Video of Bemidji's broken Paul Bunyan statue captures nighttime hijinks

·2 min read

Paul Bunyan may have formed Minnesota's lakes with his footprints, created the Grand Canyon with his ax and carved the Great Lakes as watering holes for his giant blue ox, but he was no match for four nighttime ruffians who left the legendary lumberjack with a broken arm — his statue, that is.

Bemidji officials last Monday found the 18-foot figure, which stands near Lake Bemidji, with a break just below the shoulder of his concrete right arm, held together only by a rebar that runs through the statue.

Video from security cameras shows four people climbing on the statue after dark and hanging on its giant hands.

Police are investigating, and the Park and Recreation Department staff has secured the statue and surrounding area. The damage may simply have been the last straw after 84 years of wear and tear.

"Our priority remains to repair Paul as quickly as possible," said Director Marcia Larson. A company already hired to conduct preventative conservation work later this year moved its visit up to next week to fix the damage.

Bemidji's statue has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1988. According to the National Park Service, it's the Midwest's first colossal roadside statue, built in 1937 to promote automobile tourism in northern Minnesota.

Bemidji's Bunyan isn't the only one in Minnesota, according to the state's Explore Minnesota site. Brainerd boasts a talking Paul Bunyan statue, installed in 1954, and Akeley has a 36-year-old statue with a lowered hand, specifically designed for visitors to climb onto (maybe go to Akeley next time, scoundrels!). Chisholm and Jenkins also have Bunyan statues.

The most famous figure in American folklore began with tall tales in 19th century logging camps. As loggers moved among camps, accounts of his amazing feats spread, becoming ever more outlandish as they went.

Minnesota likes to claim Paul Bunyan as its own — and indeed, the first public record of the Bunyan tales appeared in a brief article in a Duluth paper in 1904 — but other states vie for the honor. The earliest reliable account of a 19th-century logging-camp tale comes, sorry to say, from Wisconsin, according to "Out of the Northwoods: The Many Lives of Paul Bunyan" by Michael Edmonds.

RoadArchitecture.com lists statues of the massive logger in Idaho, Iowa, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Washington, West Virginia and Ontario, Canada.

Best keep your distance from all of them, miscreants — the effect of Paul Bunyan's legendary left hook can be seen in Kentucky's Mammoth Cave National Park. Or so they say. Somewhere, probably.

Katy Read • 612-673-4358 • @Katy_Read

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