About 20 years after that last ride I was back at the Pike, this time because they were moving the Spruce Goose into that big dome next to the Queen Mary. I went up with my son Chris and a friend and chartered a boat to watch the whole operation. I had cameras and video to record the moment. After it was safely inside the dome, a feat that became tedious after the fourth hour of jockeying the barge and the plane into place, we went to the Pike for lunch.
What a sad shell it was! What was left of the Pike was in disrepair, languishing in its last days with only a few people wandering among the few game booths still operating, and one seedy cafe open. We went in and sat down at a table and scanned the meager menu on the wall, ordering what we thought would be "safe" food.
Two rough-looking guys sat at the counter, talking to the waitress. The conversation, as best we could hear, revolved around one of the men's son, who had gotten hold of his dad's .45 auto pistol and was waving it around the house for a while, until his father subdued him. The kid was about four. They were laughing. My son Chris stood near them, listening with wide-eyed amazement. The guy named Jim turned to Chris and asked him what he was doing. Chris mumbled something about waiting for his French fries. The guy laughed and said, "Around here, you can grow old waiting for your food, kid. Just ask Leona." Leona was the waitress. She smiled wide, revealing a lack of lower front teeth. "He's right, honey, when the cook is ready, that's when you'll get yer fries." Chris shrugged and started walking around the cafe looking at the cheesy murals on the wall.
My friend Bill and I continued to eavesdrop on the conversation. Jim had begun telling his friend a story about a mummy in one of the funhouses. I knew the story. Elmer McCurdy, I leaned over and told Bill, was an Oklahoma outlaw who was killed by a sheriff's posse and later turned up, mummified, in the "Laughing Lady" funhouse, a ride I used to go on frequently at the Pike. Out front, a huge figure of a dancehall lady would laugh and laugh and laugh, driving everyone, and I'm sure more than anyone, the poor devil at the ticket booth, completely crazy after a few minutes. While filming TV's "Six-Million-Dollar Man, a crewmember discovered that the "dummy" hanging from a noose inside the funhouse was a real body.
I was interested in Jim's tale. As I listened, Jim looked around and saw us staring. He also saw all the cameras on the table. Now he was interested in us.
"You guys doing some movie or something?" he asked.
"No, we were over filming the Spruce Goose."
"Oh yeah, that was today, wasn't it?"
"Yeah, kinda cool."
"Well, I have something kind of interesting you might want to see. You know about the Oklahoma Mummy-Man?" Jim asked.
"Yeah, I've heard the story," I replied.
"Well, I got something purty special connected to that story, let me tell you. It's gonna put my kid through college, I'll tell you. Wanna see it?"
Who could refuse? I shot a glance back at my pile of camera equipment on the table, wondering if it would be safe. Jim saw my glance, and read my mind.
"Just leave your stuff where it is. Leona'll keep an eye on things."
I was apprehensive, but it was one of those moments where quick decisions were required. I followed Jim, and behind me trailed Chris and Bill. We walked across the Pike's main street and behind a building and down a narrow alleyway to a line of apartments, a place I never knew existed in the backwaters of the Pike. Jim paused at a door, took out a ring with about 400 keys on it and found one that fit. He shoved open the door to his apartment and we all stepped into a dark and cluttered living room. Clothes were strewn everywhere. An old console TV sat in the middle of the floor, the back-end pulled out, tubes lying about and the screen upended on a three-legged coffee table. The smell of the place wasn't too good either.
"The wife's back visiting her sister in Wichita," explained Jim. "I gotta get things cleaned up 'fore she gets back. I'm fixing the TV...went on the fritz the other night. I got it under control."
We mumbled some "Yeah, that can happen," and "Boy, we know what that's like!" responses, nervous that we were about to be quickly robbed of our wallets. At the same time I was sure my cameras were already on the black market while we dawdled in a squalid apartment looking at whatever it was that Jim was so proud of.
"Here it is!" he shouted deep from within a dark closet.
Jim backed out of the closet, tripped over a tricycle and sprawled on his back amidst a pile of dirty laundry.
He jumped up, holding a big piece of cardboard covered in Saran Wrap. "Here, let's take this out in the light where you can get a good look at it."
We trooped out behind Jim into the street. Proudly he held up a photo-like poster in the afternoon sun. "This is what's going to put my boy through college," he repeated.
I squinted in the sunshine, trying to read what it said. In big letters it read: "THE OKLAHOMA MUMMY-MAN." In smaller, crude handwriting above a photo of a dead man laid out on a slab was written: "Elmer McCurdy alias Frank Curtis, Frank Davidson. Shot by Sheriff Posse near Pawhuska, Okla 10-7-1911."
Jim beamed proudly. "Now, whataya think of this?"
This was it? This was why I risked my cameras and quite possibly our lives to see? None of us laughed, not wanting to embarrass Jim. I went to the cafe for my cameras to take a picture of proud Jim and his prize possession as he told the now-familiar story about the Mummy-Man and the funhouse at the Pike where he was discovered, then returned to Oklahoma and his final resting place.
Afterwards, we offered our praise and admiration for Jim's wonderful piece of memorabilia...the ticket, as he repeated several times, to his son's college future. In a magnanimous mood now, Jim offered my son Chris the opportunity to throw some softballs at targets at his "Tip'em Over" booth, where for 50 cents a throw, you try your luck knocking down heavy metal milk bottles. Chris enjoyed that. But he didn't win anything. We suspected the milk bottles were nailed to the floor.
I have no idea whether or not Jim's son made it to college, though for his sake, I hope so.
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