The billboards are not so numerous as they were forty years ago but there are still plenty of bright yellow boards as you approach Johnson off ramp, Exit off ramp, to urge the traveler to stop and see The Thing. Once inside the roadside gift shop the visitor can pay to see Mystery of the Desert and wander through rows of southwestern rugs, various figurines, agate bookends, belts, buckles and earrings or purchase a chicken basket meal, fresh hot coffee and ice cream at the Dairy Queen.
Visitors to proceed through doors and follow the big yellow footprints on a sidewalk through three buildings, each filled with artifacts of questionable provenance. The first shed houses various of transportation including a 1921 Graham Page, a Conestoga wagon, a 1937 Rolls Royce and a vehicle purporting to have belonged to Adolph Hitler. Over the years different vehicles have made this proclamation.
In the second shed there are several carvings and artifacts of yesteryear. In the third shed visitor come face to face with The Thing and her baby thing. And what a face it is. It rests in a coffin inside a glass topped concrete case. The Thing on first appearance looks like a mummy. The Thing has a couple
of ribs exposed. A sign above its resting place asks, “What is it?” Perhaps it is made of papier-mâché?
Phoenix Public Radio asked Shad Kvetko who claimed to know about The Thing and where it came from. He said that it was the creation of Homer Tate. Kvetko’s aunt was Tate’s granddaughter. Tate’s family came to Arizona in the 1890′s, and he worked as a miner and a farmer the 1940′s, when he discovered there was a market for his talent of creating quite curious objects. These objects included shrunken heads and mummies created from papier-mâché. He opened Tate’s Curiosity Shop in Phoenix. His flyer announced, “The world’s best manufactured shrunken heads–a wonderful window attraction to make your mother-in-law want to go home.”
About the time that Tate was making his papier-mâché mummies, Thomas B. Prince became bored with his law practice, In the 1950′s Prince, a graduate of the 1940 University of Arizona College of Law Class, opened a roadside curio stand near Barstow. The Thing was included as one of its attractions. When the Interstate displaced the Barstow attraction, Prince moved the enterprise to Arizona. In 1965, he opened his roadside museum of oddities at Johnson Road between Willcox and Benson. Prince died in 1969 and his widow, Janet Prince, ran the enterprise for a while before moving to Baltimore.
Over the years there has been speculation that The Thing had been part of a race of giants. There were stories that this curious object came from caves inside the Grand Canyon. Others say that the double mummies came from Egypt
The Thing, 2631 N Johnson Rd., Benson, AZ 85602