Fascinating True Stories From the Flip Side of History

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Andrew McCrew, the Mummified Man (1973)

(This story was originally written and recorded for Podcast 25, released on April 9, 2024.)

Back in 1973, Mrs. Elgie Pace found herself in a bit of a pickle. She had just lost her job as a licensed vocational nurse at the Dallas County Mental Evaluation Center (MEC) because she spoke up about the horrific conditions there. The MEC was a short-term facility that was used to determine if those with alcohol, drug, or emotional problems should be committed to a state mental hospital.

“There are no beds at MEC,” she said, “just grey mats like wrestlers use, scattered on the floor of cells once used to house criminals. And no toilets—just holes in the ground for men and women alike. Roaches crawl everywhere and sick patients are allowed to wallow in their own bowel movement and urine. It’s one of the dirtiest, filthiest places you’ll ever see.”

But being a crusading nurse was not the reason that Elgie made national headlines. Instead, it was because this widowed mother of five had kept a mummified man in her basement for five years.

So, you are probably wondering how a dead man ended up in her cellar. The story begins in November 1913 when a one-legged vagabond named Anderson McCrew was riding a freight train through Marlin in central Texas. He accidentally fell from the train, lost his other leg, and died shortly after that.

Anderson McCrew's grave marker.
Anderson McCrew’s grave marker. (Find-a-Grave image.)

He was taken to a nearby funeral home, where undertaker James Washington embalmed the body. The plan was to preserve McCrew just long enough so that a family member could come to claim him. But no relative ever appeared.

It’s unclear how, but at some point, Anderson McCrew’s body became part of a carnival, donning a brown tuxedo and marketed as both the “petrified man” and the “Eighth Wonder of the World.”

As Elgie told Jet magazine in July 1973, “The carnival showed him off in a black box. Some of my friends say they remember seeing him.”

When the carnival ran into financial trouble in the early 1960s, it was forced to sell off many of its possessions, including McCrew’s mummified remains. What happened next is a bit murky, but soon Elgie found herself in possession of the body. Not knowing his real name, she called him “Sam.”

“I came across Sam five years ago. He was in a warehouse that was on my sister-in-law’s place. There were chickens roosting on his coffin. My sister-in-law said she was going to put the coffin in a ditch and throw dirt over it.

“Even though he was Black, I felt that he deserved a decent Christian burial, so I put the coffin in the trunk of my car, and I’ve kept the mummy in my basement since then.”

The Jet reporter questioned Elgie as to why she would keep the man’s body in her basement, if her only rationale for taking possession of McCrew was to provide him with a proper burial.

She replied, “I’m a working widow; I had no money to bury him. I called the medical school, but nobody wanted the body. At one time, I thought about putting the body on display at a mortuary charging a dollar to see him. I was going to use the money collected to bury him. He’s a human being. You can’t just throw a body into a ditch.”

When this story first appeared in the newspapers in late May 1973, Elgie was still between jobs, but had not given up on her determination to purchase a burial plot for Sam. She was contemplating the sale of her house to raise the funds to do so when Frank Lott, the proprietor of Lott’s Mortuary in Dallas, learned of the story.

He said, “He was in pretty good shape. A lot of the tissue was still on his face. We don’t know of any living relatives.” Lott offered to bury him free of charge.

It was through an examination of records in Marlin that Sam was finally identified as Anderson McCrew. Lott said that his body had originally been kept in one of the upstairs rooms of the Marlin funeral home. With no one to claim his body, he was mummified by pumping concentrated preservation solutions through his body for several days.

It was also learned that McCrew’s little dog died just a short time after he did. The pooch was also mummified and the funeral home placed its body right next to his deceased owner. No one knows what happened to the dog after McCrew was sold off to the carnival.

Lott added, “I guess if you were the wrong color back then, they didn’t bother to keep thorough files on you.”

Services were held in Lott’s chapel beginning at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, May 26, 1973. Shortly after this, Anderson McCrew was finally laid to rest in a grave located in Dallas’ Lincoln Memorial Cemetery.

Normally, that would have been the end of the story. But wait! There is more!

Singer-songwriter Don McLean, who is best known for his hit songs American Pie and Vincent, read of McCrew’s story and penned the song “The Legend of Andrew McCrew.” (It’s unclear why he changed his first name from Anderson to Andrew.) The song proved popular on Chicago radio station WGN, which prompted host Roy Leonard to contact Elgie. She appeared on his show with McLean, and Bob Williams of the Jenson Corp. of Chicago offered to pick up the cost of a headstone. So, on December 8, 1974, a second ceremony was held at his grave for the laying of Anderson McCrew’s headstone.

Andrew McCrew's headstone with lyrics by Don McLean.
Andrew McCrew’s headstone with lyrics by Don McLean. (Find-a-Grave image.)

Inscribed on it is a portion of the song’s lyrics: “Well, what a way to live a life and what a way to die. Left to live a living death with no one left to cry. A petrified amazement. A wonder beyond worth. A man who found more life in death than life gave him at birth.” The names of Elgie Pace and Don McLean, as well as WGN Chicago and Fulps Monuments, are also carved into the stone. A marker at the foot of his grave reads, “Anderson McCrew, ‘The Mummified Man,’ Born 1869, Died 1913, Buried 1973, Traveled for 60 years after death as a circus attraction.”

There is a video of this dedication ceremony on YouTube, which you can watch below. It’s worth checking out, both to see the crowd that attended and to also to see what Anderson McCrew’s mummified body looked like. While not stated, I assume that the woman sitting in the front row is Elgie Pace with her children right next to her.

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