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, the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” is a delightful summer destination for cooler weather. And in addition to moderate temperatures there’s also some dandy roadside Americana, like the super-sized version of Paul Bunyan, and his sidekick 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 all across the Northern US.
In the late 1930s, Bemidji’s large logging industry held an annual festival to honor super-logger Paul and his big, blue compadre Babe.
“Babe was brought into town on a Grinols Implement & Fuel Co. truck
arranged so that its exhaust exited through Babe’s nostrils.”
Personally, I think they missed a golden opportunity for some raucous bunkhouse humor when they didn’t vent the exhaust out the other end!
Lots of cities around the region honored the super-lumberjack, but Bemidji upped the ante with a statue of his ol’ podnah Babe. The childlike simplicity, comic strip appearance, and bright colors make this retro team one for the record books.
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. As we said, 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.
James & Terri
Last updated September 28, 2017
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!
I was just about to ask if this is the same Bemidji as in Fargo, it looks much nicer in summertime!
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. 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
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
Reblogged this on confessions of a gypsy girl and commented:
Bemidji is not too far north of my home town of Duluth, MN. Northern Minnesota is a beautiful place to love and work. One day I shall make it back home again.
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
Ah, the memories!!
Bemidji looked like the kind of place that would generate lots of good summertime memories Jill. ~James
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
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
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 off a brass monkey.” You must not have had any profane brothers. ~James
Ha! My brother was a philosophy major, he studied the big questions, “Is a bear Catholic? Does the pope sh*t in the woods?”…
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
I knew that I could depend on you for a bit of environmental fart humor Curt. But really, don’t you think a stern vent for the exhaust would have been great? I’m just sayin”. ~James
Okay, you’re right… especially if the engine was backfiring. 🙂
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 love the quirky statues, not sure I’d be so keen on the winters there though 🙂
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
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
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
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.
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.
Thank you for introducing us to Paul and Babe and the beautiful story☺️
Have a good day, Charu
Thanks for the comment Charu and for dropping by the blog. Even though much of this folklore is imaginary, the stories say a lot about the culture. In the 1930s logging was a difficult way to make a living, and this larger-than-life statue shows, in a casual way, some of the respect for the industry. ~James
Reverse snowbirds? I love stuff like this. Thanks.
Tracey, we lived in St. Augustine Beach, FL and when July rolled around, we pointed our car north for some cooler camping weather. And in our minds, all the Great Lake states have ideal summers. ~James
I’ve always like the stories of Paul Bunyan and Babe. Thanks for this glimpse of their current whereabouts! 🙂
Peggy, apparently there’s a friendly rivalry between Bemidji and Bangor, Maine over where Paul originated. So any Mainers that you talk to may disagree, but for me, I’m going with Minnesota. ~James
What a fun post James. It’s always great to find such wonderful treasures when travelling on a road trip!
Lynn, I just love these guys. They look like they’re right out of a comic book, and I’m sure that the bright colors help when the snow gets waist-deep in Bemidji. ~James
I love old legends and folk tales like this. Super heroes before Marvel.
I hadn’t made this connection Juliann but you’re right. Watch for the Paul Bunyan movie coming to a theater near you. 🙂 ~ James