Minnesota / Slice of Americana / Travel

Bemidji’s Big Boy and Blue Bovine

Paul & Babe

Bemidji (which is the Ojibwe word meaning “frozen brass monkey”) is located in northern Minnesota, and sits quietly on the beautiful and placid lake of the same name.

For reverse snowbirds like us, it was a delightful summer destination for cooler weather, and of course, there’s also the super-sized version of Paul Bunyan, and Babe the Blue Ox. 

Did you know that Paul Bunyan’s dragging axe produced the Grand Canyon, or that Babe ate 100 bales of hay in one meal … barbed wire and all? These and other tall tales are part of the folklore from logging areas in the Northern US.

In the late 1930s, Bemidji was the home of a large logging industry, so a festival to honor super-logger Paul and his sidekick Babe seemed a great idea.

Paul & Babe 2

“Babe was brought into town on a Grinols Implement & Fuel Co. truck
arranged so that its exhaust exited through Babe’s nostrils.”

–Wikipedia

Personally, I think they missed a golden opportunity, and should have made the exhaust exit the other end!

Babe & James

Apparently, a number of cities have honored the super-lumberjack, but Bemidji upped the ante with a statue of his ol’ podnah, Babe. I particularly like these statues for their childlike simplicity, and comic strip appearances.

Paul & James

Stumbling into wacky roadside attractions is always fun. We discovered Paul and Babe while on a quest to find the source of the Mississippi River, and our basecamp was a tent in Lake Bemidji State Park. Northern Minnesota is a wonderful summer escape for southerners fed up with the heat, but Bemidji is not the place for cold weather wimps like me. The average daytime HIGH in January is a teeth-chattering 16°F, and the lake can freeze to 30 inches! Now I know why Babe is blue.

Happy Trails,
James & Terri

This post is part of our “Slice of Americana Series” for July. Click here to see all the posts in the series.

SeahorseAnd if you want to follow the Mississippi River all the way down to the state of Mississippi, here are some of the wonderful things you will find.

Lemons to Lemonade:Biloxi’s Tree Art
Queen of the Gypsies: Long May She Reign
Knocked Naked in Natchez at Fat Mama’s

31 thoughts on “Bemidji’s Big Boy and Blue Bovine

  1. Lovely post, thanks. However, I just kept thinking of the new T.V. series “Fargo” (based on the Cohen Bros. movie but going even deeper). Though the title is “Fargo” it takes place mostly in Bemidji. Unlike your post, however, the show is dark and disturbing and takes place in teeth-chattering winter, as opposed to your light-hearted and informative summer special!

      • As I said in my post Emma, 30 inches of ice is not the the sort of thing this southern boy is going to be searching for. But Bemidji is delightful in summer. ~James

    • Thanks Nelson. I knew the movie, but wasn’t aware of the TV series Nelson. I’ll check it out to see if I recognize any locations. We were camped in the State Park on the north end of the lake. The lake is beautiful, and it’s a really nice park. This was our base for visiting the source of the Mississippi River. ~James

  2. Perhaps we could have a Canadian/American competition on roadside attractions. If you get the exhaust working out the other end of Babe you will be a hands down winner. 🙂

    • Sue, I suspect that the last thing that northwoods loggers worried about were the social graces, so exhaust from Babe seemed totally appropriate. And BTW, I wouldn’t mind seeing some Alberta roadside attractions. There’s probably a T rex-sized mosquito on display somewhere – which would make a dandy post. ~James

    • Thanks very much Diane for reblogging our post. Since you grew up in Duluth, you know how pleasant the summers can be in this part of the world, and the lake there is lovely. ~James

  3. I’m a Minnesotan and grew up with the folklore surrounding Paul Bunyon and Babe, so I was very excited to see this post. Did you know that Paul Bunyon’s feet were so big, his footsteps created Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes?! 🙂

    • Thanks for the comment Michael, and for dropping by the blog. I hadn’t heard that one, but I grew up south of the Mason-Dixon line, and I probably didn’t hear as many PB tales as a native son of Minnesota. Best of luck in Europe this summer. ~James

  4. I have a picture of my parents in front of the same Paul and Babe! They also searched out the start of the Mississippi River. Some day Steve and I will take our pictures there too!

