Happy Paul Bunyan Day!

The iconic statue of Paul Bunyan in Bemidi, Minnesota (PHOTO: Aaron J. Brown)

The iconic statue of folk logger Paul Bunyan in Bemidi, Minnesota (PHOTO: Aaron J. Brown)

I woke this morning to news that it was Paul Bunyan Day.

So, Happy Paul Bunyan Day, I guess. I’m afraid I didn’t get you a card. I’m already dressed, so I’m not even wearing plaid.

Paul Bunyan is, of course, the American folk giant who worked as a lumberjack in the heyday of the lush forests of our nation’s vast interior. He was always accompanied by his giant blue ox, Babe.

To be clear, he is fictional.

And if you didn’t know, he’s fairly controversial — especially among native people. For them, it’s a little weird to celebrate a fella that claims to have clear cut the forest as though no one already lived there. Even in fictional form, it feels a little raw.

But that’s not what Paul Bunyan Day is all about. Like most American holidays, bullshit tolerance is required. Fortunately, American bullshit tolerance is incredibly robust. It’s a national strength which has served our nation well, according to us.

In recent years, Bemidji, Minnesota, seems to be taking the most effort to claim itself as Paul Bunyan’s hometown. There is the ongoing rivalry between Brainerd and Bemidji for this claim, but ever since Paul Bunyan Land closed in Brainerd the zeitgeist seems to favor Bemidji. Nevertheless, in the fictional story Bunyan got around. Several Great Lakes and Western states have their own Paul Bunyan statues or commemorations.

(The Bunyan legend actually pegs him as being from Bangor, Maine).

In my travels I’ve encountered another strange phenomenon: the Paul Bunyan shadow myths — as if the notion of a giant superhuman lumberjack wasn’t enough. In Fosston you have Cordwood Pete, Paul’s diminutive brother. In Hackensack you can see Lucette, Paul Bunyan’s sweetheart. Many call the radar ball north of Nashwauk “Paul Bunyan’s golf ball,” though it seems like unlikely Bunyan would have played golf.

Here’s to you, America! Happy Paul Bunyan Day, and may you have a big ax-wielding day — however you choose to celebrate.


  1. John Ramos says

    Paul Bunyan was a swinger.

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