Over the past couple of months, you have seen pictures in this newspaper, and read about the Devine Cactus Zoo from the 1950s. This may have piqued your interest to wonder if it was really that special. Well, in January of 1956, the Houston Chronicle thought it was! Writer, Chester Rogers, came to take pictures of this unique phenomenon that people were talking about, and it was special enough for the paper to feature color pictures of it in their Sunday magazine!
According to DHS Class of 1956 student, Linda Craig Bahlmann, “The newpaper people came to the high school looking for students to go out to the Cactus Zoo to take pictures. I was very surprised that a Houston paper would come to our little town and was very excited to be chosen to go out there.” “To have my picture taken by a ‘famous’ photographer was beyond the imagination of this country girl!”
Linda, along with fellow ’56 senior, Barbara Brieden Moeller, sophomore Joyce Schmidt, and Edwina Mitchell, had pictures taken with “Cactisculptures” of Davy Crockett, the Three Bears, a cactus-covered dog, and the huge Chaparral (roadrunner) and its’ favorite enemy, a rattlesnake! And these were just a few of the sculptures made by Devine postman, O. T. Baker and other helpers. “How was Mr. Baker able to form all that? I was awestruck and amazed at how large they were!” “I was also glad they (snake & roadrunner) were not that big (in real life)”, shared Mrs. Bahlmann.
The Devine Cactus Zoo was located in town on old HWY 81 (now Hwy 132) on a triangular piece of Baker property between the highway and the railroad tracks (to the right of the railroad overpass bridge going toward Natalia.). “Back in those days, Hwy 81 was a major highway and anyone going to or from Laredo or Mexico (to or from San Antonio) had to come through Devine. Lots of people came through regularly to go to Laredo and Mexico to shop, eat, and visit, and also to go to the coast.” “The Greyhound buses also stopped there for their break and let the people out to walk through it.” “Can you imagine the expressions on their faces, especially the kids, when they drove through Devine and came to those. How marvelous it must have been for people to see it for the first time!”
“Mr. Baker did have lots of help and encouraged others to be a part of this; but just to envision this….that this came out of his mind and not even realizing what it would do for our town!” Devine was so fortunate to have him, and he was a blessing to our town. He wanted to make Devine known in and out of the state of Texas for what they could do here.”
“Devine did not have much to see or do back then, and this was something that was new, a novel idea.” She also heard said that Mr. Baker was ‘just’ a mailman. But the former Linda Craig included, “This was not ‘just’ a mailman who created this. He must have had a creative spirit that he could create something so divine, in a place called Devine!”
*Come visit the Community Center after the parade on Saturday to see the display of pictures from the Devine Cactus Zoo.
*Also featured will be a home movie of the Devine Cactus Zoo from 1957 provided by Ramiro Balderrama and family
By Nancy Ehlinger Saathoff