Old Mike (?–1911)
Old Mike is the name given to a traveling salesman who died in 1911 in Prescott (Nevada County). The people of Prescott only knew him by his first name, Mike. He was subsequently embalmed and publicly displayed for over sixty years.
Mike visited Prescott about once a month to sell pens, paper, and thread to homes and businesses near the railroad tracks in the center of town. He would arrive on the southbound 3:00 p.m. train and stay overnight. The next day, he would re-board the 3:00 p.m. train and continue his journey.
During one trip to Prescott, Mike probably attended an outdoor revival in the city park. The next day, August 21, 1911, his body was found underneath a tree in the park, where he had apparently died of a heart attack or stroke.
The body was taken to the Cornish Funeral Home, where it was embalmed. A search of Mike’s belongings did not turn up any identification. What was known about Mike was that he was forty to forty-five years old; spoke English with little accent; was probably Italian; had suffered some type of injury to his right arm and left leg, possibly the effects of a stroke; and had had very elaborate dental work done. The body was placed on display at the funeral home in hopes of someone identifying it. No one came forward to identify or claim the body.
As the years passed, it became more and more unlikely that Mike would ever be identified. The body turned into somewhat of a tourist attraction, and people traveled from surrounding areas to view the remains.
In 1975, the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office asked Cornish Funeral Home to bury the body. On May 12, 1975, a quiet ceremony was held at the DeAnn Cemetery, and Old Mike was put to rest.
Writer Mike Nichols researched the identity of Old Mike in the 1990s. According to Nichols, someone at the coroner’s jury testified to having seen Mike ten days earlier in a Little Rock (Pulaski County) police court, along with another man named Pat McFarland, where he was charged with public drunkenness. The “Police Docket” section of the August 12, 1911, Arkansas Gazette does list a Pat McFarland as having been arrested for disturbing the peace, while the only arrest for drunkenness was of a man named J. M. Estes.
For additional information:
Burton, Billy. “Prescott’s Old Mike Finally Buried.” Hope Star, May 16, 1975, p. 1.
Dillard, Tom. Statesmen, Scoundrels, and Eccentrics: A Gallery of Amazing Arkansans. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2010.
“Mike.” Nevada County Depot and Museum. http://www.depotmuseum.org/articles.php?article=25 (accessed January 26, 2023).
Nichols, Mike. “The Mystery of Prescott’s Ol’ Mike.” The Old Time Chronicle. February–March 1996, pp.10–12, 42.
“’Old Mike’ Put to Rest after 65 Years.” Sandyland Chronicle 3 (March 2003): 1–2. Online at https://sandyland.dreamhosters.com/2003-03.pdf (accessed January 26, 2023).
Nevada County Depot and Museum
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I finally went to see Old Mike. Sorry, I cant remember the year. He was not in a coffin, though. He was in an upright wooden box kept in the hall of the old funeral home in Prescott. There was a light bulb in the box, and its string hung down in front of the body. The hallway was quite dark. When I pulled the string there was Mike, staring at me. I jumped back and left the funeral home at a pretty good pace.
When I first saw Old Mike, he was in a wooden box upright, with one light and a string to turn it on. His eyes were open and there were pencils in his right hand. This was in 1967, but he was at the barber shop.