The Thing (roadside attraction)
The Thing is an Arizona roadside attraction hyped by signs along Interstate 10 between El Paso, Texas, and Tucson, Arizona. A large number of billboards entice travelers along this sparse stretch of desert highway to stop, just to find out what the mysterious Thing might be. The object, supposedly a mummified mother and child, is believed to have been made by a creator of exhibits for sideshows named Homer Tate.
The Thing was purchased by former Thomas Binkley Prince in the mid-twentieth century, who quickly based a tourist attraction around the strange object. Although Prince died in 1969, the attraction was run by his wife Janet for many years. Today, the site is under the ownership of Bowlins, Inc. Despite its remoteness, the attraction has been popular; it has appeared in several tourist guides, and has been the subject of several news stories and reports.
The exhibit—which costs one dollar for adults and seventy-five cents for children to enter—leads to three prefabricated corrugated steel sheds. Inside are a variety of exhibits, including odd wood carvings of tortured souls by one Ralph Gallagher, the "wooden fantasy" of painted driftwood purchased from an Alamogordo collector, framed lithographs, saddles, rifles, a covered wagon and several vintage automobiles. A sign by a 1937 Rolls-Royce makes the claim that it once was used by Adolf Hitler. Winding corridors and exhibit halls eventually lead to the titular Thing, a mummified mother-and-child tableau encased in a glass-covered coffin.
The step-great-great-grandson of Homer Tate and the curator of the Arizona Historical Society-Pioneer Museum in Flagstaff have said that this was created by Homer Tate. Tate was famous for producing sideshow gaffes. Based out of Phoenix, Tate produced a variety of curiosities like faux shrunken heads.
The roadside area was the creation of attorney Thomas Binkley Prince, who was born in Texas in 1913. Prince attended Arizona State University and became a lawyer, practicing law for a time in Phoenix, Arizona. But soon he and his wife Janet moved to the Mojave Desert on Highway 91 and opened their first Thing roadside attraction and curio shop, between Barstow and Baker. However, the expansion of the road into an interstate highway brought about the loss of the building, and in 1965 the Prince family packed up The Thing and moved to the current location in Arizona. Prince chose the location to be near Texas Canyon, a site that he had become "enchanted" with. A heart condition and several strokes led to Prince's death in 1969 at the age of 56. Janet ran the attraction for several years, but eventually relocated to Baltimore.
The origin of The Thing was established by Syndicated columnist Stan Delaplane, who interviewed Janet Prince in 1956. Prince told him, "[A] man came through here about six years ago. He had three of [the bodies] he got somewhere. He was selling them for $50." Today, the attraction is operated by an Albuquerque-based company, Bowlins, Inc., which owns several roadside trading posts throughout the Southwest.
Advertisement and popularity
The Thing is heavily advertised via billboards that dot the interstate. A popular, albeit untrue, legend states that the billboards stretch from New Orleans to Los Angeles. Mike Bowlin, the owner of the site in 1993, noted that the billboards realistically "start around El Paso to the east and somewhere on I-10 between Phoenix and Tucson to the west." RoadsideAmerica.com claims that over 247 billboards, spread out over a span of 200 miles, advertise the attraction. Due to The Thing's popularity, it has appeared in many books, such as Doug Kirby's New Roadside America (1992), Weird Arizona (2007) and it once was featured in a Jane Pauley television special on NBC.
- Treat, Wesley (2007). Weird Arizona: Your Travel Guide to Arizona's Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets. Sterling Publishing Company. pp. 94–95. ISBN 9781402739385.
- Walker, Dave (January 27, 1993). "Shrine to a Road Scholar". Phoenix News Times. Retrieved March 20, 2015.
- Kor, Linda (April 11, 2012). "Mummified African Pygmies? In Holbrook?". Arizona Journal. Retrieved July 6, 2013.
- Gutel, Gene (March 10, 2005). "Pilgrimage to 'The Thing' in the Arizona Desert". National Public Radio. Retrieved July 6, 2013.
- Delaplane, Stan (September 7, 1970). "Postcard: They Call Her Susie". San Antonio Express. p. 8. Retrieved March 20, 2015.
- "The Thing?, Dragoon, Arizona". RoadsideAmerica.com. Retrieved March 21, 2015.
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