The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Elmer McCurdy’s Dead Body’s Day *

* (restored)


‘Elmer McCurdy was born on January 1, 1880. He was the son of 17-year-old Sadie McCurdy who was unmarried at the time of his birth. The identity of McCurdy’s father is unknown; one possibility is Sadie’s cousin, Charles Smith. Sadie eventually told her son that she was unsure of who his biological father was. The news disturbed McCurdy who grew resentful and became “unruly and rebellious”. As a teenager, he began drinking heavily, a habit he would continue throughout his life.



‘In August 1900, McCurdy’s mother died of a ruptured ulcer. His grandfather died of Bright’s disease the following month. Shortly after his grandfather’s death, McCurdy left Maine and began drifting around the eastern United States where he worked as a lead miner and plumber. He was unable to hold a job for an extended period due to his alcoholism.

‘In 1907, McCurdy joined the United States Army. Assigned to Fort Leavenworth, McCurdy was a machine gun operator and was trained to use nitroglycerin for demolition purposes. On November 19, McCurdy and a friend were arrested for possessing burglary paraphernalia (chisels, hacksaws, funnels for nitroglycerin and gunpowder and money sacks). During their arraignment, McCurdy and his friend told the judge the tools were not intended for burglary purposes but were tools they needed to work on a foot operated machine gun they were inventing.


Elmer McCurdy mug shots


‘McCurdy decided to incorporate his training with nitroglycerin into his robberies. This often caused problems as he was overzealous and failed to correctly determine the proper amount to use. In March 1911, McCurdy and three other men decided to rob the Iron Mountain-Missouri Pacific train after McCurdy heard that one of the cars contained a safe with $4,000. They successfully stopped the train and located the safe. McCurdy then put nitroglycerin on the safe’s door to open it but used too much. The safe was destroyed in the blast as was the majority of the money.

‘In September 1911, McCurdy and two other men robbed The Citizens Bank in Chautauqua, Kansas. After spending two hours breaking through the bank wall with a hammer, McCurdy placed a nitroglycerin charge around the door of the bank’s outer vault. The blast blew the vault door through the bank destroying the interior, but did not damage the safe inside the vault. McCurdy then tried to blow the safe door open with nitroglycerin but the charge failed to ignite. McCurdy and his accomplices stole about $150 in coins that were in a tray outside the safe and fled. He stayed in a hayshed on the property of a friend for the next few weeks and drank heavily.


Katy Train, Okesa, Oklahoma


‘McCurdy’s final robbery took place on October 4, 1911 near Okesa, Oklahoma. McCurdy and two accomplices planned to rob a Katy Train after hearing that it contained $400,000 in cash that was intended as royalty payment to the Osage Nation. However, McCurdy and the men mistakenly stopped a passenger train instead. The men were able to steal only $46 from the mail clerk, two demijohns of whiskey, an automatic revolver, a coat and the train conductor’s watch. A newspaper account of the robbery later called it “one of the smallest in the history of train robbery.”

‘In the early morning hours of October 7, a posse of three sheriffs, brothers Bob and Stringer Fenton and Dick Wallace, tracked McCurdy to the hayshed using bloodhounds. McCurdy was killed by single gunshot wound to the chest which he sustained while lying down. McCurdy’s body was subsequently taken to the Johnson Funeral Home in Pawhuska, Oklahoma. The undertaker embalmed the body with an arsenic-based preservative which was typically used in embalming in that era to preserve a body for a long period when no next of kin were known.



‘As McCurdy lay unclaimed, the undertaker decided to exhibit McCurdy to make money. He dressed the corpse in street clothes, placed a rifle in the hands and stood it up in the corner of the funeral home. For a nickel, Johnson allowed visitors to see “The Bandit Who Wouldn’t Give Up”. “The Bandit” became a popular attraction at the funeral home and attracted the attention of carnival promoters. On October 6, 1916, a man calling himself “Aver” contacted Johnson claiming to be Elmer McCurdy’s long lost brother from California. He was in fact James Patterson, the owner of the Great Patterson Carnival Shows, a traveling carnival. McCurdy’s corpse would be featured in Patterson’s traveling carnival as “The Outlaw Who Would Never Be Captured Alive”, until 1922 when Patterson sold his operation to Louis Sonney.


The Great Patterson Carnival Shows


‘Louis Sonney used McCurdy’s corpse in his traveling “Museum of Crime” show which featured wax replicas of famous outlaws like Bill Doolin and Jesse James.


