BEMIDJI, Minn. — Minnesota has a TON of lakes - so many that we brag about them on our license plates - but it's also a place where folks love really big things.
Take for instance, Darwin's giant ball of twine... the humungous spoon and cherry... the king-sized walleye on the shore of Lake Mille Lacs... Otto the Big Otter in Fergus Falls... and of course, the world's largest free-standing hockey stick in Eveleth.
But in this installment of KARE in the Air, our drone takes us over the fella who may be the king of XL attractions, Bemidji's Paul Bunyan and his pal Babe the Big Blue Ox.
Almost as cool as the statues that stand on the shores of Lake Bemidji are the stories behind the legend. According to history.com, Paul was so huge as a baby it took five storks to deliver him to his parents in Maine.
When he grew older, one drag of the legendary 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 ten thousand lakes.
The true facts behind Bemidji's Paul and Babe statues are almost as interesting as Bunyan fiction: The 18-foot Paul and the oversized ox were created in 1937 for the winter carnival and to attract passing motorists to the resort city.
In 2006, after nearly 70 years of wear and tear caused by Bemidji's extreme climate, the local rotary club raised more than $50,000 and secured a federal grant to do more than $100,000 worth of repairs to the statues.
In May of 2021 surveillance video captured a group of rowdies climbing Paul, hanging off him and eventually breaking one of his arms off. Repairs were quickly made.
Paul and Babe were awarded a spot on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988, and Kodak once named the statues the second-most photographed icons in America, topped only by Mount Rushmore. And they have proven interactive over the decades: Paul has worn a number of different hats for city celebrations (construction helmet, tam, shriner's fez), and a local quilter once made a gigantic quilt that was set on Babe like a saddle to advertise a big quilting event.
By the way, Bemidji's mascot isn't the only Paul in Minnesota; there are actually a handful of them. Akeley has a new-ish one of Mr. Bunyan down on one knee, while Brainerd has both a Paul and a Babe standing guard outside the visitors center. Smaller Paul Bunyan statues can be found in Baxter, Jenkins and Hackensack, among other locations.
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