The History of the Blue Whale


crowd in front of whaleThe following excerpt was written by Hugh’s daughter, Dee Dee (Davis) Belt, for the Catoosa Historical Society’s “History of Catoosa” book, published in 2003 to celebrate Catoosa’s centennial:

“The Blue Whale was built by Hugh S. Davis, Boy Scout, photographer, zoologist, lecturer, father of two, grandfather of four, great-grandfather of nine and friend of many. Hugh believed that every day was a beautiful day, that people should use the talents God gave them, that one should keep busy by thinking, planning and creating, that people should love what they do and do what they love, that you should always finish what you start and that you should enjoy life and live it to its fullest.

The pond on the Davis property was always a fun place. Before the whale was built, the kids who were friends of the Davises’ son Blaine and daughter Dee Dee swam, canoed in dug-out African canoes, played King-of-the-Hill by throwing each other off the large floating rafts and fished for perch and bass. They picnicked in the summer and skated on the ice in winter. Then Hugh’s children grew up and the pond was quiet … but not for long. When Blaine had sons John and Paul, their favorite place was “across the road” building and exploring with their Papa.

Hugh always had a “project” in the making … whether it was building furniture, creating an alligator ranch or constructing an ark, he was always busy. After his retirement from the Tulsa Zoo, he devoted all of his time to developing facilities to educate people about nature. First he build the ark with its cute cut-out wooden animals smiling at the kids who celebrated birthdays there, then the Alligator Ranch and Nature’s Acres with its live alligators, snake pit and prairie dog village.

In the late 1960’s at the age of 60, Hugh began to doodle pictures of a “fish” that he wanted to build at the pond. From that fish evolved a whale – larger and larger he grew from sketches on napkins to drawings on oversized sheets of paper. He left notes about the materials he used to build the Blue Whale:

  • Metal lathe – 180 sq. ft. per bundle; 14 bundles would go 2,520 sq. ft. at a cost of $215.70
  • 2” pipe – will need 1,179 feet for $451.00
  • 3/4” & 7/8” rods; 2,650 feet for $77.50
  • 100 ft. of 1” pipe
  • Dry concrete – 126 sacks for $228.79
  • Ready-mix concrete – 19 ½ yds. For $296.08
  • 19,400 pounds of rock
  • 15 tons of sand
  • 20” nails, copper tubing and screening for $40.76
  • Wood – 2,454 linear feet for $473.93

To accomplish his plan, he needed help fashioning the iron framework – the skeleton of the whale. For this task he called on his dear friend, Harold Thomas, a welder, to weld the 20-foot-tall, 80-foot-long structure. Harold worked 100 hours and charged nothing … he enjoyed helping out a neighbor and friend. It took two years, 1970-1972, to build the whale. According to Hugh’s notes, he worked 2,920 hours applying the cement which he hand mixed and applied one five-gallon bucket at a time.

In July 1972, the unpainted whale began attracting people who wanted to fling themselves off his tail, slide down his water-coated fins and poke their heads out the holes in the whale’s head. So began what became one of the best loved icons on Route 66. From 11:00 a.m. until dark every day (except Monday or when it rained) people swam, picnicked and fished.

Blessings were showered upon the Davises during the time the Blue Whale was in operation. No one was ever seriously injured, no one ever sued and no one was ever bitten by a snake. It was a good time. It was a good place.

Because of Hugh’s crippling arthritis, the Blue Whale was closed in 1988. Hugh died January 11th, 1990, and his wife, Zelta, to whom he had given the whale as an anniversary gift, passed away August 1, 2001. The Blue Whale is now owned by Dee Dee (Davis) Belt and her husband, Dick. Blaine and his sons, John and Paul, keep the grounds maintained and the gates open so people can continue to enjoy the Blue Whale.

Restoration of the Blue Whale has been an ongoing effort. In 1997 the Catoosa Chamber of Commerce refurbished the fading landmark. Governor Frank Keeting himself painted the pupil of the Blue Whale’s eye. Volunteers, private companies, family members and the Hampton Inns have pledged time, money, and energy to maintain the site.”

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