In 1976, the production crew of the Six Million Dollar Man had something of an unpleasant surprise. Whilst filming the episode the Carnival of Spies, one of the prop guys attempted to move what he assumed as a dummy hanging from a gallows in the Pike amusement park in Long Beach, California.
The arm fell off.
It was not a dummy.
Turns out that it was in fact the mummified corpse of outlaw Elmer McCurdy, who died in a shoot out in 1911 following a crime which newspapers at the time called “one of the smallest in the smallest in the history of train robbery“. Netting only $46, two demijohns of whiskey, an automatic revolver, a coat and the train conductor’s watch, this is opposed to the $400,000 he and his gang thought would be on the time at the train.
As was the style at the time, McCurdy’s body was put on display at a nearby funeral home, as was the style at the time. The body was then claimed by a man who said he was Elmer’s brother… but he most likely wasn’t as the body began circulating the sideshow circuit as an attraction shortly aftewards.
After a tour around the US which included being used as a prop in the 1967 film She Freak, Elmer, now assumed to be a “gruesome“ waxwork that wasn’t realistic enough for display, was eventually sold to part-owner of the Pike, Ed Liersch, who had the body hung in the Laff in the Dark funhouse exhibition.
The coroner would later conclude that the body was indeed both real and that of Elmer, having being mummified by a combination of the original undertaker’s arsenic-based embalming method, a coating of wax, and layers of phosphorus paint.
In 1977, Elmber was buried at the Summit View Cemetery in Guthrie, Oklahoma. His coffin was coated in a two-foot-thick layer of concrete to prevent further attempts at grave-robbery.
In 1978, the Jonah Hex story The Last Bounty Hunter evokes the fate of McCurdy by DC’s Western antihero getting gunned down, dressed in a parody cowboy outfit and put on display for years afterwards.
In a later story, Hex ends up being an exhibit in Booster Gold’s restaurant… which is horrifying. Not least due to the timetravelling superhero eventually befriending Hex in later stories.