Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Tail o' the Dead Guys at Amusement Parks (a.k.a. that's Not Chicken Wire!)

When I was a little girl a friend told me someone got killed at Disneyland*. That was blasphemy. Dead People? At Disneyland?
I ran home and asked my Mom if it was true. No, she told me, then she added that recently a dead body was found in a nearby funhouse. It wasn't hidden or anything- it was part of the display. That made me feel much better. Stuff in a funhouse could be real? Even the paper- mache stuff was freaky... and now I had to be on the alert for dead bodies!?
What freaked me out as a kid intrigued me as an adult. How does a dead guy get himself into a funhouse?
Here's the story.
There used to be an amusement park Long Beach called Nu-Pike. Their spookhouse ride, Laff in the Dark, was where the body was discovered.
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People were shooting an episode of a T.V. show there. One of the workers noticed something weird about a cowboy prop hanging on a noose. Image Hosted by
Namowal's hacky rendition
Naked except for a thick coat of orange paint, it had autopsy stitches. And it was anatomically correct. Its hands modestly hid most of its private parts, so someone moved them aside to see if it really had what seemed to have. The arm broke loose and guess what? It was anatomically correct on the inside too. Ya know, bones...
They shipped him off to the coroner. Authorities concluded he was Elmer McCurdy. In life he'd been a blundering outlaw who was shot dead in Oklahoma in 1910. He was embalmed and went on a carnival peep show tour. Before the internet blew in you had to pay money if you wanted to see an infamous dead guy.
As decades rolled by he changed owners a few times. By the seventies he was so shrunken and paint-glazed that he could pass for a paper mache... if you didn't look closely. His Nu-Pike owners thought he was a dummy when they strung him up. After he went to the coroner they hinted that they'd like him back, but didn't get their wish. Elmer was shipped back to Oklahoma and buried. **

Last week I found about the history of my favorite ride at Disneyland, Pirates of the Caribbean. It included this bit of trivia: in the early days, the skeletons were real.
No funny mix ups here- they wanted realistic props. Pretend skeletons looked fake. So they snagged some medical specimens and put them to work. In other words, dead people. On a ride. At Disneyland. As a little kid I floated by them each year, oblivious to their true nature.
The book added that the real bones were replaced long ago and given the obligatory "proper burial". That's no fun. I'd rather have my bones dressed up in pirate garb in a ride as opposed to being thrown in a hole. But that's me.

*yes, this happens, but it's rare

**(Elmer's story is chronicled in depth in this book: Elmer McCurdy: The Misadventures in Life and Afterlife of an American Outlaw by mark Svenvold)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

another great post! keep it coming!