy turned out to be the earthly remains of one Elmer J. McCurdy, an Oklahoma outlaw who was killed in a train robbery in 1911. In those blissful pre-television days, it seems, looking at dead felons was a popular form of amusement, and a celebrated cadaver was always in demand. Poor Elmer was duly embalmed and sold to a traveling carnival, in which he entertained thousands of fun seekers throughout the south and southwest. Due to the nature of his business, Elmer's posthumous movements are difficult to trace, but apparently he enjoyed his greatest success in the 1930s under the management of Louis Sonney, a one-time Washington sheriff who acquired Elmer for his wild west show as collateral on a $500 loan to an impoverished showman. When the bottom fell out of the corpse business (the American public having turned to more sophisticated amusements like Amos 'n' Andy), Elmer was shuttled from bankruptcy to bankruptcy, eventually ending up as an anonymous attraction in a California carnival. When that concern folded, Elmer was sold along with the rest of the show's assets to his present employers at the Long Beach amusement park, another sad victim of the fickleness of mass taste.

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