Eric Standridge is a freelance writer with an interest in history. His main focus is writing about Oklahoma.
Swimming through a sea of green foliage, the Catoosa blue whale smiles happily at travelers driving along the historic Route 66. The blue whale's wide smile just begs for attention, and like the call of the ancient Sirens, visitors are entranced by this great hunk of concrete.
Today, Catoosa's Blue Whale is a captivating tourist attraction, but this wasn't always the case. Born from a personal love story, this iconic Oklahoma landmark has grown to be a symbol of the love and freedom of the historic Route 66 byway.
Origins of Catoosa's Blue Whale
Constructed entirely of concrete, the Catoosa Blue Whale was one man's gift to his adoring wife. Sometime in the late 1960s, Hugh Davis dreamed up the idea behind the massive blue whale and quickly got to work.
A retired Tulsa zookeeper, over the next year Hugh built an 80-foot long blue whale for their oversize pond, located just outside of Catoosa. The inspiration for the blue whale came from his wife's fascination with small whale figurines. Zelta had spent years collecting these small specimens, and one can only imagine her reaction when her husband presented her with the massive, smiling marine mammal.
The blue whale became a favorite gathering spot for his family and friends. It didn't take long for this colossal concrete structure to gain local fame. Waves of people started showing up at the private swimming hole, wanting a chance to be swallowed up by the great blue beast. After realizing how popular the blue whale was becoming, Davis decided to open it up to the public.
A Popular Route 66 Attraction
Catoosa's Blue Whale is more like a playground than a monument. Inside the mouth and belly of the blue whale is a slide that shoots out the side and into the water. Steel ladders are placed around the inside of the whale so that people can climb up and look out the numerous portholes at the top of the structure. The playful blue whale also sports a large diving platform on the tip of its raised tail.
Dubbed "Nature's Acres", the blue whale became a hub of activity every summer throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Over the years, Catoosa's Blue Whale has gained many friends. Several smaller blue whales hoist heart-shaped picnic tables into the air, as if in tribute to the massive monument overlooking them.
The Animal Reptile Kingdom (The A.R.K.) was added a short time later and featured a wide variety of unique reptiles collected from all over the world. Hugh's brother-in-law, Indian Chief Wolf Robe Hunt, opened the Arrowood Trading Post directly across the highway from the blue whale, which added even more allure to the popular tourist attraction.
Passing motorists, whose curiosity was piqued by the eye-catching cetacean, frequently stopped to see what all the hubbub was all about. For years, not a single weekend passed when there wasn't a plethora of people hanging out at Catoosa's Blue Whale water-park. Nature's Acres remained a popular Oklahoma attraction until the late 1980s.
In 1988, due to her husbands failing health, Mrs. Davis finally decided to close the park. The death of Hugh two years later served as the harpoon that would end the life of the whale for good.
Rebirth of Catoosa's Blue Whale
Luckily for Catoosa's Blue Whale, the harpoon ultimately missed its mark. The growing popularity of sites along the old Route 66 in the early 1990s helped to bring the great blue whale back to life.
During the years that the site was closed, the effects of nature took a devastating toll on the blue beast. The blue whale's bright blue paint peeled off, leaving a splotchy mess of gray and faded blue. Overgrown foliage seemed to drown the beast, and the once crystal-clear spring-fed pond had turned into a murky brown swamp. Still, despite the "Keep Out" signs posted around the perimeter of the park, Route 66 enthusiasts still sought out the site.
Recognizing the significance of the massive blue whale and its location along Route 66, the Catoosa Chamber of Commerce quickly stepped in to help. In 1995, they helped raise donations and acquired grant money to help the family in restoring the blue whale and the surrounding area.
Even though swimming is no longer allowed, Catoosa's Blue Whale is truly a sight to see. The blue whale and picnic tables have been restored to their original grandeur, and the surrounding areas remain well groomed.
While the beautiful Oklahoma attraction isn't as popular as it once was, it serves as a monument to those adventurous travelers along one of America's most popular highways.
Have You Visited the Blue Whale?
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© 2011 Eric Standridge