Everyone knows Paul Bunyan: a man of extraordinary stature who traveled the country with an ox of extraordinary color.
Everyone also knows that this folkloric hero is blatantly imaginary. Bunyan is so entrenched in American culture that there are dozens of towns claiming to be his birthplace—an undeniable grab at roadside tourism fame and fortune. While they may not be the homes of giant woodsmen, these towns frequently have real marvels.
Town #1: Oscoda, Michigan
Paul Bunyan Claim: On November 6, 2006, the state of Michigan gave Oscoda the "Official Home of Paul Bunyan" title because the Oscoda Press published the first Bunyan story in 1906.
The Real Attraction: Oscoda is home to the now-decommissioned Wurtsmith Air Force Base. On the base is the Wurtsmith Aviation Museum, run by the Yankee Air Force, a volunteer group that restores vintage aircraft. Installations change regularly because the YAF focuses on restoration and making aircrafts flyable again.
Town #2: Ossineke, Michigan
Image via Great Lakes Gazette
Paul Bunyan Claim: A mere 36 miles north of Oscoda, Ossineke also claims to be Paul Bunyan’s home. They have a 25-foot statue of Paul and Babe in town, and for some reason, several websites note that this Babe is neutered. This is a Gender Studies thesis in the making for folklore buffs.
The Real Attraction: Ossineke only has 1,059 people according to the 2000 census, so there aren’t a lot of attractions. But there is Dinosaur Gardens: a 40-acre park filled with life-sized concrete dinosaurs and cavemen, often in conflict with one another. Visitors can play mini-golf on dinosaur-shaped greens and climb inside a brontosaurus to explore its thoracic cavity, which includes a portrait of Jesus where the dino's heart should be.
Town #3: Brainerd, Minnesota
Image via KSAX
Paul Bunyan Claim: While there are no official documents to put Bunyan in Brainerd, these Minnesotans do have the “World’s Largest Animated Man”—a 26-foot (seated) Paul Bunyan statue.
The Real Attraction: In winter, Lake Mille Lacs (French for "Lake Thousand Lakes" because redundancy is a hoot) becomes "Frostbite Flats,” a temporary town cobbled together by the Midwest’s most diehard fishermen. Frostbite Flats is built from ice-fishing houses—more than 5,000 of them. In case that number doesn’t sound that big to you, there are only 13,500 people in Brainerd itself.
Something Not to See: This little burg is also famous for Brainerd diarrhea. Brainerd diarrhea’s first occurrence was an outbreak in 1983. According to the CDC, the sufferers have “10-20 episodes per day of explosive, watery diarrhea” and it lasts approximately four weeks. Unfortunately, the cause is unknown, and it is almost completely untreatable.
Town #4: Bemidji, Minnesota
Image via visitbemidji.com
Paul Bunyan Claim: Bemidji’s townsfolk also claim to have raised Paul Bunyan. And much like Brainerd, Oscoda, Ossineke, and countless other towns, they have a statue of the woodsman in town.
The Real Attraction: Bemidji isn’t just about the freakishly huge, though. They also host the annual “World’s Shortest Parade” on St. Patrick’s Day. Every year, the people of Bemidji get together and march from Brigid’s Irish Pub to Keg ‘n Cork Irish Pub—a trek that takes them down the block about 23 feet.
Any other day of the year, just think of Bemidji as the curling capital of the US, since they hosted the bronze-winning 2006 US Olympic team’s training and the 2005 World Curling Championship.
Town #5: Bangor, Maine
Image via SarekOfVulcan
Paul Bunyan Claim: The vast majority of Paul Bunyan’s homes are in the Midwest (obviously mostly in Minnesota and Michigan), but New England also claims Paul as its own up in Bangor.
The Real Attraction: Bangor was once the home of the world’s most powerful radar, the Over-the-Horizon Backscatter system. This Cold War-era device was designed to monitor the entirety of the North Atlantic, from Iceland to the Caribbean. Once there weren’t any more Soviets, the government saw the operation as overkill and shut it down in 1997.
For non-Bunyan tourism, Bangor has the Cole Land Transportation Museum: a stunning collection of rolling vehicles. The museum has bicycles, trains, trucks, and even stagecoaches on display. If you can’t make it to Bangor, there’s a virtual tour available.
Town #6: Westwood, California
Image via Steve & Amanda/Roadsidewonders.net
Paul Bunyan Claim: While a lot of places claim to be Paul Bunyan’s birthplace, Westwood just claims to be his hometown after he got a job with the Red River Lumber Company. There’s the yearly Paul Bunyan Mountain and Blues Festival where a major attraction is Blue Ox Bingo, “where Babe the Blue Ox (or reasonable facsimile) will walk around until a ‘chip’ is dropped.”
The Real Attraction: The area around Westwood is Lassen Volcanic National Park, a 106,372-acre park with over 150 miles of hiking trails. But maybe the most exciting part of the park is Lassen Peak. In 1915, 9 years after Paul Bunyan’s story was first told, Lassen Peak exploded and scattered ash for over 200 miles around. The park is still full of active hydrothermal areas and sputtering fumaroles throughout.
One for the Road
Image via St. Maries Chamber of Commerce
St. Maries, Idaho, doesn’t claim to be Bunyan’s birthplace or hometown. However, the annual Paul Bunyan Days festival draws thousands of tourists in to see the Blue Ox—the “Biggest Topless Bar in Idaho.” The locals are just screwing with you, though: the Blue Ox is a normal bar that simply doesn’t have a roof. Those Idahoans!