    • You’d enjoy a roadtrip to this part of the world Laura. There are some wonderful places to camp all around the Great Lakes, and the summer temps are wonderful. But because you have a camper, you’ll be in better shape than we were. When we camped at Lake Bemidji State Park, we experienced our first (and hopefully last) hailstorm while camping in a tent. Both us and the tent survived, but it wasn’t something I want to go through again. ~James

  5. We are enjoying this series so much—I keep telling Mr. DW that he won’t really “know” the States until we do a road trip with camping and close encounters of the bear, lion and roadside attraction kind. Thanks for giving us an armchair preview!

    The Ojibwe have a word for monkey (or is it a euphemism for unwanted settlers)— who knew?

    • I agree that there’s no better way to get to know the true America than a nice, long roadtrip. The more off-the-beaten-path the better. This particular trip was 5 months long, and we camped almost all the time. As to the Ojibwe word for monkey, I just made that up. It was meant it as a humorous jab at the incredibly cold winters in Bemidji. As the saying goes: “It’s cold enough to freeze the b*lls of a brass monkey.” You must not have had any profane brothers. ~James

  6. Do you have any idea how much methane cows add to our atmosphere, James? And here you are advocating for Babe to do the same… Can you imagine the size of a fart made by a bull that eats 100 bales of hay at a time? 🙂 –Curt

  7. I know Paul Bunyan did some mighty things, but I thought Pecos Bill created the Grand Canyon when he wrung all the rain out of a tornado he was taming. Maybe I was thinking of the Rio Grande R. 🙂 – Mike

    • I want the promoter’s job for the Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill Smackdown. It will be bigger than Godzilla vs King Kong, and will probably result in a couple of new geographic features. ~James

    • I’m with you on the winters here Marie. I grew up in a place that had 3 normal months of winter. We had a few snowfalls, some sub zero nights, and it wasn’t too much of a problem. But honestly, I would be suicidal if I had to endure year after year of these northern winters. I’m not sure how the locals cope. ~James

  8. Pingback: This aside is an announcement « Jill's Scene

    • Thanks very much Jill for the link to our post. I’m happy that Paul was a good memory, and could be a spark for your new series. I’m looking forward to following along. ~James

  9. Pingback: Got itchy feet? I can help with that! « Jill's Scene

    • Thanks Jill for the great shout out and the link to our blog and this post. I love these statues, and I can believe they’re quite colorful when covered with a foot or two of snow. Bemidji was memorable for us as well. We were camped nearby and rode out a horrific thunderstorm (complete with hail), in a small tent – not something I want to experience again. ~James

  10. Ah, ha! Now I know why you seem so familiar. I’ve seen you at Curt’s blog. I was wondering if you’d mind if I used one of your photos of Paul and Babe from this post. I’m doing a post of my own on “giants” of America, and would love to pair a contemporary photo with one I have of me, age 10 or so, standing next to them. Your photo’s one of the best I’ve seen.

    And now, to go click the magic “Follow” button!

    • Thanks for the comment Linda and for dropping by the blog. We’d be happy for you to use the Paul/Babe photo in your post. We only ask that you credit us, and if you don’t mind, let me know when it runs so I can check it out. Also, we can email a full-resolution jpeg of the original if you want. Just let me know which photo you want and where to send it. BTW, I just love these oddball sights, and in fact, we’ve done a few posts you might find interesting.
      https://gallivance.net/?s=roadside+americana&submit=Search
      ~James

      • Thanks so much! No need for a full-res photo. I post only 400 x whatever on the blog, and link to a slightly larger low-res image. I’m usually able to provide my own images, but now and then, the distance to take the photo myself is a bit much to overcome.

        Thanks for the link. I’ll be browsing around, for sure. And of course I’ll provide attribution. It may be a while before I get it written, but I’ll be sure to let you know when it goes up.

        Thanks again.

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