The Augusta Futurity reminds me of the years I spent in Guthrie, Okla. Guthrie was known for two things – being the state’s first capital and being the home of the Lazy E Arena, then the world’s largest indoor rodeo venue.
As the sports editor, I covered the bull riding, the barrel racing and the cutting horse events.
But most thoughts of Guthrie quickly turn to its history, and my favorite headline – ever.
It was the original destination of the 1889 land run settlers of Indian Territory. And all of the people who jumped the land run – the boomers and the sooners (hence the University of Oklahoma’s nickname) had to bring the claims to the watering hole on the train line that would eventually become Guthrie.
Although someone stole the state seal and moved the capital to Oklahoma City about 20 years later, the people of Guthrie still celebrate their roots with ’89ers Days and by keeping downtown looking like the 1890s.
For years, preservationists and progressives fought over the direction of the town.
One such fight brought national attention when the owner of the local bed-and-breakfast wrote a dinner theater murder mystery that took place, in part, in the Boot Hill section of the local cemetery.
It involved the grave of the last Western outlaw, Elmer McCurdy, who never visited Guthrie while alive.
The townspeople bought his remains and buried him in an ornate ceremony in the late 1970s to add a real outlaw to their cemetery and draw tourists.
McCurdy’s body had been found while filming an episode of The Six Million Dollar Man. The legend around town was that McCurdy’s corpse was discovered in a wax museum while filming the television show. Locals said Lee Majors backed into McCurdy, whose real arm fell off.
The coroner found carnival tickets stuffed in the corpse’s mouth. Forensics determined it was McCurdy, whose body had been part of a traveling show for years after his death. People would pay to see the dead outlaw.
Fast-forward to the early 1990s and the battle over the town’s history. The city council passed an ordinance to keep this mystery production from the cemetery. It also outlawed visitors, family picnics and an annual Boy Scouts camping trip. Anything to keep the owner of the B&B away from the cemetery.
The fight lasted months before the national media descended – CNN and The Wall Street Journal stopped by to read our stories and gather information.
And The Wall Street Journal gave a wonderful summary of the conflict under the headline:
A corpse is a corpse,
of corpse, of corpse.