Driving on Interstate 10 between El Paso, Texas, and Phoenix, there are 247 billboards advertising a mysterious roadside attraction known as The Thing.
Just what the heck is “The Thing?” Those who choose to unravel the Mystery pay a buck to the cashier in the gift shop, get buzzed through a solid steel door, and find themselves in an open courtyard leading to the first of three long, open-ended steel sheds.
Please DO NOT PARK WITHIN 100FT OF THIS BUILDING!!!
Yellow Bigfoot-style footprints are painted on the concrete walkway to direct you through each of the sheds.
Wait, what the hell is this?
Several of the exhibits in the first shed are labeled with bad “The Thing” puns, “Early model tractor was really The Thing for replacing four-legged horsepower.”
Highlights in Shed #1 include a 1937 Rolls Royce claimed to have been used by Hitler and a large steel cage filled with wood carvings of people being tortured, “the only one of its kind in the world.” A hooded man with a hook for a hand and a branding iron in the other menaces a screaming blonde woman tied to a post; another screaming woman, strapped to a crossbar, has her bare back flailed bloody by a guy with greenish skin and a drooping moustache. The tableau is credited to “Ralph Gallagher, artist.”
If you thought shed #1 was exciting just wait until you see what’s hiding in shed #2.
Shed #2 is filled with plywood cubicles holding allegedly valuable exhibits, each behind glass and cushioned on a faded square of 1960s-era polyester carpet. Atop the cabinets are more examples of Ralph Gallagher art. A sign explains: “Wood carving completely carved from solid wood.” Wow! Dozens of weathered tree roots have been transformed into freakish creatures by Ralph, who used what appears to be poster paint to add an eyeball here, a horn there, and a spiky-toothed mouth over there.
Continue past the rundown trailer park that’s wedged in between the three sheds and you’ll finally make it to shed #3 where “The Thing” is finally revealed.
Are you ready?
Ladies and gentlemen, here it is…”The Thing?” So what is it exactly? Sometime in the 1950s an Arizona lawyer named Thomas Binkley Prince opened a curio shop outside Barstow, CA. He had reportedly become bored with law, finding the profession “stuffy,” so he moved his family to the Mojave Desert to jazz things up a bit. There, he established his business and fashioned it into a gallery of oddities. Around the same time, a man named Homer Tate was running his own curiosity museum in Phoenix. His exhibits consisted of shrunken heads and various beasties like those he termed the “wolf boy” and the “bamboozle bat,” all of which Tate had fabricated himself. Fashioned from papier-mâché, human hair and the hides of dead animals, Tate’s bizarre creations were produced mostly for exhibition as sideshow gaffs.
Meanwhile, back in California, infrastructure was metastasizing. By 1965, expansion of the U.S. Interstate system had displaced Prince and his establishment, prompting him to move things back to Arizona. He reopened his attraction just east of Benson, right alongside Interstate 10, and placed “The Thing” at the top of the bill. Now, it’s unclear at what point Prince acquired The Thing, but it’s very likely the item originated in Homer Tate’s workshop. Not only do the timing and placement coincide, but experts on the subject—and they do exist—will attest that the quality of The Thing matches that of Tate’s other work. It’s hard to say exactly by what means it came into Prince’s possession, but as Tate distributed his creatures worldwide via mail order, it’s likely Prince had simply ordered it from a catalog.
Thomas Prince passed away in 1969, leaving his wife, Janet, to run things. Janet has since moved away and leased The Thing to Bowlin Travel Centers. Today, a portion of the money brought in by ‘The Thing’ goes to a University of Arizona College of Law scholarship in Prince’s name. I just saved you a buck, you can thank me later.