Monday, February 28, 2011

260 Miles to...the Thing.

This morning, the letters of my Alpha-Bits breakfast cereal re-arranged themselves to spell out "D O O M." While I'm hardly the superstitious type, it did remind me that February had departed and it was time for another exciting Monster of the Month installment.

Between El Paso, Texas and Dragoon, Arizona, there are hundreds of billboards alongside Route I-10; advertising 24 hour gas stations, restaurants, music clubs, and tourist destinations. Among these are more than two hundred billboards, painted a distinctive yellow, that alert drivers to a particular attraction off of Exit 322. The attraction in question rests at a local gas station.

They call it...the Thing.

Referred to by various signs as the "What-is-it" or "The Mystery of the Desert," the Thing can viewed at the cost of only a single dollar (75 cents for those under eighteen). After paying at the register, visitors are lead to three shacks made of corrugated steel, connected by a path marked out with bright yellow monster footprints. The first shack contains various tableaus depicting scenes of torture. Carved wooden figures menace caged prisoners with hooks, branding irons, and lashes. Shack number two contains an odd assortment of dust-covered antiques on display, along with some peculiar folk-art and a 1937 Rolls Royce said to have been owned by Adolf Hitler.

The third shack is dominated by the final "What is it?" sign. Beneath it is a white coffin-like box with a large glass lid. Therein lies...the Thing: a shriveled, freakish figure that may or may not have once been human. Pictures can be found on the Internet, but we decided it was best to preserve the mystery of the Thing and not completely reveal its appearance.

The history of the Thing has some gaps, but it is commonly accepted that it was created in 1950 by Homer Tate, a lifelong builder of sideshow exhibits like shrunken heads, Fiji Mermaids, and alligator men. At some point, the Thing came into possession of attorney Thomas Prince, who established the exhibit in 1965. Since then,legions of tourists have been compelled to see the Thing for themselves; beckoned by hundreds of billboards.

And within its glass sarcophagus, the Thing silently waits for them.

Would you like to know more?
-Visit this Homer Tate tribute
-Read this article from Roadside America


  1. great article! Perhaps one day I'll have to make the trek to see it myself...


  2. I think it's interesting that his work is now being regarded as folk art. After browsing the site with images of his work I think I am inclined to agree. However, I don't know if I'd want any of his stuff in my living room.