HUGH DAVIS – SNAKE HANDLER, WILDLIFE EXPERT, AND PSYCHOLOGIST'S ASSISTANT

Wildlife experts Zelta (left) and Hugh Davis (right) holding snakes and other reptiles.

In the 1930s, a wildlife expert named Hugh Davis helped a psychology professor at the University of Tulsa conduct a rather bizarre and controversial experiment on hypnosis. In the study, professor Loyd Rowland convinced several people under hypnosis (mostly college students) to touch an agitated diamondback rattlesnake (you can read all about that study here). 

At the time, Mr. Davis was director of the local Mohawk Zoo (now known as the Tulsa Zoo) and assisted the professor by providing the rattlesnake for the experiment and serving as the snake handler. However, despite his vital role in the study, Mr. Davis's involvement was only indicated as a brief footnote in the published report. 

Below are a few images that tell us a bit more about Mr. Davis's extraordinary life. As a young man, he was a wildlife photographer and with his wife Zelta made trips to Africa, Central America, and other distant lands. The Davises gave lectures about their travels and amazed the public with their fearless handling of snakes, gila monsters, and other dangerous reptiles.

For 35 years, Hugh Davis served as director of the Tulsa Zoo. When he retired, he and his wife operated an alligator farm near Catoosa, Oklahoma. By all indications, the Davises were a closely knit couple. In the 1970s, Hugh Davis constructed a giant concrete blue whale as an anniversary present for Zelta (who had an affinity for whale figurines). The 80-foot Blue Whale of Catoosa still stands to this day and remains a favorite roadside attraction off Route 66 (images below).