On Friday evening, spectators witnessed a sight that had never before been seen in the nearly 40-year history of the Blue Whale of Catoosa, Okla. — the Route 66 landmark was decorated for Christmas.
Volunteers with Catoosa Arts and Tourism spent the past few weeks stringing LED lights along the Blue Whale, its souvenir stand, and the neighboring and long-closed Noah’s Ark. With darkness fast approaching Friday, Mayor Rita Lamkin began a countdown, and the lights were turned on, to much applause.
I counted at least 40 cars in the parking lot 20 minutes before the ceremony, with more vehicles arriving. A small bonfire in the corner of the grounds helped keep away the early-winter chill. A portable P.A. system played Christmas music, and Rogers State University’s choir director helped guide spectators into singing a few carols.
Scores of children were seen walking on the Blue Whale, peering out of the structure’s portholes, and climbing the ladder into the second level of its head. Scores of parents swapped stories of when Hugh Davis’ creation (as an anniversary gift to his wife, Zelta) became a popular public swimming hole.
Catoosa put on the event to raise awareness about the Blue Whale and boost fundraising to preserve the landmark. It’s hard to believe now, but just over a decade ago, menacing “No Trespassing” signs lined the property’s perimeter as the Blue Whale’s paint peeled and grew drab.
But bit by bit, the Blue Whale was restored to its former glory. Although swimming still isn’t permitted, the property has been reopened to tourists, the souvenir stand operates during the summer, and fishing is allowed again.
LED Christmas lights are becoming popular because they save energy. But volunteers and spectators commented about how the LEDs’ bluish tinge meshed remarkably well with the Blue Whale’s hue. And the reflection of the lights on the water also proved to be a visual delight.
Here’s a video I shot of scenes before and during the ceremony:
The Blue Whale’s lights will be on from sundown to midnight nightly during the Christmas season.
During the next two weekends, Santa Claus will make an appearance from 1 to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. The souvenir stand will also be open at that time.