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Akeley festival keeps Paul Bunyan legend alive

Many events for family fun are planned for the 73rd annual Paul Bunyan Days on June 24-26.

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The heyday of the Red River Lumber Company was from 1900-1915. The company, located on the 11th Crow Wing Lake near Akeley, used Paul Bunyan's image in its advertising, helping the legend pf the larger than life lumberjack to grow.
Contributed / Paul Bunyan Historical Museum
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Akeley, Minnesota, will celebrate Paul Bunyan Days this weekend.

All through the year, people stop to take pictures at the statue of Paul Bunyan located along Minnesota Highway 34. But just who was Paul Bunyan, and how did his story become part of Akeley’s history?

Paul’s birthplace

According to history.com, there are many stories about Paul Bunyan, starting with his birth when it took five huge storks to deliver him.

While there are more than a dozen locations that claim to be Paul Bunyan’s birthplace, including Bemidji and Brainerd, Akeley has a giant cradle next to the statue to signify that Paul Bunyan was born in that village.

Akeley historian Frank Lamb said the cradle was built after a group of people got together in 1949. As part of the first Paul Buyan Days celebration, they wanted something to show it was his birthplace.

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“The reason Akeley is Paul Bunyan’s birthplace is because the first printed word about him happened when the Red River Lumber Company used Paul Bunyan in advertising with a picture of their version of Paul Bunyan telling how the Red River Lumber Company was his logging company,” he said. “Before, the stories about Paul Bunyan were just by word of mouth. So Akeley was the birthplace of the printed word about him. We claimed him because he had to be born somewhere, even though the stories had been going on for a long time. He must have been a big baby, so we built a big cradle.”

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This 1984 postcard is part of the memorabilia at the Paul Bunyan Historical Museum. Dean Krotzer, with help from his sons and one son-in-law, built the statue to commemorate the legendary logger. Dean and his wife are seen sitting on Paul's hand.
Contributed / Paul Bunyan Historical Museum

Lamb said the Paul Bunyan statue was created in the mid-1980s by Akeley area resident Dean Krotzer, with help from his sons and one son-in-law.

Ever since, the area around the statue has been known as Paul’s Patio.

During Paul Bunyan Days, people gather in the patio area and find shade at the adjoining picnic shelter.

Legendary logger

Lamb grew up in Akeley. Now retired, he often volunteers at Paul Bunyan Historical Museum, on the boardwalk behind the statue, that houses much of Akeley’s history.

He said his mother, Frances Lamb, was instrumental in getting the museum up and running. He remembers her telling stories about Paul Bunyan when he was a child that she had heard from her parents.

“Loggers always made stories up about Paul Bunyan, and each one would try to outtell the other, so the stories kept getting bigger and bigger,” he said. “Stories told how his footsteps made the whole Crow Wing chain of lakes and how North Dakota all used to be timber, but he pulled the trees down with his blue ox.”

Other legends about the big lumberjack on history.com include the story that one blow of his ax created the Grand Canyon, and the giant footprints of Babe the Blue Ox filled with water as he walked from place to place to make Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes.

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Many historians believe the legend of Paul Bunyan was based on the life of an actual lumberjack named Fabian Fournier, a French-Canadian timberman who was six feet tall at a time when the average man was five feet tall. Fournier went by the nickname “Saginaw Joe” and enjoyed drinking and brawling.

The article on history.com states that one November night in 1875, Fournier was murdered in “the notoriously rowdy lumber town” of Bay City, Michigan.

During the sensational trial of his alleged killer, tales of Saginaw Joe’s rough-and-tumble life and his lumbering adventures in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and beyond grew.

Over time, Fournier’s legend merged with that of another French-Canadian lumberman, Bon Jean. According to history.com, the French pronunciation of “Bon Jean” is believed to have evolved into Bunyan.

Dig into history

Learn more about Paul Bunyan and Akeley’s logging history at the Paul Bunyan Historical Museum located down the boardwalk from the statue. Founded in 1987, admission is free.

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Dean Krotzer of rural Akeley drew this preliminary sketch of the Paul Bunyan statue.
Contributed/ Paul Bunyan Historical Museum

Memorabilia about Paul Bunyan includes some of the early advertising featuring the famous lumberjack and a collection of Paul Bunyan Days buttons.

Staffed by volunteers, the museum plans to be open throughout the weekend from noon to 4 p.m. Anyone interested in volunteering to help staff the museum may call Lamb at 218-652-2885.

A sampling of events

The festival kicks off with the Lions fish fry at Paul's Patio from 4:30-7:30 p.m. Friday followed by a youth dance from 8-11 p.m.

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Saturday's events start with a pancake breakfast at the senior center at 8 a.m. Audrey's Purple Dream 5K to raise money to fight cancer begins at 9 a.m. Other morning activities include a treasure hunt and a variety of children's games.

Saturday afternoon a youth fishing contest will be held from 1:15-1:45 at the Akeley pier and there will be an adult dance at the patio at 9 p.m.

Sunday will begin with an ecumenical worship service at 10 a.m. at Paul's patio and wrap up with a parades at 12:45 p.m. with an ice cream and pie social to follow.

For more information go to akeleychamber.com.

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Related Topics: AKELEYHISTORICAL
Lorie Skarpness has lived in the Park Rapids area since 1997 and has been writing for the Park Rapids Enterprise since 2017. She enjoys writing features about the people and wildlife who call the north woods home.
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