Posts Tagged ‘Benson Arizona’

The Thing!

November 1, 2011


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


The San Pedro Valley Arts & Historical Museum

November 15, 2010


In 1983, the San Pedro valley Arts & Crafts League and the local Historical Society merged to form the San Pedro Valley Arts and Historical Society in Benson. Today’s museum is housed in a 1920’s store building once owned by W. D. Martinez, a local grocer. The grocery display is part of the original store. William D. Martinez, born in Magdalena, Sonora, Mexico sold the store to the Steinfeld family who used it as a laundry, grocery store, and promoted it as a place to make soap, but that never materialized. The Ivey family purchased the building in 1937 and from that time until 1983 it was used for storage. The Ivey’s also owned a drugstore and a Phillips gasoline service station in Tombstone. A separate building on the museum premises houses an art display and interactive quilting experience. Museum quilters are available to teach quilting history and give the visitor a chance to help with the quilting. The visitor can also see historic quilts from the area.

            The visitor registration desk, the bookkeeper’s desk and filing cabinet came from the old Cochise County Bank. Harold Edson donated the roll top desk.  It belonged to the Lewis Brothers who had a garage at 4th and Huachuca Streets, current location of the Circle K. The green safe which once served the Benson school, was donated by the school. The black safe was donated by the City of Benson.

            The lovely large museum doors are original to the building. The optometric chair and equipment belonged to Dr. Robert Friske who was Benson’s optometrist for many years. His daughter Tammy took over and operated the business until she left in 1994. The portable sewing machine belonged to Winn Bundy’s mother and the treadle to Merlin Rose. Winn Bundy runs the unique Singing Wind book shop from her ranch just outside of Benson. Anyone at  the museum can direct the visitor to Winn’s “must see” book shop.

            The pot-bellied stove in the grocery store rode the Southern Pacific mail train for many years. Also on exhibit is Benson’s first refrigerator which was used at the Hi-Wo Grocery and Mercantile on the corner of 4th and Gila Streets. Hi Wo, born in China, operated the mercantile for almost a century. The mercantile is still owned by his descendants and is on the National Historic register. The metates and mano were found locally. Vay Fenn found the millstone in Sinaloa, Mexico, near an old Spanish mine. It probably dates to the 1600’s.

            The museum gift shop has local handcrafted items, greeting cards, Benson items, cookbooks, and Arizona history books. Every year the museum hosts a month long series of art classes for students from the surrounding area. A variety of projects are available to fit the children’s interests.

            The museum’s research library consists of hundreds of files on subjects pertaining to the area. It includes old newspapers, photographs, journals, directories and oral history collection from local residents. Contact the museum for terms of usage.

            Don’t miss the horse drawn school bus which carried many a Benson child to school. The museum had to provide a special building to house this vehicle.

Tel. No. 520-586-3070 Web Site: The San Pedro Valley Arts & Historical Museum San Pedro & 5th  PO Box 1090

Benson AZ 85602