Baker built historic 'bug'

Roscoe Baker Jr.

One year after Luther Baker died in 1952 the black metal boll weevil he had painstakingly handcrafted was stolen from its perch atop the Boll Weevil Monument in the center of Main Street in Enterprise.

The original metal bug—never to be seen on the monument again—took his grandfather some six months to create, Roscoe Baker—called R.J.—said as he told the story of the original bug’s origins.

As Enterprise counts down to the Dec. 11 centennial celebration of the Boll Weevil Monument, Baker remembers his grandparents’ stories of how the idea to place a boll weevil atop the monument came to be.

Baker’s grandfather served under Brig. Gen. John J. “Black Jack” Pershing in the United States Cavalry during World War I. “My grandfather didn’t come back to Enterprise until after he got out of the Army,” Baker said. “In fact he was on his way back on the train when he met my grandmother. She was on the train going to Midland City. Eventually they ended up getting married.”

Baker’s father was 10 years old in 1907 when Baker’s grandfather moved the family to Enterprise where he was employed as a cotton buyer at the Rawls Warehouse.

Baker’s grandparents lived on Mill Avenue behind the Sessions Plant. His grandmother kept chickens in the yard. “That was one of my jobs in the morning,” Baker said about his childhood visits to his grandparents’ home. “My cousin and I would walk her down to the henhouse, she’d pick up the eggs and we toted them back.

“That was her morning walk and granddaddy was usually eating breakfast while she was picking up eggs,” Baker recalled. “We’d walk her back to the house and then granddaddy would load up and I’d go with him.

“My grandfather passed away three days before my seventh birthday,” Baker said. “If I wasn’t in school, I was riding with him.”

Baker’s grandfather had several businesses near the rail road trestle in Enterprise. One was a photo gallery one was an ice cream parlor. “My grandmother was all the time getting on to him because he was all time giving it away more than he would keep,” Baker said about his grandfather’s generosity.

Baker’s grandfather also had a plaster shop on Mill Avenue behind his house. “He made the molds for a lot of what they used to call carnival plaster,” he said. “He had contractors out at Camp Rucker. I used to go out with him.

“He had concessions at the Enterprise semi-pro baseball team field that was at the end of Mill Avenue where the old National Guard armory is,” Baker said. “He had the drink and hotdog concessions there and Phenix City and other places. I used to get to watch the ballgame when he’d go to collect on baseball nights.”

Baker said that the original main entrance into Fort Rucker was through the Tank Hill Road Gate. “He did the brick columns there,” he said. “He did a lot of work at Fort Rucker and some of the buildings he built when I was a boy are still standing.”

Baker’s grandfather was an artist, a carpenter, a building designer and was working at the Enterprise newspaper when the idea of putting an actual boll weevil replica on the monument in the center of town first became a topic of discussion.

“They talked about why they didn’t have a boll weevil on there since it was called the Boll Weevil Monument,” Baker said. “So (Luther Baker) more or less got voted in to acquiring a boll weevil and since he couldn’t find one he decided to make one.

“My grandmother told me time and time again about howlong he’d sit up every night and he’d work on that mold,” Baker said. “It took him six months to carve it.

“There was one microscope in Enterprise at that time and it belonged to the doctor,” he said. “My grandfather would borrow it from the doctor to use at night and used it to carve the details on the mold for the bug. He lost a lot of sleep and as far as I know he did it on his own.

Working at home at the kitchen table nights, Luther Baker eventually hand crafted a wooden mold for a four-legged boll weevil that was the size of a man’s fist. He then melted down newspaper linotype metal to pour into the wooden mold that was installed atop the monument in 1949.

“That boll weevil only had four legs but it had a pin underneath that held it onto the statue,” Baker said. “My grandfather made like two or three before the one that they put on the monument. Trial runs I guess. And why it ended up with four legs I do not know.

“They drilled a hole in the top of the statue and that pin held the boll weevil in place. That’s why it was so easy to steal it.

“Like with anything, you hear different stories about what happened and everybody comes up with a tale,” Baker said about the theft of the metal bug in 1953. “Pretty soon, if you don’t stop it, it gets to be beyond tales, it’s considered fact.

“It got stolen and supposedly never was heard of again. As far as I know, the first one, the real one is in the state achieves in Montgomery—or it’s forever gone,” Baker said when asked to speculate about the location of the original metal bug. “And I have no idea of what happened to the original wooden mold.”

Baker said that how the original statue came to Enterprise is a story that he also remembers from his childhood. “My granddaddy told me and my grandmother has told me. I probably heard it 100 times,” he said. “I’ve heard everything about it.”

Baker said that his grandparents always told him that a committee of businessmen left on a train to Atlanta, Ga., to find a sculpture to serve as a monument erected “in appreciation” of the boll weevil, as it says on the historic marker near the monument.

The train had a layover stop in Newnan, Ga. and while the Enterprise businessmen were eating in a restaurant, their discussion about the statue was overheard by a local who suggested that they need not go further in their search for an appropriate sculpture.

The man told the Enterprise men that a local sculptor had “a whole pasture full of them out there,” Baker said. “So they went and the sculptor got to showing them some and they had one that was holding a jug over her head.”

The Enterprise men said that was what they had in mind but that they did not want the statue holding a jug over her head and the sculptor said he could cut the jug off.

“They said they wanted her to be holding a platter over her head and the sculptor agreed to leave the bottom of the jug intact,” Baker said. “Pretty soon (the statue) came back to Enterprise on a train and the (sculptor) came with it, seen about setting it up and that is how they got the lady to Enterprise, saved money and they got their trip cut short.”

Baker said the bug was placed on the monument in 1949. “I guess as a kid I remember there was a guy on the corner selling parched peanuts and I was more interested in parched peanuts than I was in whatever was going on,” he remembered. “I was only about three years old.”

Baker said he plans to come back to Enterprise for the centennial celebration of the Boll Weevil Monument. “The reason I am here is to get the facts straightened out,” he said. “It has been bounced around like all stories and pretty soon people forget the truth.

“I’m getting on up there. I’m 74 years old so if I tell the story at least somebody will know it and pass it on,” Baker said. “Any other Bakers that’s around here, there ain’t none that are kin to Luther Baker.

“He loved Enterprise and he worked a lot for Enterprise,” he added. “But he received very little recognition for it.”

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