On June 28, 2011, the nation honors one of the truly larger-than-life figures in American folklore by observing Paul Bunyan Day. Paul Bunyan is a legendary lumberjack of gigantic proportions who, accompanied by a blue ox named Babe, traveled throughout the country performing incredible, though often incidental, feats. Some of Bunyan’s mythical exploits include digging the Grand Canyon by dragging his axe and creating Mount Hood by piling stones to extinguish a campfire. Part of the Bunyan legend also claims that deep footprints left by Paul and Babe as the pair walked through Minnesota created the 10,000 lakes for which the state is famously known.
Paul Bunyan and Babe statues, Bemidji Minnesota. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
While there is some debate among historians about the precise origin of the Bunyan myth, it is generally believed that the legend dates from the 1800s, when lumberjacks in the U.S. and Canada entertained themselves in logging camps by telling stories. In the early part of the 20th Century these tales would evolve from oral anecdotes to printed stories with a unifying character and become a part of the larger American cultural mythology. In 1910, portions of the Paul Bunyan folklore were collected by reporter James MacGillivray and published in the Detroit News Tribune. In 1914, an advertising writer named William Laughead reworked the logger’s yarns into an ad campaign for the Red River Lumber Company. This campaign, featuring pamphlets depicting Bunyan as a giant lumberjack, was the beginning of the popular and enduring image that has been such an integral part of the folklore. The emergence of Paul Bunyan as an American icon is a potent example of commercial advertising informing popular culture, as it was Laughead who first depicted Bunyan and gave his mythical Big Blue Ox the name Babe.
So how does one celebrate Paul Bunyan Day? A good start is to familiarize yourself with the original stories, as first published by MacGillivray. Another favorite observance of those honoring the American folk hero is to eat pancakes — lots of them. Bunyan was supposed to have eaten 50 pancakes in one minute.