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Yes, there is a National Lumberjack Day—and it falls each year on September 26 (this year, a Wednesday). One of America’s most noted lumberjacks is none other than Paul Bunyan (who has his “own” day on June 28).
A lively tale about this towering woodsman was written by Sarah Pruitt and published on History.com notes:
“As the legend goes, it took five huge storks to deliver the infant (already gigantic) Paul Bunyan to his parents in Bangor, Maine. When he grew older, one drag of the mighty lumberjack’s massive ax created the Grand Canyon, while the giant footprints of his trusty companion, Babe the Blue Ox, filled with water and became Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes. Such frontier tall tales surely stretch reality, but was Paul Bunyan himself a real person? The true story of this iconic figure is a little more complicated.
“Historians believe Bunyan was based in large part on an actual lumberjack: Fabian Fournier, a French-Canadian timberman who moved south and got a job as foreman of a logging crew in Michigan after the Civil War. Six feet tall (at a time when the average man barely cleared five feet) with giant hands, Fournier went by the nickname ‘Saginaw Joe.’ He was rumored to have two complete sets of teeth, which he used to bite off hunks of wooden rails, and in his spare time enjoyed drinking and brawling. One November night in 1875, Fournier was murdered in the notoriously rowdy lumber town of Bay City, Michigan. His death, and the sensational trial of his alleged killer (who was acquitted), fueled tales of Saginaw Joe’s rough-and-tumble life—and his lumbering prowess—in logging camps in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and beyond.
“Over time, Fournier’s legend merged with that of another French-Canadian lumberman, Bon Jean. Jean had played a prominent role in the Papineau Rebellion of 1837, when loggers and other working men in St. Eustache, Canada, revolted against the British regime of the newly crowned Queen Victoria. The French pronunciation of Jean’s full name is believed to have evolved into the surname Bunyan.
“The first Paul Bunyan story, ‘Round River,’ made it into print in 1906, penned by journalist James MacGillivray for a local newspaper in Oscoda, Michigan. In 1912, MacGillivray collaborated with a poet on a Bunyan-themed poem for American Lumberman magazine, earning Paul Bunyan his first national exposure. Two years later, an ad campaign for Minnesota’s Red River Lumber Company featured the first illustrations of the larger-than-life lumberjack. Combined with pamphlets spinning the tales of his exploits, his prominent appearance as Red River’s mascot would help turn Paul Bunyan into a household name—and an enduring American icon.”
Brittanica.com states “Paul Bunyan, giant lumberjack, mythical hero of the lumber camps in the United States, a symbol of bigness, strength, and vitality. The tales and anecdotes that form the Paul Bunyan legend are typical of the tradition of frontier tall tales. Paul and his companions, Babe the Blue Ox and Johnny Inkslinger, are undismayed by rains that last for months, giant mosquitoes, or adverse geography. The tales describe how Paul, who fashions lakes and rivers at will, created Puget Sound, the Grand Canyon, and the Black Hills. They celebrate the lumbermen’s prodigious appetites. Paul’s camp stove covers an acre, and his hotcake griddle is so large that it is greased by men using sides of bacon for skates.”
According to Wikipedia, “Paul Bunyan is a giant lumberjack in American folklore. His exploits revolve around the tall tales of his superhuman labors, and he is customarily accompanied by Babe the Blue Ox. The character originated in the oral tradition of North American loggers and was later popularized by freelance writer William B. Laughead (1882–1958) in a 1916 promotional pamphlet for the Red River Lumber Company. He has been the subject of various literary compositions, musical pieces, commercial works, and theatrical productions. His likeness is displayed in several statues across North America.”
Many of those statues actually stand proudly within northern Michigan. A search of RoadsideAmerica.com found the following within the Great Lakes State:
Paul & Babe the Blue Ox, St. Ignace
Situated at the base of Castle Rock sits a rock statue of Paul Bunyan (perhaps sporting a Stormy Kromer cap) and his sidekick, Babe the Blue Ox. Towering nearly 200 feet above the waters of the Straits of Mackinac, Castle Rock is considered to be one of the oldest lookout points located just three miles north of St. Ignace. Referred to as “Pontiac’s Lookout” by the Ojibwa Tribe, the limestone stack or sea chimney, is geologically similar to several features on nearby Mackinac Island, such as Arch Rock or Sugar Loaf. C. C. Eby purchased the stack and an adjacent tourist stand in 1928 and opened Castle Rock to the public. It continues to be owned and operated by the Eby family as a tourist attraction, mid-May through mid-October. A climb up the 170 steps provides views for up to 20 miles. Distance: 11 miles
Paul Bunyan’s Cook Camp, Newberry
Local lore claims that this huge kettle at the Tahquamenon Logging Museum belonged to none other than Paul Bunyan, who used it to prepare his meals over the campfire. This mighty pot was cast in Newberry in 1941 and sites outside the Authentic Cook Shack where you can enjoy a real lumberjack breakfast made over a wood stove, just as the Civilian Conservation Corp workers would have done back in the day. The museum also houses a collection of CCC memorabilia, photographs, models and original logging equipment. Distance from Mackinaw City: 85 miles.
