Of Bemidji, Bangor, Bunyan and the Babe: Maine town may build Babe statue to rival Bemidji’s

Out of the East, a new rival has arisen to make a claim against the supremacy of Paul and Babe in Bemidji. The would-be usurper has stood near the banks of the Penobscot River in Bangor, Maine, for 56 years: a 31-foot tall statue of Paul Bunyan. ...

Paul Bunyan statues
On the left is Bemidji's Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox statues, on the right is the 31-foot tall Paul Bunyan statue in Bangor, Maine. Officials there are looking at the possibility of adding a Babe the Blue Ox statue.

 Out of the East, a new rival has arisen to make a claim against the supremacy of Paul and Babe in Bemidji.

The would-be usurper has stood near the banks of the Penobscot River in Bangor, Maine, for 56 years: a 31-foot tall statue of Paul Bunyan. Although the Bangor statue is bigger than Bemidji’s 18-foot Paul, ours is more than 20 years older, built in 1937.

The Bangorites have antique documents they claim prove Paul’s lineage: a “birth certificate” hangs in the city clerk’s office that was issued in 1959, the year their statue was built. It asserts Bunyan came forth into the world on Feb. 12, 1834, in Bangor.

Until now, Bemidji had an obvious advantage in that there was no accompanying Babe statue in Bangor. On Thursday,  the Bangor Daily News reported  that may soon change: on what may be Paul’s 181st birthday, the original designer for the Bangor Paul statue, J. Normand Martin, presented a Bangor city commission with his model for a potential statue of Babe the Blue Ox.


However, this Babe design is more reminiscent of the “Charging Bull” that stands in Wall Street than the amiable-looking ox statue in Bemidji. Its rippling muscular head is lowered with an expression of singular-minded rage on its face, as if the tourists that would come to see it are unlucky matadors about to be gored.

Reached for comment after she was forwarded the Bangor Daily News article by the Pioneer on Friday, Bemidji Mayor Rita Albrecht agreed with the assessment of the Bangor Babe model as rather intimidating.

“I think it’s interesting that their Babe is… sort of menacing-looking, when we think of Babe as a pretty happy and carefree and friendly kind of fellow,” she said. “It’s more bullish than we think of as Babe. Babe’s name says it all… as far as his demeanor and his (and Paul’s) ability to attract visitors who love them and want to have their picture taken with them. Kids want to pet him, they want to get right up there to his nose, and I think (the Bemidji ) Babe is a very friendly looking Babe.”

Bemidji isn’t standing idly by as Bangor seeks to upend us: renovations to Paul Bunyan Park have been planned for years that stand to make Paul and Babe even more user-friendly. They include a camera mount so families can take photos of themselves with Paul and Babe without needing to get someone else to hold the camera, and possibly posted helpful hints that describe how to take an ideal shot with the famous pair, Albrecht said. Other new amenities include an accessible use playground and more benches in the park, she added.

The Bangor Babe project is still in preliminary stages without a construction, and organizers are seeking grant funding for their blue, belligerent-looking bull. The Bemidji Paul Bunyan Park renovations are scheduled to take place this summer.

But don’t think that just Bemidji, Bangor, or even Brainerd, have a monopoly on Bunyan and Babe. Several former logging communities throughout the country have statutes that honor the legendary lumberjack and his sidekick, who represent the northwoods and America itself.

Bemidji born?

To be fair to the potentially bullish Bangor Babe, it’s not as though the Bemidji Paul and Babe statues have never had a violent air about them. The webpage of Visit Bemidji,  Bemidji’s tourism board, has a photo of the gigantic shotgun that stood for years at Paul’s right side, until it deteriorated and was taken down. A much smaller (but still huge) replica “Paul’s Shotgun” is now displayed in the nearby Tourist Information Center, along with “shotgun shells” that look as though they could be fashioned from real spent artillery shells brought back from a distant battlefield.


The Visit Bemidji webpage also includes some of the extensive lore that surrounds Paul. It says the truth of the matter: Paul was born right here in Bemidji, and our Paul statue was built on the approximate spot of his birth.

“It took five giant storks, working in relays, to deliver Paul to his parents,” Visit Bemidji says. “And what a baby Paul was; his lungs were so strong that he could empty a whole pond full of frogs with one holler when he was hungry.  It took a whole herd of cows to keep his milk bottle filled and he could eat 40 bowls of porridge just to whet his appetite.”

After he grew up, Paul found a baby Babe during the legendary “year of the Blue Snow,” when it was so cold the geese flew backward. The snow and the ox were blue with cold, but Babe never changed color after being warmed up.

Paul eventually started a logging camp on the shores of Lake Bemidji, where he had a whole host of companions, including Sourdough Sam the cook, Shot Gunderson the camp foreman, and Sport-the-Reversible dog. According to Visit Bemidji, the dog had a checkered past, too.

“One of the loggers accidentally cut this camp pet in two with an ax,” the page says. “In his haste to sew him up, the logger stitched Sport's hindquarters on upside down.  This didn't hinder Sport, who ran on his front legs until they were tired, then he flipped over and ran on his back legs. Sport's diet consisted mainly of door-to-door salesmen and Internal Revenue agents who visited the camp.”

Bangor may soon have a Minotaur-like bull statue standing beside its Paul Bunyan, but does it have a Frankenstein-monster dog that feasts on helpless passerby? It does not. Thus, Bemidji will always be the true home of Paul and Babe.


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