Paying homage to a pesky little bug that destroyed crops and threatened to gnaw through any hopes of prosperity might seem like a strange idea. And it was. But it was a crazy-good kind of strange, the idea had a hook.
|Boll Weevil Monument 2008|
Then you unveil it with a big ceremony, saying it’s all to thank the bug for actually ushering in a new era of prosperity as an end-result of almost ruining the local economy with its voracious appetite for cotton. You credit the little critter with forcing farmers to shift from their one-track mind when it came to planting (cotton was the biggie) and diversify their crops. They did, many turning to the peanut, which was a great success.
When it was all said it done, the small southeast Alabama town of Enterprise had more than just a new decoration on its landscape – it had a tourist attraction. A town that was like so many others now had something very special, not to mention interesting in a “don’t that beat all” kind of way. And it wasn’t unique just to Alabama, the uniqueness of that attraction – or oddity, as some might call it – was global, baby. No one else had anything like it.
Now, nearly a 100 years after it was dedicated on Dec. 11, 1919, at the intersection of College and Main streets, the Boll Weevil Monument is still a symbol of the town, still one of the first things mentioned when telling a newcomer about Enterprise. The city is even known as “The Weevil City.” That’s what you call staying power, y’all.
Creating the Boll Weevil Monument
Businessman Bon Fleming came up with the idea to honor the weevils with a monument. Was he being serious, or did he have a good sense of humor and a flair for PR? Impossible to say, but it was the humor in paying tribute to a beetle that made the monument – and city – stand out a bit. I’ve seen sites that show maps of the U.S., with an item or two representing each state. Guess what usually gets a shout out for Alabama – the wacky Boll Weevil Monument.
The monument has also generated a little income via merchandising for the The Pea River Historical and Genealogical Society, which runs a shop on Main Street selling books, mini-statues, T-shirts and other items featuring the famous statue. Some of them bear the logo: “Fear No Weevil,” a phrase possibly inspired by a segment about the “magic” weevil on The Daily Show in 1998 titled "See No Weevil."
The monument itself, built in Italy, originally consisted only of a statue of a woman holding a spouting water fountain over her head and cost $1,795. The cost of putting it in place and building a walled basin around it brought the total to $3,000, which came from contributions and Fleming's own pocket. That’s dedication to a cause, as $3,000 in 1919 dollars equals $36,833 in 2009 dollars (the inflation calculator doesn’t go later than that as of now).
A crowd of about 5,000 people witnessed the Boll Weevil Monument’s dedication on Dec. 11, 1919. George Washington Carver was scheduled as the main speaker, but he didn’t make it due to washed out rails. He was a proponent of planting peanuts and other crops for the good of the soil and to thwart cotton-loving boll weevils. Carver also invented many products using peanuts to create a market for all those new harvests.
The Monument and the Weevil – Together at Last
The real draw of the monument, the factor that makes it strikingly different and inspires smiles (or titters, if you miss the point and think it’s all so silly), wasn’t added until 1949. I’m talking about the bug. Coffee County artist Luther Baker saw what was lacking and made a big black boll weevil from a bit of metal, sticking it into the defunct fountain in the statue's upstretched arms.
Information for this site comes from personal knowledge gained through many years of writing articles about the monument. Also, invaluable information was obtained from the book "Enterprise - The First 110 Years" by the late Roy Shoffner. His book, as well as others focusing on the monument, Enterprise and Coffee County, can be obtained by contacting The Pea River Historical and Genealogical Society.