10/11/09 - posted by DaveC
Sounds like they mixed up one corpse-in-the-funhouse story for another. I heard a news story on a local station in Los Angeles in the (1980's?) about a film crew shooting an episode of The Fall Guy at a funhouse at (the Santa Monica Pier?). Someone tried to move a waxwork figure of a hanged man and the arm broke off, revealing a bone inside.
I read a follow-up of the same incedent in a book a few years later (I can't remember the title). The coroner's office found the victim had been shot with a type of bullet only used in the late 1800's and embalmed with arsenic, also commonly used in the late 1800's. They even managed to identify him. I've forgotten the name but he was a notable outlaw in his day.
At the time many towns, including the one where he died, required all bodies to be embalmed for health reasons, but didn't compensate the mortician. Arsenic hardens flesh like wood (origin of the term "stiffs"?) and it was common for morticians to leave John Doe's leaning up against the wall where people could see them in the hope a family member would recognize and claim them (and pay for the embalming) or locals would get disgusted and raise the burial fee themselves.
Famous corpses attracted sightseers and many morticians made extra money by charging admission. Enterprising hucksters sometimes pretended to be family so they could claim the body and exhibit it themselves. The coroner speculated that this had happened to the victim.
Obviously, being dead crimped his criminal career, so his fame faded until no one would pay to see him. The coroner suspected the exhibitor pulled one more trick to get a last bit of profit from the stiff: the body was coated with orange wax and turned into an ugly but sellable waxwork. This was also a semi-common practice at the time, given the ample supply of arsenic-hardened "stiffs" and the plethora of wax museums (coincedence?). The figure then circulated around various shows over the years before winding up at the funhouse.
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