Kaiser Paul Bunyan, Alpena
This 30-foot-tall sculpture was created by Birmingham artist Betty Conn and architect Edward X. Tuttle for William L. Woelk’s Gaylord Gas Station—Paul Bunyan’s Gas and Eat—in the early 1960s for just $4,500. It was sculpted from old Kaiser auto parts—fenders, hoods and other items—salvaged from Detroit junkyards. Kaiser Motors (formerly Kaiser-Frazer) made automobiles at Willow Run, Michigan from 1945 until 1953 before it merged with Willys-Overland to form Willys Motors before again changing its name to Kaiser Jeep in 1963 until it ceased operation in 1970. Around that same time, Kaiser Paul found his way to a local Indian museum before moving to Grayling to stand outside the AuSable Manistee Realty Company. Since 1999, it has been the mascot for the Alpena Community College sports teams (the Lumberjacks) and it stands now in Park Arena. Distance from Mackinaw City: 93 miles.
Paul Bunyan Statue, Manistique
This town proclaims to be the “Home of Paul Bunyan,” although several other historic lumber towns in the Upper Peninsula (and around America) claim the same. The 15-foot-tall ax-wielding woodsman stands outside the Schoolcraft County Chamber of Commerce Building at 1000 W. Lakeshore Drive (US-2) overlooking northern Lake Michigan. Distance from Mackinaw City: 96 miles.
Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox, Ossineke
What came first, the Bunyan or the Babe? In this case, a 10.5-foot-tall white cow was constructed around 1937 on a hill across from the Lookout Inn (as legend has it a white cow on a hill signified good luck). In 1950, new owners acquired the property and Babe was painted blue. It wasn’t until 1953 that the 25.5-foot-tall Paul was built to tower above her, weighing in at 11.5 tons (Babe is less than half his weight, at 4.5 tons). This legendary duo was moved to their present location (the corner of US Hwy-23 and Nicholson Hill Road) in 2006 and were restored the following year. An inscription on the base of the statue reads “It is a misdemeanor to deface or climb on Paul Bunyan or Babe.” Distance from Mackinaw City: 106 miles.
Paul Bunyan Statue, West Branch
Outside the LumberJack Food & Spirits, 2980 Cook Rd, West Branch (just north of I-75, exit 212), a recently updated Paul Bunyan pays tribute to the area’s rich lumbering heritage. Back in late 2007, the lumberjack’s head (which according to an article on Mlive.com was “once adorned in a fabric cap, with mop heads for hair and beard…made of pine overlaid with an auto-body putty”) was actually removed as it was literally rotting from the inside out…it was restored by a former nearby shop teacher…was repainted and reaffixed atop the body. The article also noted “We had to chisel off his face,” said Marylynn Morton, explaining how she built the new face, hair and beard of a two-part epoxy designed to withstand the outdoors. The hat is actually an old blanket soaked with fiberglass resin. His hat and everything underneath is fiberglass. We re-did the hands, too, to make them more like working hands.” Today, the lumberjack now boasts a tan plaid shirt, green work pants and red hat…and he has trimmed his beard and colored it and his hair. Distance from Mackinaw City: 132 miles.
Paul Bunyan Statue, Oscoda
Some say this town is the birthplace of Paul Bunyan…at least in terms of public awareness. As noted above, James MacGillivray penned a story about this lumberjack in 1906 titled “Round River” which was published in the local newspaper. The original statue was made of papier-mâché and was built for the J.L. Hudson department store float during the 1971 Thanksgiving Day Parade in downtown Detroit. It was then purchased for a mere $50 and transported to Oscoda. It was restored in 1983 and covered in fiberglass to protect it from the elements. The statue of this fearless leader still stands proudly on the east side of US Hwy-23 near the local baseball field. Prior to this current statue, there was an earlier sculpture which stood in “Bunyan Town.” Oscoda even hosts the “Paul Bunyan Days Annual Festival,” September 21-23 with a Lumber Jack & Jill Look-A-Like Contest, chainsaw carving and beard competition. Oh, and on November 6, 2006 the state of Michigan even named Oscoda the “Official Home of Paul Bunyan.” Distance from Mackinaw City: 142 miles.
A handful of shows remain for this year’s Jack Pine Lumberjack Show in Mackinaw City. Nine-time World Champion logroller Dan McDonough brings family entertainment to life with chopping, sawing, axe throwing, speed climbing and log rolling. For the schedule: www.jackpinelumberjackshows.com.
As a footnote…the winner of the annual Michigan v Michigan State college football game is awarded the “Paul Bunyan Trophy” as part of a 60-plus year tradition.