The Thing (roadside attraction)
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The Thing is an Arizona roadside attraction hyped by signs along Interstate 10 between El Paso, Texas, and Tucson, Arizona. Teaser ads, such as The Thing What is it? and Mystery of the Desert, entice travelers along this sparse stretch of desert highway to stop, just to find out what the mysterious Thing might be. Such billboards are similar to signage seen in the South as drivers approach the South of the Border near Dillon, South Carolina and Rock City near Chattanooga, Tennessee. It is believed to have been made by a creator of exhibits for sideshows named Homer Tate.
What is it?
The Thing rates an entry in Doug Kirby's New Roadside America (1992), and it once was featured in a Jane Pauley television special on NBC. For $1 fee, one can enter a small outside courtyard leading to three prefabricated corrugated steel sheds. Inside are a variety of exhibits, including odd wood carvings of tortured souls (by "Ralph Gallagher, artist"), the "wooden fantasy" of painted driftwood (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 belonged to Adolf Hitler. Winding corridors and exhibit halls eventually lead to The Thing, a mummified mother-and-child tableau encased in a glass-covered coffin.
The roadside area was the creation of attorney Thomas Binkley Prince, who was born in Texas in 1913. In the 1950s, Prince and his wife Janet opened their first Thing roadside attraction and curio shop on Highway 91 between Barstow and Baker, until the expansion of the road into an interstate highway brought about the loss of the building. In 1965 the Prince family packed up The Thing and moved to the current location in Arizona. A heart condition and several strokes led to Prince's death in 1969 at the age of 56.
Syndicated columnist Stan Delaplane traced The Thing back to 1950. Janet Prince, who later moved to Baltimore, Maryland, was interviewed by Delaplane in 1956 and told him, "[A] man came through here about six years ago. He had three of them 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.