Friday, 11 September 2015

Wild West Photo Friday: Have you seen. . .The Thing?

One of the many signs advertising The Thing. Photo courtesy C. G. P. Grey.

OK, this is actually a modern subject, but who says the West isn't still wild? If you've ever driven along I-10 between Phoenix and El Paso, you've seen the signs about The Thing. Yup, both words capitalized. Every time. It may be the most advertised roadside attraction in the United States, with around 250 billboards hyping The Thing stretched across more than 200 miles of interstate.

I love roadside attractions. It's a dying bit of Americana that I hope never disappears. The Thing is in the tiny town of Douglas, Arizona, and features a roadside diner, shop, and of course the mysterious museum. I used to love going there when I lived in Tucson.

The museum is filled with displays "said to have been" owned by famous people. The Million Dollar Museum in Carlsbad, New Mexico, used a similar tactic to make dusty old things take on a new shine. Photo courtesy C. G. P. Grey.

The museum consists of three large steel sheds jam packed with dusty old exhibits--old guns, saddles, driftwood carved into weird shapes, and a large display of torture instruments. It all looks a bit tattered, but that's a part of its charm. There's no slick presentation like you'd get in a modern theme park.

On the walls hang garish yellow signs that proclaim the uniqueness and incalculable value of the displays. This is straight out of the carny handbook--hype up an attraction and once the crowd is in, hype it up some more so they don't have buyer's remorse.

The museum is filled with creepy folk art. There's even a whole room displaying of medieval torture techniques. Photo courtesy C. G. P. Grey.

As you make your way through the museum, you follow a trail of monster footprints leading to the final display--The Thing itself! Jump the cut to see what it is. If you're planning on going yourself, you might want to skip this spoiler.

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

The Thing! What is it? It purports to be a mummy of a mother and child, bought by the attraction in the early 20th century. Is it real? It's hard to tell. Why is there a Chinese peasant's hat over the private parts? Another mystery. Is the mummy smiling? Perhaps it's a prehistoric Mona Lisa.

Ah, so many questions! This display brings us back to the days of the Wild West, when a carnival wasn't complete without a preserved prehistoric person. The dry conditions led to many Native Americans and unlucky settlers being preserved as natural mummies. I've seen many examples myself in the archaeological lab at the University of Arizona. If they are real, by law the mummies should be repatriated to the tribe, assuming they can be identified as belonging to a particular tribe.

Or perhaps they're dummies. Rumor says the mother and child were created by the sideshow's founder, Homer Tate, who made many mummies for carnivals and other attractions. He also made fake shrunken heads you could hang from your rear-view mirror. Much cooler than a pair of fuzzy dice!

Go see The Thing and decide for yourself. . .

1 comment:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Those quirky roadside attractions are fun. You never know what you'll find.
He made shrunken heads to hang from mirrors? No thanks!

Looking for more from Sean McLachlan? He also hangs out on the Civil War Horror blog, where he focuses on Civil War and Wild West history.

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