Museum of Crime


‘In 1933, McCurdy’s corpse was acquired for a time by director Dwain Esper to promote his exploitation film Narcotic!. The corpse was placed in the lobby of theaters as a “dead dope fiend” whom Esper claimed had killed himself while surrounded by police after he had robbed a drug store to support his habit. By this time, the skin on McCurdy’s body had shriveled and hardened and reduced the size to that of a child’s. Esper pointed out the skin’s deterioration as proof of the supposed dope fiend’s drug abuse.



‘In 1964, Sonney’s son Dan lent the corpse to filmmaker David F. Friedman. It eventually made a brief appearance in Friedman’s 1967 film She Freak.



‘In 1968, Dan Sonney sold the body along with other wax figures for $10,000 to Spoony Singh, the owner of the Hollywood Wax Museum.



‘While being exhibited there, the corpse sustained some damage in a windstorm; the tips of his ears along with fingers and toes were blown off. The men eventually returned McCurdy back to Singh who decided that the corpse looked “too gruesome” and not life-like enough to exhibit.



‘Singh then sold it to Ed Liersch, part owner of The Pike, an amusement zone in Long Beach, California. By 1976, McCurdy’s corpse was hanging in the “Laff In the Dark” funhouse exhibition at The Pike.



‘On December 8, 1976, the production crew of the television show The Six Million Dollar Man were filming scenes for the “Carnival of Spies” episode at The Pike. During the shoot, a prop man moved what was thought to be a wax mannequin that was hanging from a gallows. When the mannequin’s arm broke off, a human bone and muscle tissue were visible.



‘On December 9, Dr. Joseph Choi conducted an autopsy and determined that the body was that of a human male who had died of a gunshot wound to the chest. The body was completely petrified, covered in wax and had been covered with layers of phosphorus paint. It weighed approximately 50 pounds and was 63 inches in height. Some hair was still visible on the sides and back of the head while the ears, big toes and fingers were missing.

‘On April 22, 1977, a funeral procession was conducted to transport McCurdy to the Boot Hill section of the Summit View Cemetery in Guthrie, Oklahoma. A graveside service attended by approximately 300 people was conducted after which McCurdy was buried next to another outlaw, Bill Doolin. To ensure that McCurdy’s body would not be stolen, two feet of concrete was poured over the casket.’ — collaged





