Call of the Cryptid is branching out a bit to include more strange creatures in legend and folklore, including Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox. Who hasn’t heard of mighty lumberjack Paul Bunyan and his trusty companion? Well, okay, surely not everyone has, especially nowadays. However, the mythic figures do still appear in pop culture. A more recent example is a truly ridiculous sequence from IT Chapter Two where Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) harasses poor Richie Tozier (Finn Wolfhard) in form of a giant lumberjack, most certainly modeled after Paul Bunyan.
While Babe the Blue Ox is by no means a cryptid, dorky tourists hardly care about that distinction, by custom or practice. Plenty of places (especially in the Midwest of the U.S.) are quick to claim Paul and Babe as integral parts of local legend. For example, Oscoda, Michigan has seen fit to call themselves the “Official Home of Paul Bunyan,” because, as they argue, Oscoda Press published the first Bunyan story in 1906. However, others don’t seem to think writing about them first means you own them. In fact, others claim the first Bunyan stories were published by James MacGillivray in The Round River Drive (Detroit News-Tribune, July 24, 1910) — although, obviously, 1910 comes after 1906.
The many co-owners of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox?
U.S. Senator Ron Johnson is considered a controversial figure, but what does he have to do with this strange, giant lumberjack and his monstrous pet? Well, Johnson took time out of his busy schedule to claim that Rib Mountain, Wisconsin, is the burial site of Paul Bunyan. (Apparently, there’s no word on where Babe the Blue Ox is buried, or even if the beast would be considered a patriotic, red-blooded American citizen). In addition to that claim (and the one by Oscoda, Michigan), Bemidji, Minnesota has giant statues promoting the legendary figures.
How crucial are the statues for Bemidji, Minnesota’s tourism? As a hint, they are said by the Kodak Company to be the “second most photographed statues in the United States”, behind Mount Rushmore. They certainly do stand tall, and are constructed of “concrete over a steel frame with a plaster finish and painted features.” Also, regarding a similar statue in Ossineke, Michigan, it is “a misdemeanor to deface or climb on Paul Bunyan or Babe.” So behave yourselves, tourists!
More on the ridiculous legend
By now, you surely recognize Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox as surprisingly respected cultural icons and landmarks. Still, we can sidestep the tourism angle briefly and look at part of what makes the pair fun. Like a lot of people, a detail I recall about Paul Bunyan is that he used a “hotcake” griddle so large that it had to be greased by men using sides of bacon for skates! Similarly, The Free Dictionary‘s entry for “Paul Bunyan” suggests “the lakes of Minnesota began when Paul Bunyan and Babe’s footprints filled with water.”
Disney got in on the act many years ago, too, with their admittedly likable “Paul Bunyan” short, which makes all sorts of far-fetched, grandiose claims about the giant lumberjack and his pet monster. Still, let’s admit that practically no one on earth even pretends Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox are (or were) 100% real. Still, with all the lawsuits out there, one might expect to read that, in fact, the Kodak Company admits the figure of Paul Bunyan in Minnesota is not a living person, and that any similarity to such a real living person with such unusual attributes is purely coincidental.
Could Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox have a resurgence?
The colossal scale of those statues has long drawn the attention of various people across the United States, Canada, and other countries, and the giant statues seem to be beloved enough. But what about the legend(s) in general as a source of creative inspiration? How many hundreds of thousands of people each year learn more about Mr. Bunyan? It seems the potential is there for a (hopefully well-done) modernized take on the giant folk hero.
Maybe Paul Bunyan could be part of a peace mission, sort of like the sanitized myth about Thanksgiving Day bringing people together. In terms of horror story plots, there is potential for young jerks trying to ascend and defile the statues as a prank, only to have it go awry (as was the case with Bart Simpson and the statue of Jedediah Springfield). In any case, Paul and Babe will surely live on, tall and proud (and silly), still inspiring people, even if in a roundabout way.
What are your thoughts on Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox? Let us know in the comments!