Catoosa, Oklahoma's blue whale still grinning over national attention
BY HEATHER WARLICK-MOORE
Published: September 21, 2010
Modified: September 21, 2010 at 11:21 am
Modified: September 21, 2010 at 11:21 am
CATOOSA — If you're a Catoosan (or from "K2C," as the locals say), you know Blue. Even if you're not a Catoosan, you may have met Blue while cruising along old Route 66.
Blue is an icon on the Mother Road; the cement blue whale's toothy grin warmly greets travelers making their way down the historic highway.
In July, Time magazine published a list of the Top 50 American Roadside Attractions, and Blue made the list.
Last weekend, "Fins of the Blue Whale," a committee of about seven Catoosans, officially opened a souvenir stand next to the whale where visitors can buy a T-shirt, set of five vintage Blue Whale postcards from the '70s or a bottle of Blue Whale water.
Last weekend, Blue was visited by about 600 motorcyclists cruising State Highway 66 as part of the "Motoring the Mother Road" adventure.
Things are looking up for Blue. He even has his own Facebook and Twitter accounts.
But old Blue has seen better days.
In his glory days in the '70s and early '80s, kids dove from Blue into the swimming hole he guarded. The more daring kids jumped from the diving board perched high atop his stately tail. The conservative kids stuck to sliding into the pond from the slides on the side of the whale.
Alongside Blue's pond, there used to be an ARK (Animal Reptile Kingdom) and Alligator Ranch, where kids could have a birthday party and buy snacks. Alligator Ranch later became a kiddie zoo called Nature Acres.
For locals such as Jennifer Edwards, a day spent with Blue was a great day. Now the chairman of the committee working to preserve the whale, she remembers being 10 years old and jealously watching friends frolicking in the coveted swimming hole.
"My mother wouldn't let me because she was terrified of snakes, and she was afraid there were snakes there," she said. "And there weren't, because there were so many kids in there, a snake wouldn't even think to come close."
But kids don't swim there anymore. Today, Blue still smiles broadly, but what he sees isn't what it used to be. The ARK is swallowed up with weeds, and the wood it's built with is splintered and rotted. Nature Acres is shut down and boarded up.
The lifeguard tower in the pond still stands, but it's unmanned. What used to be a dock for diving and sunning has half-fallen into the pond and is cordoned off.
But Blue is still a great Oklahoma story that Blue's caretaker, Blaine Davis, tells anyone who wants to hear it.
Davis is the son of Hugh Davis, who built Blue in the early 1970s as a sort of anniversary gift for his wife, Zelta Davis. Hugh Davis had retired from the Tulsa Zoo. He was the zoo's director for 38 years. Both have since died.
"He would bring all the sick animals that needed attention home, and mom would baby them back to health," Blaine Davis recalls. "So, it was nothing to have a houseful of animals all the time."
Hugh Davis loved nothing more than kids and animals, Blaine Davis said.
So, when Hugh Davis began work on the whale, the kids in town knew it would be something grand.
One handful of concrete at a time, Hugh Davis constructed his labor of love.
It took two years, 126 bags of concrete mix, 19,400 pounds of crushed stone, $3,000 in materials and at least that in sweat equity before the whale finally was dedicated to Zelta Davis as her 34th wedding anniversary gift.
The Blue Whale was a popular destination for Catoosa kids until the mid '80s, when backyard pools started becoming more common.
"When that happened and the kids didn't have to associate with those other kids, then the interest started falling off," Blaine Davis said.
In 1988, his parents saw an opportunity to close up shop and shut down the old swimming hole.
After that, it quickly fell into disrepair. Nature took over, grass and weeds grew "armpit high," and vandals began wrecking what the Davises had built.
"Dad had passed away, and we knew that he would not like the idea of people tearing up the place that he had worked so hard on," Blaine Davis said.
So, in 1995, work began to bring Blue back to life. He and volunteers painted the whale, cleared the grounds of weeds and cleaned up the water. And little by little, travelers on State Highway 66 started stopping again.
Within the past 10 years, Hampton Inn volunteers cleaned the area up even more, and today Blue has regained some of his former glory.
Kids may not splash in the swimming hole anymore — liability issues brought a stop to that. The zoo probably will never reopen. And the ARK may be torn down soon to prevent any injuries or accidents there.
But "Fins of the Whale" hope to eventually have Blue's status changed to Oklahoma National Historical Landmark. Visitors are still welcome, free of charge. And "K2C" folks continue to love and visit their big blue friend that smiles over their town come rain or shine.