p.s. Hey. ** David, Hi, D. Thanks a lot for the card, man. Awesome! ** Misanthrope, Thanks. And thanks for reminding me, urgh. Ah, yes, David … one of these … days … maybe? ** David Ehrenstein, Thank you, sir. Everyone, Mr. E’s new FaBlog entry is called Trump = Roadkill, and it’s here. ** cal, Hey, Cal! Awesome to see you! Thanks a lot! How are you? You’re doing really great, I hope? ** Niko, Hi, Niko! Thank you very much. Yeah, it was a nice enough day to qualify as a birthday. And thank you so much about ‘I Wished’. The second ‘Crater’ section near the end of ‘I Wished’ is definitely one of my favorite things I’ve written. I’m actually trying to figure out how to do more with that voice for something new. Really, thank you, Niko. I’m so happy to hear that. You doing more than okay? Catch me up on you and yours if you feel like it please. ** rav, Aw, thank you so much, rav. And thank your coming in here. Obviously, come back any time. Take care. ** David Fishkind, Hi. I’ll check out that song when I get done here. Yeah, 69, fucking freaky as hell in theory and kind of whatever in practice, I guess. ** KingDooDoo69, Hi, King. Really best of luck with your sobriety. Thank a lot for the really kind words. That’s, yeah, amazing, thank you. Your grandma?! Ha. I hope it goes with saying that I’d be happy to have you here and get to converse with you any time that feels good or useful on your end. All the best from me. ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, B. Yeah, that Ride song is such a goodie, and it still kind of works as well as it did back in the day. ** Sypha, Thank you, James. Ha ha. You could have gone there, man, but thanks for being careful. ** h now jean, Hi! You made it! Thank you so much! ** Zak Ferguson, Hey Zak with a ‘k’. Nice to see you here, sir. Happy early birthday to you, with a shrug thrown in. I’m pretty shruggy about my b’days too, but they do get spookier and spookier as well. Luckily no one sang the birthday song to me. Shout out to Brighton (and you)! ** Dominik, Hi!!!! The Ethiopian food was completely amazing. I ate way too much, and I forgot how that injura bread expands in your stomach, so I had to waddle home in the freezing cold, but it was worth it. That would have been awfully nice: the Lips serenade. Thank Love for me. Love filling a piñata with 500 Euro bills, hanging it on your ceiling, and handing you a blindfold and baseball bat, G. ** Daniel, Thank you, dear Daniel! ** Andrew, Holy whoa! That’s crazy! Thank you ever so much, Andrew! I’m so there. Everyone, Saintly Andrew turned my fave songs post of yesterday into a Spotify playlist that you can listen to here, and, obviously, I so highly recommend doing that. Thanks so, so much! xo. ** Brendan, Hi, B. Possibly. Did you? Big hugs, man. ** Steve Erickson, Thanks, Steve. Yes, ‘Little Criminals’, the album right after ‘Good Old Boys’ is really good. I’m very fond of the two dark comedy albums ‘Born Again’ and ‘Trouble in Paradise’, and the fairly recent ‘Bad Love’ is up there with his best. It has one of his greatest songs, ‘The World Isn’t Fair’, on it. ** Ferdinand, Hi! Very good to see you, pal. Thanks, and you too re: ’22. Who knows, right? Take care. ** T, Hi, T! The restaurant is Adulis Cafe Abyssinien, and the food was very, very delicious, and it’s a nice place as well. Near Shakespeare & Co. Ginger nut biscuit sounds yum to me. I’m going to a pizza restaurant this afternoon where the pizza is entirely made by robots. I’ll let you know. Have a swell day. ** wolf, Yay wolf! Did you guys end up making it over to France for Xmas? Ultra-best wishes for the immediate future and everything else to you! And I hope I’ll get to see you flesh-to-flesh soon. Love, me. ** James, Thank you kindly, James. Love, me. ** Jeff J, Thank you, Jeff. My fave Drunken Boat album is ‘See Ruby Falls’. It was the band of the poet Todd Colby, if you know him. Airport 5 was a short-lived project of Robert Pollard and Tobin Sprout. They’re fantastic. They made two albums. I would start with the first one, ‘Tower in the Fountain of Sparks’. Mm, I don’t think ‘Blowback’ is great overall. I mostly just love that track. I’m fine, ha ha. The day was nice, hung with Zac and then had amazing Ethiopian food with some friends. Low-key and swell. Happy about the screening. It does seem like the Omicron wave will be short lived, or, well, ‘prayers’. Good to see you, bud. ** Bernard, Mr. Welt! Hi, B. Sight for sore eyes, you are. Deadline? More news forthcoming? Intrigued! Love from Paris where things remain strangely ‘normal’ and wonderful. ** Maria, Isabella, Camila, Malaria, Gabriela, Hello, giant you! You had very nice food? Me too! Yes, please do kill a 69, thank you very much. Or just the sex act, if that’s easier. Hugs. ** politekid, Hi, O! Thank you very much, man! And thank you for the list adds! I’ll be all over them when I’m freed up momentarily. Yay for disfunction apparently. *bites nails* xoxo. ** l@rst, Thanks, friend. A monster for fucking sure. I miss Eric Gaffney. Big up. ** Paul Curran, Hey, Paul! Thank you, thank you. And I’m totally thrilled that you liked ‘I Wished’. Means a vast amount to me. How’s your writing going btw? So nice to see you! ** schlix, Hi, Uli! Thank you very much! Yeah, that press that’s putting out my books in Germany is doing a beautiful job. I feel very lucky. You doing great, I hope? xo, me. ** Bill, Hi. Really? I’m big ABBA guy, and that’s their masterpiece song, if you ask me. It didn’t rain here yesterday all day or night, amazingly enough. Birthday gift from God? ** Billy, Hi, Billy. Thank you so very much. I’m happy you’re reading and liking ‘Hey Boy’. How are you? What going on in your world? ** Dalton, Hi, thank you! It’s excellent to see you. Lurking is the coolest. Well, commenting its slightly cooler, I guess. I go on Melvins kicks every couple of months. Nothing like them. Oh, yeah, Swans. I just spaced, although I don’t know which song I’d choose by them. Hm. Take care until next time. ** Gus CaliGirls, Well, hi there, Gus. This is a treat. Thanks for the Body Sculptures link. I don’t know them. I’ll hit it when I’m outta here. Paris is, relatively speaking, having fairly easy ride through this phase of the pandemic so far. Or it feels that way. Awesome that you read and liked ‘Fur’. She’s great. There should be more of her in English. That installation/stageplay involving a Darby Crash seance sounds pretty fucking exciting, so I hope it pans out. ‘Castle Faggot’s’ greatness is intimidating, for sure. I feel it too. I think ‘Permanent Green Light’ is POV on Vimeo. And there’s a DVD. Super nice to see you! Take very good care! ** Rafe, Aw, thank you so kindly, Rafe. I hope your year ahead makes mine, as great I hope it will be, seem like chicken feed. xo. ** Brian, Hey, Brian. Thanks a bunch, man. ‘Scouts’ is sweet. ‘Les Minets Sauvages’ is def. one of his best. Book Club is kind of a misnomer. We watch a film and either one of us picks a short fiction piece or two for everyone to read, or we all contribute a poem or very short story. Last time we read stories by Mishima and Chekov, and we watched Bunuel’s ‘Simon of the Desert’. Next time I was chosen to pick the writing selection, and I picked an Ingeborg Bachmann story. Cool about the essay! That’s intriguing. And that your bro liked the Bataille. He does sounds cooler and cooler. Thanks for the amazing birthday wish. That would have been … wow. The possibilities, ha ha. I hope your day is nothing but a whirling greatness spiral. ** Okay. I always liked the old post I’ve shared today, so I thought I would give it life again. See you tomorrow.


