Updated: Feb 18
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I used to collect penguins, but as much as my husband loves me and humors my love for penguins (when we were first married our guest bedroom was entirely decorated with penguins), I can't imagine him building me an 80-foot outdoor tuxedoed bird. Yet that's what Hugh Davis of Catoosa, Oklahoma did, "surprising" his wife (who collected whale figurines) on their 34th wedding anniversary with the giant whale, built over two years on their property's pond. Constructed in the early 1970s from steel-reinforced concrete, it originally was for family, replete with a diving platform off the whale's tail and a sliding board on each side. But with a property on iconic Route 66, it became first an irresistable attraction to locals (who made it a local swimming hole even before it was painted blue) then a magnet for the public.
It wasn't the only thing Hugh (the former curator of the Tulsa Zoo) had built on their property. Among his developments were the Animal Reptile Kingdom (ARK) and Alligator Ranch (not longer there). An interesting history, including quotes from his family is included here.
In the closing years of Hugh's life, he became crippled with arthritis and the property and the whale became a little long in the tooth. The family closed the attraction soon after his death. Despite silt in the pond and peeling paint, there was renewed interest in refurbishing the property in the late 1990s, and with the assistance of the chamber of commerce, volunteers, and local businesses, the Blue Whale is open again. See a 2019 video by Oklahoma Tourism here (start around 2:30 if you don't want to watch the entire thing). Is it worth the visit? We visited in June 2020, on an all-ladies driving adventure from Pennsylvania to Arizona and back to celebrate a family wedding. My daughter Alex (pictured on the whale in red) inspired us to find off-beat places on our route. When we hit Oklahoma on the return trip, we decided to take in the history of Route 66 and some of the legendary large figures along the way.
We stopped by to see the 75-foot tall oil worker known as the Golden Driller in Tulsa (who doesn't want to take a break on a giant shoe?).
Stopped by the "Center of the Universe."
Then went on east to Catoosa and the Blue Whale.
While swimming is no longer allowed, the Blue Whale is a terrific place for a quick stop, leg stretch, and picnic. Young ones will especially appreciate both the break and the chance to climb into the whale or snack at one of the whale tables (bring your own food).
For us, these stops were a chance to envision the past. On our visit to the whale it was not staffed, but wandering the property not only let us see the whale but the remnants of Hugh Davis' ARK as well as other reminders of the past. It was like being an urban archeologist/anthropologist.
Frankly, the biggest laugh I had during the entire cross-country trip was during this visit. I was relieved (no pun intended) to find clean and working rest rooms. Apparently, they are a family affair. My adult daughter and I are close, but we decided NOT to take advantage of this as family bonding time!
The saying back in the day was"Get Your Kicks On Route 66." This site provided more than enough "kicks" to be worth a brief stop.
The Blue Whale of Catoosa is included as one of the 100 essential stops on the mother road in Amy Bizzarri's book, The Best Hits On Route 66. What's great about her guide is that she has specific itineraries including one for travel with kids, one for music lovers, and one for natural wonders, among others.