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 exhibit creator Homer Tate for sideshows.
The Thing was purchased by former lawyer 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 Bowlin Travel Centers, 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 with overhead fluorescent track lighting. Inside are a variety of exhibits, including odd wood carvings of tortured souls by famous wood carver Ralph Gallagher, the "Wooden Fantasy" of painted driftwood purchased from an Alamogordo, New Mexico collector, framed 1880s to early 1900s lithographs, historic engraved saddles, guns and rifles of historic Western significance, a Conestoga wagon from Oklahoma! (Southern Pacific 1673, also appearing in Oklahoma!, is located at the Tucson, Arizona, train station), a buggy without a horse, and a vintage American automobile from the 1930s. Most of the exhibits are dusty but historically significant, and worthy of restoration. A sign by a 1937 Rolls-Royce mentions that it may have been used by Adolf Hitler, a supposition reiterated by the originator of the exhibit. Winding corridors and exhibit halls with painted monster footprints on the floors eventually lead to the "Thing", a mummified, likely female "Mother" of possibly Chinese or Native American descent (note the facial features and the addition of the Chinese worker hat and clothes) who died or likely was killed in the 1880s to early 1900s, and a mummified "Child" age and descent unknown but inferred to be the son or daughter of the "Mother". They are presented in separate but closely linked displays, coffin, and small coffin, bedding, and scratched plexiglass covering. One story as to the origin of the "Thing" are that the "Mother" and "Child" were illegal border crossers who were found and slaughtered by unknown cowboy bandits during a shootout and found decades later as mummified bodies by a rancher in the area who sold them to the owner/originator of the "Thing". But in this story, the harshness of the truth will never be uncovered, and the "Thing" will remain a mystery.
The step-great-great-grandson of Homer Tate and the curator of the Arizona Historical Society-Pioneer Museum in Flagstaff has 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. It is also referenced in the song "The Church of Logic Sin and Love" (1992), by The Men.
- 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.
- "Men The - Church Of Logic Sin And Love Lyrics". Song Lyrics. Retrieved April 30, 2015.
The Thing ahead sixty miles, do not miss / Not for the squeamish or depressed, not for the unbelievers
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