  1. David Ehrenstein

    Elmer McCurdy reminds me of “Nightmare Alle” (1947) , the remake of which is not at all bad

  2. cal

    Hey Dennis, I’m doing alright, chugglin along. An interesting post today. It’s crazy how far a corpse can travel. I particularly like the photo of his final grave with its little dead tree.

    A while back you mention possibly doing a Zoom call to talk over Editing practices; I’m still down if you are!

    Just finished reading Corrao’s Rituals Performed in the Absence of Ganymede. Really interesting take on the book-object approach and I can’t name any other books that made me feel like I just birthed something. Wondering what you’re thoughts were on it.
    Have a great and lovely day-ly

  3. David

    Thanks Dennis and for this post and the crazy story of Elmer McCurdy… WTF!!!.. I’ll remain silent to protect the innocent the guilty and the not so guilty…. Ken Russell’s Gothic comes to mind… l… mentioned that story to you some time back…. as was told to me all those years ago.

    If there were a bed Dennis in the shopping centre I’d be in it right now.. I’m wacked out… after running here earlier and I have a sleep dept…. blah!!

    I bought bath bombs yesterday here… on disintegrating they leave a flashing light toy thing… was brill in the dark… I bought 3 more today.. in a way like Elmer…. imagine a human bath bomb… after the disintegration of the outer shell there’s a dead body inside…. ‘party’ you’d need a swimming pool though… say with10 or so people in… then you appear and announce “I’ve got a giant bath bomb surprise for you all!!!!” And You throw it in… and ‘hey Presto!!’ It would have to be ten people you hate though!! Of course!!

    Glad you like the drawing… the whole thing was done with the index finger on my right hand… ulead express and a computer paint program… 🙂

    See ya tomorrow x

  4. Dominik


    Poor Elmer. What a poor track record of robberies… I wonder what he would’ve thought of the fate of his corpse. I guess this shouldn’t be funny but… what a story. What the fuck are human beings?

    Ah, perfect! I’m really glad the restaurant was good even if you waddled a bit afterwards, haha. I guess overeating is not only allowed but reasonable when it’s your birthday. Actually… I don’t think I’ve ever had Ethiopian food, and I just looked up a bunch of pictures to make sure, and… now I’d really like to try it. Some dishes look delicious.

    I’m so grateful for your love’s piñata; even the idea of work fills me with disgust today, haha. Thank you! Love using some of his newfound money to fund your and Zac’s new film, Od. (How’s that project coming along? Any – hopefully positive – changes with your producer?)

  5. _Black_Acrylic

    Here’s to Elmer McCurdy, the world did find abundant use for him, eventually.

    Re David’s Nightmare Alley tip, I hear the William L Gresham book it’s based on is pretty good too. Hi I plan to check out both that and the 1947 film sometime soon.

  6. Bill

    That body got around. Did you see it in “person”, in its southern CA days?

