was a true wonder indeed. Most of his manufactured 'attractions' were of a time of innocence, from the standpoint of being realistic, some are, considered laughable at best by todays standards...BUT hold on...from the angle of Primitive or Outsider Art it is vibrant, raw and and pure Genius! Almost a form of dimensional grafitti. His Jungle creations were a kick and now very rare to find...one needs to see his 'catalog' sheets to really appreciate the range of wonderful weirdness he came up with and sold to hundreds of side show men for them to display as REAL. As an Artist, Homer Tate was a success story...his work sold by the truckload and the public paid to just look at it.
Born in Poetry Texas, September 7, 1884. Homer Tate would become the prolific creator and purveyor of all things weird and bizarre to the sideshow men and women of the the 1940's & 50's. His little 'Pygmy' bodies and crudely crafted Mummies and 'Freaks' would be shown coast to coast in Roadside Museums and Circus Sideshows...from the smallest Carnival to the massive shows at the World's Fairs.
His 'art' was everywhere and much of it still survives in small collections here and there...and yes...some of it is still shown for profit to this day! The most famous being 'The Thing!' of Hwy 10 just outside of Tuscon Arizona. Which is fitting, as Homer Tate called Arizona home for many years.
He had been a Miner, a Farmer and in the 1920's, even a Sherrif (Graham County Arizona) as well as owning a Motel and Gas Station in Safford.
In 1945, Homer Tate moved to Phoenix and history began to weave a strange thread. He was a tough guy, hard as nails...or was he? History becomes mystery as from this man, who was the 'Black Sheep' of a Mormon family, came books of Poetry...and his Fabulous ART.
Primitive and raw...little creatures and large renditions of Human remains, crafted for the sole purpose of humbugging a nation. Most of his works are readily identifiable as a 'Tate' original. They are, especially these days, completely unbelivable in appearance...yet...each has a certain charm in its crudeness, which evidently fooled the masses 'way back when'.
Today...Doug Higley is carrying on the traditions of Homer Tate and filling the void left with his passing many years ago. While 'Higley's Pygmys' can be startlingly realistic and even though 'fantastic', are readily believable to today's curiosity seekers...there is much of 'Tate' in the impetus to create them. It was 'Tate' who inspired Doug to begin creating the 'Gaffs' in the first place after seeing many of them over the years and finding out there was actually a 'man behind the myths'. Homer Tate.
Two of Homer Tate's 'Feegee Mermaids' These were bought from a little catalog of Oddities and Attractions and were very inexpensive. The showmen who bought them however made a lot of money showing them to the public. Was the public convinced by this Mystery Of The Sea? Doubtful...but they already had paid their admission, so the showmen of the time didn't care one way or the other. The above exhibits wouldn't 'play' today with a more sophisticated crowd on the midways and for a different breed of showman who strives to present a good show...a far more realistic exhibit is needed..
Homer Tate had a weird museum in Apache Junction...filled with oddities and pranks. (Higley had a weird museum in Lake Tahoe filled with oddities and pranks.)
Higley never met Tate...or knew ANYYHING about him till very recently. Homer Tate was a man of mystery to many in the sideshow/museum game...and still is...but how could that be? Everybody in the outdoor show biz know's of Homer Tate's bizarre creations, yet very few know the man or his story.
Evidently, Tate began making his 'Attractions' in the mid 40's into the 50's. Then something happened to cut off the flow of 'Shrunken Heads' and Mermaids and Cannibal Toms.
(Canibal Tom: A large body standing in a wooden box with a bone in his nose.) The story is that Tate got in a bit of trouble and plopped in the local hoosegow...while cooling his heels, his son Martin sold off the entire inventory and that was that. Homer Tate's 'Pygmy' shenannigans hadn't gone over well with the rest of the upright Mormon Tates, better to be rid of all that fooferall.
On the Left, an infamous Tate Pygmy (Mummy)...
to the Right, A Tate Siamese Twin Pygmy. They could range anywhere from 12 inches to 5 feet. People paid to SEE them. How many artists can say that today
Tate had a great sense of humor and an appreciation of the exotic locales of the world. His Curiosity Shoppe catalogs were filled with Jungle Mysteries and amazing
tongue in cheek 'artifacts' from 'distant shores'.
So...How were they made? What were they made of? Many of the secrets died with Tate. However some info remains, as well as conjecture. He would visit the hardware store for wood paste and glue and various stains and according to grand daughter Vada Tate:
"I know he scoured the desert when he lived at Apache Junction for animal skin and bones, but I also heard he used human hair from any source he could find, beauty shops, etc. I was told his key ingredient was powdered horse hoof glue or casein glue. He would soak the news paper and then add the powdered glue, until it was like a Paper Mache, but that's only what I've heard, I never saw him working and I would have been too small to remember what he was doing. But he would use doll hair, horse hair, human hair or what ever he could scavenge. Oh as far as the color, I think he used what ever he could get his hand on and yes even shoe polish, he was pretty resourceful." (Vada Tate)
About Doug Higley: Known as the 'Phantom Of The Midway', Doug's bizarre creations can be seen in museums, sideshows and collections coast to coast and around the world. Picking up where Tate left off in the late 70's, Higley's 'Outsider Art' is considered at the top of the food chain of such things and is created and sold by commision only. There is usually a backlog and waiting list. Like Tate, Higley's Art is made to be shown for an admission charge with the viewer not only not knowing it's Art but that there was ever an Artist in the first place! The Illusion complete that the 'piece' was once Alive not crafted...thus the 'Phantom' tag fits Doug Higley to a T.
Meanwhile visit the THING! on Hwy 10 near Tuscon and tip your hat to The King Of The Desert Pygmies...Homer Tate Man Of Mystery!!
'Thing' Photos by Rene Gutel of KJZZ Radio Phoenix
Tiny 'Shrunken Heads' by Tate
Visit Higley's and SEE...
This Tribute Written and Presented by Doug Higley (GrindShow.com)
Thanks and Appreciation goes to VADA TATE for information and support helping me create this Shrine to her grandfather.
A display of 'Tates' I had in my big museum at Lake Tahoe, "True Wonders Old Time Museum"
2 of Tate's Catalog pages and a 'World's Best Manufactured Shrunken Head'
Copyright © Doug Higley 2014
Websites, All Content, photos and text
RARE photos (and a catalog listing) of Homer Tate's CANNIBAL TOM, The Jungle Giant! This exclusive look at one of Homer's pride and Joy exhibits, is of an exhibit that once stood in my True Wonders Old TIme Museum in Lake Tahoe (among other museums previously). This was my number one favorite exhibt and when I had it, the nose bone was intact. (Now in a Private Collection)