PRESCOTT, Ark. – About 31-hundred people live in the Nevada County town of Prescott.
One man in particular keeps people coming to see him face to face, but he’s been dead for more than a century and almost everything about him is a mystery.
His story is living on through stories of those who once met the man known as “Old Mike.”
Ken Petre will tell ya.
“Attorney general, the place is haunted and Old Mike’s visiting ahahaha,” he laughs.
The latest exhibit isn’t helping.
“Oh and here’s something. He was crippled in the right arm and leg,” Petre adds.
Petre runs the Nevada County Depot and Museum, a shrine for Prescott and the area.
There’s one person Prescott is known for however, that some people here can tell you all about.
“Most of the stories are he had a designated closet in the back of the funeral home,” Petre continues.
It’s a man only ever known as Old Mike. He started coming around Prescott way back in 1908. He’d come in on the train selling stationary like pencils. He’d head out the next day, until April of 1911, when someone found him under a tree in city park dead.
“We talk about what Prescott is popular for and it would be a little dead man that was found in the park many, many, many years ago that nobody ever claimed,” says Cherrie Wilson, the Deputy Nevada County Clerk.
While people like Wilson know all about Old Mike, no one really knows who he was or when he died. No one knew his real name, where he was from or any relatives. So, all they knew to do back then, was embalm his body and put it on display outside the old Cornish Funeral Home and wait for someone to eventually claim him.
That was in 1911, but you see….
“When they said ‘let’s go see Old Mike,'”(people like Cherrie still got to see him), and if you didn’t go, (because Old Mike remained embalmed, and on display), you were the biggest chicken that ever lived,” she says.
Until 1975 there was no funeral and no burial. He sat, stood rather, in front of the funeral home for years before finding a home in a back closet inside the building.
“And they’d walk down the hallway and there was a curtain and you had to pull the curtain back in and then there’s like a drawstring light and someone had to reach in and pull the drawstring,” Petre says. “And everybody was like ahhh.”
“Running out screaming. You had to scream whether you were scared or not. Of course, I was always scared, you know because I was scared of the funeral home, much less Old Mike,” Cherrie says.
For decades, people visited Old Mike, who, in death became a fixture in Prescott.
“So, it’s not like he was dead. He was like part of the community,” Petre says.
Meanwhile, the embalmed skin of what was likely an Eastern European man, became charred by the sun.
“(Gasp) and his teeth. His teeth were, they were wood. They were petrified, ” Cherrie says.
We’re told they likely changed his suit here and there, but people were able to come see a dead man whenever they wanted.
“It was just part of growing up here in Prescott,” she says.
Most people never saw a problem with it.
“It’s like, you know, coming to see your relative almost,” Petre says.
Until 1975, when at the request of a man who made it his mission to have Old Mike buried, requested then Attorney General Jim Guy Tucker do something about it.
Sixty-four years after Old Mike’s death, Tucker wrote the letter asking the funeral home to officialy put Old Mike to rest.
“It was a private service and only seven people were invited,” says Petre.
“It was kind of hard to believe you know to keep somebody that long,” says William Mullins, with De Ann Cemetery.
Mullins works in the cemetery where Old Mike was finally buried.
“Prescott’s known for it but it’s still kind of unbelievable,” he says.
A headstone is now the closest you’ll come to visiting Old Mike, but if anyone misses seeing him, there’s a replica at the museum. And, just like it used to be, it sits in a back closet.
“Open that curtain complete with the drawstring and there he was,” Mullins says.
Click here to watch a documentary about Old Mike.