    Sounds like a lovely birthday, Dennis. On the Swans, Gira is crowdfunding the next album. I’ll probably just wait for it to come out. I really like the last 4-5 albums, but I have so much of their stuff.

    I forget, did you like Weerasethakul’s latest? Will probably see it tonight.


  7. Jamie

    Hey Dennis.
    I tried to come here and wish you a happy birthday yesterday, but my phone refused to load the post, I assume because of the many videos. So, belated happy birthday to you! I hope it was a great one. How are you?
    I’m not long back from a trip to the UK, which was good and bad, but happily Omicron free.
    Many many happy returns to you, lots of love and happy new year too!
    And today’s post is a beauty. Just when I think the story can’t get odder, the Six Million Dollar Man comes in. Amazing.

  8. T

    Oh dear, poor Elmer McCurdy. That said, I guess I suppose he’d rest easier being known for his famous body, rather than for being shot dead after the most insignificant train robbery in history at that point in time. Thanks for the restaurant tip! And wow, robot pizza! When I was younger, my (Irish) grandmother used to tell us a story that when she travelled to the US, she bought ready-made pizza as a liquid in bottles like those squeezy ones you get for the ketchup and stuff at hot dog stands, with a mix you would squirt onto a baking tray and cook like that. Knowing my grandmother as she was, there is a not insignificant chance that story is false, but have you ever consumed such a think as someone born stateside? If so how did it taste? Better or worse than its Parisian robot-made alternative? Hope your Wednesday comes to you as a pre-mixed highly adulterated goo that you can bake into a pizza at a time of your convenience, xT

  9. Misanthrope

    Dennis, Did you think it would be anyone else who would remind you? Great number in itself, btw, and for more than the obvious reason(s). Just wait till that second number replaces the first in 30 years. Then you’ll be onto something. And I’ll be finding a way to sneak “99” in there somehow.

    Then again, I’m sure you’ll outlive me, so…

    Yah, crazy David. You’d think I’d be used to it by now, no? 😮

    Like, it wouldn’t really matter or anything, but I kinda don’t want my corpse going all over the fucking place. So rude.

  10. Niko

    Hey Dennis, I’m really happy you’re gonna continue working with the voice found in the 2nd Crater.

    I’m ok, working on my second novel, and now that you asked I’m just gonna implode. The novel’s at a point where I’m editing all the material into what will hopefully look a lot like the final result. The publishing timeline sounds a bit crazy, because I’d like to get it out in August. My publisher doesn’t care whether it comes out this year or next year as long as we’re both satisfied with the quality around this March when the final publishing date needs to be decided. And I don’t mind working within this tightening timeline, because it feels a lot like working on a performance piece knowing the premiere is in 6 months.

    The novel’s structure and form are a mirror-like installation, which I’m filling with inter-reflecting symbols, motifs and constellations in order to create a claustrophobic predicament for the narrator, all in all portraying my experience of living poor in a class society. The narrator expresses a conscious desire to exit the whole book and its inner dramatics as class tensions unfold. I’m playing with the concept of a ’misery memoir’ against the backdrop of actually having really bad luck throughout my school years. I’m trying to question the regular ways of consuming working class stories by making the work so hyperbolically hurt by plot lines that the book hopefully becomes hard to consume.

    The thing I’m meditating on now is style, because my natural way of emoting is quite intense so that autobiographical material can easily becomes sentimental, which I don’t consider necessarily a bad thing, but I guess prose has specific risks of being too ’affected’. I’m trying to master the voice so that it’s emotionally controlled/distanced literary prose while testing the cultural hunger for misery by oversaturating the work with bad luck and dreadful fate. The thing I always find unnerving is doing something against convention, because it will look ‘bad’ to many people who can’t immediately categorize/canonize it, since I believe ‘good’ to most people is code for ‘recognizable’.

    Btw, Michael from Kiddiepunk agreed we could use one of his works on the cover, I got this as a postcard years ago with one of my book orders from him:

  11. Paul Curran

    Dennis, fascinating story about McCurdy’s Dead Body travelling around! Kind of reminds me of the story of Kichizō Ishida’s genitals being carried around by Sada Abe… after she was arrested, they were preserved and kept in the specimen room at Tokyo University Hospital. Apparently, they went missing after WWII when they were put on display at Tobu Department Store in Ikebukuro…

    All good on the writing front, thanks! I’m still (obviously) working on my Japanese novel. Took a break from that to finish a side project for Apocalypse Party Press that should (hopefully) come together soon…

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