I did not know what to expect last weekend as I steered off of Interstate 10 at Exit 322 in Arizona to visit what is known in the hustler’s world as a roadside attraction. You know, roadside attraction, as in a sneaky way to lure the traveler to stop and maybe buy some merchandise after seeing a disappointing exhibit or whatever. But “The Thing” was too much to pass on. I bit.
From El Paso to Tucson, I’m told, yellow billboards line I-10, promoting the attraction. I counted two such signs myself between Willcox and the exit, but strangely nothing close by. Even at the exit there is not a single sign saying “The Thing” is here.
It is a nothing kind of place. It is a dot on my Arizona Road & Recreational Atlas shown as The Thing. Other maps, even my shiny new 2012 Rand McNally, doesn not list it at all. Nor does it even show an exit here at mile post 322. But, barring a paranormal experience, I can attest the place exists. It is a complex of Shell gas pumps and a long building consisting of a Dairy Queen and a Bowlin’s souvenir shop. “The Thing” rests in a shed in back.
It’s dark when we stop and go inside. It’s a big store, brightly lit and loaded with trinkets, T-shirts, caps and a whole bunch of other stuff. The clerk, a balding man of middle age, takes our $1 admission fees and points toward the door in back. There are three sheds out there, he says. “The Thing” is in the last one. Then he adds, with a smile I’m unsure of, “Try to be quiet. If you wake it, I’ll have to feed it.”
We follow yellow footprints along the cement walk. In no time Nebra and I are alone in the sheds. They are filled with oddities. Most have not seen a dust rag for many moons. But there are some worth noting. There is a 1937 Rolls Royce parked behind a cage. The sign says it was used by Hitler. There are some old firearms, one a Matchlock rifle said to have been made in 1634. There is an ancient Edison phonograph and above glass-encased exhibits a large collection of driftwood sculptures. We hurry along, eager to answer the question: What is “The Thing,” really.
We enter the third shed. I’m expecting some kind of Halloween show. Mechanical monsters, maybe, jumping out at you, trying to scare you so much your heart stops. But we arrive at a solemn scene. A casket-like container rests under strong flourescent lighting in the middle of the floor. A sign above it asks, “What Is It?”
Peering in through thick plexiglass, I see only a mass of grayness at first, something nebulous. But focusing, “The Thing” comes into view. It appears to be a grotesque mummy of a clothed woman clutching a child in her right arm with a somebrero-like hat laying on her lap. The legs do not look like normal legs. They are long and shapeless as if someone had substituted stout logs where legs should be. It is puzzling.
Back inside Bowlin’s I asked the clerk what he thinks “The Thing” is. He says the mummy was DNA-tested in the 1980s. It is said to be half human, half animal. The owner, whose name I have forgotten, acquired the mummy a half century ago from a carnival sideshow. The clerk doesn’t seem to know much more. Or isn’t saying.
We leave to make the drive into Benson for the night. Was it worth the $1 to see “The Thing”? Nebra and I agree. It was.