American folklore hero and lumberjack Paul Bunyan was said to be so loud that fellow lumberjacks had to wear earmuffs year round. When he sneezed, legend has it that he blew the roof off the loggers’ bunkhouse. “When he was a baby, it took five giant storks to deliver him,” Carol Olson, manager of the Bemidji Tourist Information Center in Minnesota, said of the larger-than-life figure.
“North America has a fascination with powerful men such as Daniel Boone, the fur traders, prospectors and the cowboys, who opened or cleared wilderness,” said folklorist Jens Lund. “And in Paul Bunyan, we combine the superhuman powers of a mythological entity with a frontier hero and the humorous appeal of ridiculous exaggeration.”
Here are a few places around the country where you can spot the big guy this summer.
If you’re passing through Bemidji, Minn., on a Wednesday, you’ll see lots of people dressed like lumberjacks, in black and red plaid.
The midweek get-up is at the request of the mayor and part of a year-long celebration that includes cake-decorating contests and museum exhibits to mark the 75th anniversary of the city’s famous Bunyan statue.
One of the exhibits at the Beltrami County History Center is a collage made up of hundreds of photos sent in by people who stopped to get their photos taken with Paul and Babe over the years. It was put together by Mitch Blessing, creative director of Design Angler Inc.
At 18 feet, the big Bunyan figure outside the tourist information center on the shore of Lake Bemidji is not the world’s tallest statue of the legendary logger, but it is one of the oldest.
“In 1937, there was a lot of logging around here and the statue was built for a winter carnival,” said Olson. “The mayor at the time was 6 feet tall, so they made the statue three times his size.”
A statue of Babe, the blue ox, was added two years later and, ever since, visitors have been bee-lining to Bemidji to get their pictures taken with the oversized duo and to see the display of Bunyan’s personal effects, including his giant-sized flannel shirt, toothbrush, wallet and telephone.
In Brainerd, there’s a 26-foot tall, 5,000-pound Bunyan statue at the Paul Bunyan Land amusement park with a moving head, arms and eyes and who greets visitors by name. “I can’t tell you how he knows everyone’s name,” said amusement park co-owner Lois Smude. “That’s part of the magic.” Smude said the park, which also features more than 35 rides and attractions and a pioneer village with antiques from the late 1800s, celebrates Bunyan’s birthday on June 29 each year.
In the middle of Minnesota, the city of Akeley (pop. 432) has a 25-foot-tall Bunyan with an outstretched palm low enough for visitors to climb into for a photo op. “Right next to the statue we have his giant cradle,” said Akeley clerk/treasurer Denise Rittgers. “We don’t do anything special for Paul Bunyan’s birthday, but if you drive into town, he’s right there, you can’t miss him.”
Once called the “Lumber Capital of the World,” Bangor, Maine, boasts a Bunyan statue that’s 31-feet tall. “Even though Lucette, Paul’s wife, has begun to try to make him eat healthier, poor Paul still weighs in around 3,700 pounds,” said Jessica Donahue, marketing and promotions director at the Greater Bangor Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Paul is also friends with famed author and Bangor resident, Stephen King, and was brought to life in ‘It,’ King’s 1986 novel.”
A 31-foot-tall Buynan statue in the Kenton neighborhood of Portland, Ore., dates to 1959 and depicts the legendary woodsman leaning on a giant axe and dressed in a red and white plaid lumberjack shirt and blue pants. Originally created for display at the state’s Centennial Fair, this big Bunyan was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009.
At the Trees of Mystery attraction in Klamath, Calif., there’s a 49-foot-tall Bunyan leaning on this axe with a 34-foot tall Babe the blue ox by his side. This Bunyan has been winking, swiveling his head and “talking” to passersby via a hidden public-address system since 1961.
“Paul Bunyan is indeed very appealing, especially in forested regions of North America,” said Lund. “No doubt the decline of logging and commercial forestry also makes him a perfect nostalgic character in those regions.”
(My story about where to see Paul Bunyan first appeared in a slight different version on msnbc.com’s Overhead Bin.)
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