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Old Mike

Old Mike

     The person known only by "Old Mike" was a familiar figure in South Arkansas from about 1908-1911. He sold pens, paper, thread and other small items from a pack made of canvas and leather. He was seen regularly in Little Rock, Hot Springs, Benton, Arkadelphia and Texarkana. No one ever knew a name, where he came from, or of the existence of relatives. This man came to Prescott about every three to four weeks. He would arrive on the South Bound 3:00 p.m. train. He would work the streets and residences near the railroad and would stay overnight at Black's (later O’Halloran’s) Hotel on West Main Street. (Where Orwell's Well Service is located). He would leave South Bound the following day on the same train that brought him to Prescott.

     On an April night in 1911, a religious revival was being held in the City Park on the corner between the Old Armory and the swimming pool. Mike was found the next morning, dead, seated on the ground beneath one of the large trees. There was no sign of foul play. Apparently, he died of a stroke or heart attack. He was previously reported to have walked with crutches and was somewhat crippled on one side, which further supports his possibly have a stroke, as it could be surmised that he had suffered from one previously.

     There was no identification in his pocket, luggage, or otherwise. He had no wallet or purse, just an envelope, blank, containing a small amount of cash.

     Mike was embalmed by Cornish Mortuary, placed in a coffin and set where he could be seen. Such cases were usually identified within a few days. Such did not happen with Old Mike. Efforts by the authorities failed to produce any information. Over the years, many people viewed the body; none could identify it. No missing person reported from anywhere fit Mike's description.

     Here is a brief list of known facts about Mike. This information is from the coroner’s report issued by A.M. Ellsworth, Coroner at the time. I was furnished these facts by O.R. Ellsworth, son of the coroner.

  • Mike was possibly of Italian or other Southern European nationality.

  • He was probably about 40 to 45 years old.

  • Had either suffered a serious injury to his right arm and left leg.

  • He spoke perfect English with little accent.

  • He had no known permanent address.


     One unusual fact existed: Mike had very sophisticated dentistry performed. Local experts thought that such work could have only been performed in Europe, New York, or Boston. O.R. Ellsworth was an expert photographer -- he photographed the dental work. This work could not be identified in Boston or New York. That, in conjunction with his speaking with a slight accent, suggests that he was probably from Europe somewhere, which also reveals why no one was ever able to identify his remains. It has been suggested that he was possibly of Italian descent, though some reported that his hair had a reddish tint.

     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 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.

     There were two other bodies in Arkansas in similar circumstances. During the 1970s, the Attorney General of Arkansas, Guy Tucker, ordered all three bodies buried. Mike rests in a marked grave in DeAnn Cemetery.


Part of an article by Ken Petre, former Director of Nevada County Depot & Museum:

“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, a former Deputy Nevada County Clerk. “When they said ‘let’s go see Old Mike’ and if you didn’t go, (because Old Mike remained embalmed, and on display then), you were the biggest chicken that ever lived,” she says. Until 1975 there was no funeral and or 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, 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.” 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. Most people never saw a problem with it. It’s like, you know, coming to see your relative almost." 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.

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