Daniel Kelm knew attempts to fill Paul Bunyan’s shoes would be a tall order, but the Brainerd native didn’t exactly come up short.
The 40-year-old husband and father from Baxter took home a wooden medallion in the inaugural Paul Bunyan Flapjack Festival lumberjack costume contest Sunday, Sept. 26.
“I love the city. I know it by heart and it's a deep part of me,” said Kelm, an overnight manager at the Baymont Inn & Suites in Baxter who was dressed to impress.
“I love the city. I know it by heart and it's a deep part of me.”
— Daniel Kelm, a Baxter resident and a Brainerd native
The festival included a flapjack relay and a pancake-eating contest outside the Brainerd American Legion on Front Street in downtown Brainerd and concluded a weeklong celebration of events commemorating the city’s sesquicentennial.
“I think my chances are pretty good,” Kelm said before the start of the three-person team relay. “We decided to come because we saw it in the paper and thought it would be a fun little event to do on a Sunday morning. … I love pancakes.”
A small but enthusiastically vocal group of spectators and supporters cheered on participants in the relay and eating contest in the segment of Front Street that was blocked off for safety.
“One of my favorite stories of Paul Bunyan is the making of the giant flapjacks for him, and the whole crew making them skating around on pads of butter. As a kid growing up, I thought that was really clever so we wanted to tie the two together,” Mayor Dave Badeaux said.
Badeaux, a Brainerd native, helped emcee the downtown event and was also dressed up as a lumberjack.
“I'm about $300 in plaid for the full family,” Badeaux said with a good-natured chuckle about his new duds before the start of the relay.
The inaugural festival was presented by the Brainerd Jaycees, Save the Historic Brainerd Water Tower and the Brainerd American Legion. A committee was formed years ago to raise the money to fund an estimated at the time $1.6 to $3 million worth of water tower renovations.
“This was kind of a celebration of the water tower because the water tower group is putting it on but also wanting to bring back some Paul Bunyan events to the city. And our hope is that this will be a yearly event that will happen moving forward,” Badeaux said before the relay began.
Historic water tower
The historic water tower, which celebrated its 100th birthday in December 2020, sits on the corner of Washington and Sixth streets in downtown Brainerd. The structure has become a city icon, welcoming passersby to Brainerd and representing the city on its official seal
“I made the mistake a couple of weeks ago of making a water tower pancake for my sons and now that's all they want is a water tower-shaped pancake, so the struggle is just trying to now come up with clever shapes because that's all they want,” Badeaux said.
Paul Skogen is chairman of the Save the Historic Brainerd Water Tower Committee. He wore an oversized Paul Bunyan mascot-like costume at Sunday’s festival.
“I got this online and that’s how I decided to outdo Dave,” Skogen said of the mayor before the festival officially got underway. “The little kid over there was scared of it — most people think it's funny — but the young ones, it's a dramatic experience for them.”
Teams of three competed in the flapjack relay to see who could carry, flip and pass a pancake the fastest in a race to the finish.
“Once you flip the pancake over and you've caught it, you're going to come down to the end and you're going to pass it to your partner. And your partner's gonna go back, they're gonna do the same. … If they drop it, they're gonna pick it back up and try it again,” Badeaux told the crowd.
The Cherne family from Brainerd consisting of 13-year-old Connor, and his 11-year-old sisters Sophia and 8-year-old Natalie finished first in the flapjack relay. Almost every member of every team, however, dropped a flapjack onto the street at least once during the contest.
In the pancake-eating contest that followed the flapjack relay, participants raced to see who could finish their stack of pancakes the fastest.
“You can use your hands, OK? But you must complete all of the pancakes, and you must complete all of the syrup as well,” Badeaux told the contestants. “You can pour the syrup on the pancakes or you can drink the syrup — whatever you want to do.”
Mike O’Day, a city council member at-large, won a trivia contest Wednesday as part of the group that included Badeaux and council member Gabe Johnson, and O’Day won a pie-eating contest Saturday, both events which were part of the sesquicentennial celebration.
“So everyone else has pancakes, but Mike O’Day gets to have a ridiculous helping — a ridiculous helping,” Badeaux told the crowd. “Clap your hand if you want to see more!”
O’Day chugged maple syrup straight from the bottle during the contest to the chagrin, horror and delight of onlookers.
“My strategy was to soak the pancakes with as much syrup as possible and try to swallow it as fast as I could,” O’Day said after the pancake-eating contest was over.
The sticky O’Day had not intended to participate in another eating contest so soon after Saturday, he said.
“I got roped into it just like I did get roped into the blueberry pie contest yesterday. That one I won, (but) I don't think my stomach had enough room for all these pancakes. … I literally could not eat that,” O’Day said in defeat. “I will eat another pancake … but not today.”