Homer Tate - King of Gaffs


Homer Tate was born in Poetry, Texas, in 1884 and came to the Gila Valley, settling in Central, around 1915, where he mined and farmed for many years.   


Tate ran for and was elected the sheriff of Graham County from 1925 to 1928 and afterwards returned to farming. It was sometime in the late 1930s when he started working with his particular form of art. He would make interesting and strange forms and figures, much like you would see in the carnival sideshows of the time. He worked on pygmy heads, mermaid creatures and the famous “Cannibal Tom” (a large creature in a coffin with a bone in his nose).


Tate would create his art from mud and paper and animal bones he would find in the desert. He would scrounge for human hair from beauty parlors and create his own glues from what he could find in the hardware store. Many carnivals bought his special creations to keep behind the curtain and charge an extra dime to see. Whether believable or not, they were always interesting.


Tate was somewhat of an outcast to his Mormon family, which perhaps had something to do with his love of the strange. At one time when Tate was away, his family sold all his creations and thought good riddance. He was fit to be tied upon return.  He owned an auto court (motel) and gasoline station at the corner of Eighth Avenue and Thatcher Boulevard. in Safford and had his workshop and curiosity shop on the corner where Triangle Liquor now sits. I visited with Dick Moody before he passed on and was told of all the strange and exciting items hanging from every wall in Tate’s store. These items sold for very little, and it is a wonder that he was able to keep the place open at the time, although it was more of a hobby to him than a money-making proposition.



Tate moved from the Valley to Apache Junction about 1945 and opened a storefront called “Sideshow World,” where he could show off his special friends. I believe he later moved to Van Buren in Phoenix. At one time, he printed a full catalog of his art creations for sale, and some can still be found on eBay going for much more than he could ever imagine. In a 1948 magazine article on him and his work, it was described as teratogeny, which you can look up since I had to.


It might surprise you to know that the mummy mother and child at “The Thing” on I-10 that opened 1965 in southern Arizona was created by none other than Homer Tate. I know I thought it was real, too.  


I had great fun in researching this article because my father was a very good friend with the son of this man. The friend was George Tate, and the “King of Gaffs” was Homer Tate.  Danny Haralson - August 22, 2012 - Eastern Arizona Courier


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