Elmer Mccurdy: The Life And Afterlife Of An American Outlawby Mark Svenvold
This is the story of Elmer McCurdy, a failed plumber from Bangor, Maine, who went west to become an even less successful bad guy. He arrived in
The short-lived misadventures of an American outlawand the seventy-year adventure of his corpsetrace a journey through America's long fascination with the exotic, the freakish, the sensational, and the illicit.
This is the story of Elmer McCurdy, a failed plumber from Bangor, Maine, who went west to become an even less successful bad guy. He arrived in Oklahoma a few decades after the golden age of the outlaw and attempted to resurrect the lost art of train robbing, but his criminal skills were so deficient that he bungled every robbery he attempted. His contemporaries were amused by the incompetent throwback, but when McCurdy was shot dead in 1911 by a posse of deputy marshals, popular sentiment suddenly drafted him into the glorified criminal league. Able to recognize a fetish in the making, two men from a passing carnival hoodwinked a sheriff and claimed McCurdy's corpse. Thus began a post-mortem career in show business that lasted until 1976, when McCurdy's body was discovered in a California amusement ride. Mark Svenvold has reconstructed the bizarre itinerary of the corpse, its many years on the sideshow circuit and its second career as a cautionary prop in morality movies like I Changed My Sex. By exploring the underside of American entertainment and by following how McCurdy was presented to the public after his death, Svenvold also shows how our culture's deepest obsessions have changed over the course of a century. A lively and engaging chronicle of a man who was as hapless in death as he was in life, Elmer McCurdy is a narrative of our collective affinity for nostalgia, celebrity, the wonderful, the abnormal and the outrageous.
From Elmer McCurdy:
The body was listed as "the Decedent," in official coroner's parlance Dead Body Case #7614812. Word soon got out about the fun-house mummy, about whom so little was known that the autopsy took on the character of an archaeological dig. The body looked like something pulled out of a peat bog, or an ice cave high in the Andes. The brain was mummified and like a rock, as were all the other organs. Late in the autopsy came the biggest surprise of all. Removing the jaw, the coroner pulled from the back of the mouth a single green corroded copper penny, dated 1924, and several ticket stubs, one that read "Louis Sonney's Museum of Crime, 524 South Main Street, Los Angeles." After all the careful speculation and surmise, after the body had been completely dismantled, the biggest clue to its identity came straight from the corpse's mouth.
Praise for Mark Svenvold:
"Mark Svenvold writes with the top down, and his sleek late-model imagination in fifth gear. Honk if you love first books that can cruise or race with full-throated elegance. Here's one!"
J. D. McClatchy
Author Biography: Mark Svenvold has published two poetry collections, the more recent of which, Soul Data, won a Discovery/The Nation award in poetry. His nonfiction has appeared in Harper's Bazaar and elsewhere. He currently lives in New York City.
- Basic Books
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.95(w) x 8.52(h) x 1.19(d)
Meet the Author
Mark Svenvold has published two poetry collections. Soul Data, his second collection, won a Discovery/The Nation award in poetry. His nonfiction has appeared in Harper's Bazaar and elsewhere. He lives in New York City.
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