LAURINBURG — In April 1911, when tiny Laurinburg boasted only a few thousand souls, the body of a murdered carnival worker arrived at McDougald Funeral Home, his head smashed in by a tent stake the size of a baseball bat.
His name was Cancetto Farmica, a 23-year-old Italian immigrant who spoke little English, and all anybody in Laurinburg knew was that he'd died in a scrap with a fellow carny, perishing to the music of a steam calliope.
But on Thursday, the town marked the 100th anniversary of his death with a macabre nostalgia. You see, nobody ever claimed Farmica, so he spent the next 61 years as a mummy. For most of those years, he reposed in a glass-topped box on display - nicknamed, affectionately, "Spaghetti."
"I grew up with a mummy in my garage," said Beacham McDougald, modern keeper of the family business. "My house was attached to the funeral home, so I had to walk right past him. It was like, 'There's Spaghetti.'
"So when I say I've got a warped sense of humor, there's a good explanation."
The story of Spaghetti the Carny Mummy occasionally draws a curious TV news crew or lands Laurinburg in the pages of a collection of weird news. In 1972, the funeral home buried him in Hillside Cemetery under a red cedar and several tons of concrete, bowing to protests from a New York congressman of Italian descent.
But the picture of Spaghetti, his skin brown and desiccated, his arms folded, his face dried into a grin, is stamped on the psyche of this town, where three boxes of Jiffy Mix still cost $1 at the Piggly Wiggly.
McDougald paid Spaghetti a centennial tribute on Facebook last week, and dozens of people posted memories of daring each other to peek at the immigrant mummy.
"It was always a thrill as a little girl," wrote Robin Martin McLaurin, "walking from school to the church for Girl Scouts with all my girlfriends. We would stop by to see Spaghetti and scream every time, as if we had never seen him before. It is so fun to be a little girl!"
For the McDougalds, who run one of the state's oldest, independent, family-owned funeral homes, keeping Spaghetti was just good business.
Family found, then lost
Farmica's father arrived in Laurinburg shortly after his son's death, and with the aid of a Catholic priest, he managed to request in Latin that the funeral home hold onto the body until he could consult with the family. So John McDougald embalmed Farmica and waited.
Several months later, a letter arrived from Italy asking that the body be sent home, so McDougald researched the cost of overseas shipping and mailed the family a response. Nobody heard another word from them.
So the wandering carny stayed on the third floor of the funeral home, drying out and turning brown.
Folks grew fond of him, but few in 1910s Laurinburg had much practice at pronouncing Italian names, so the mummy became "Spaghetti" for convenience's sake. The name stuck.
By 1938, Spaghetti was still waiting for his ticket home, but by then the funeral home had moved to Biggs Street and he had migrated to his glass case in the garage.
After decades, a burial
Kids in Laurinburg recall nightmares about Spaghetti coming to life and climbing in their windows, and they dared each other to visit his garage. McDougald still keeps a copy of the term paper written by his friend William C. "Sandy" Barrett, recounting this childhood encounter:
"There, in front of me, was the mummified remains of a man dressed only in a loin cloth," it reads, "and in the corner of the upright box was a large tent stake. ... His eyes were sunken and closed, and in his head were perfect stitches aligned one after another as if the top of the head were a baseball."
In 1972, with all the hubbub created by Mario Biaggi, the New York congressman, the funeral home got a judge's permission to bury Spaghetti. The concrete in his grave lies only eight inches below the surface, foiling grave robbers.
His is the only grave in Hillside Cemetery with different dates for burial and death. Otherwise, he is anonymous among the generations of Southerners who gawked at him.
A set of train tracks passes just behind Spaghetti's grave, and you wonder if somewhere, he can hear the engines whistle - heading east, toward home, without him.
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