From: The Grand Rapids Press
|Paul Bunyan's claims are somewhat dubious.|
So many bad postcards offer mysteries. Take this week’s offering of the Paul Bunyan sign in Manistique.
I hesitate to call this a statue, since it’s a 45-foot-tall hunk of plywood. But why does Paul have a mug shot stare? Why is the sign held at an angle? Who are the people in the "Little House on the Prairie" outfits -- and who are they looking at, since they are not facing the camera?
And, most importantly, if Paul is so boastful about his role in building Manistique 100 years ago, why is there nothing behind him? What, exactly, did Paul help build? And doesn't he pal around with some big blue bovine friend?
We have some answers.
This particular Paul was constructed in 1960 to commemorate the Manistique centennial.
We can assume that the distracted family was dressed in period clothes for the occasion, but I confess that I've never been to Manistique so I don’t know what people there wear.
And don’t go looking for this particular Bunyan today. It was reportedly blown down and damaged beyond repair. There’s a more sturdy, 15-foot-tall statue of a bearded guy with an ax in the town today.
I have not extensively traveled the Upper Peninsula, unless you count a trip to Castle Rock. We climbed to the top, looked to the horizon in all directions, and realized that I could not see a single Panera Bread or Speedway station. We scurried back over the bridge to safety.
But apparently Bunyan is the patron saint of logging country and his likeness is everywhere there are tall trees, lots of snow and flannel shirts.
Doing some research, I've learned that Bunyan is considered “fakelore,” a modern story passed off as a folktale.
He has Michigan roots, such as they are. James MacGillivary of the Oscoda Press first wrote about him in 1906. Note that Oscoda is on the southern side of the bridge and 1906 is a long time after 1860, so plywood Paul’s claims of building Manistique are immediately suspect.
But the Bunyan legend was co-opted by the Red River Logging Company in 1916. Copywriter William Laughead named the ox “Babe” and described Bunyan's appearance.
That’s kind of like the way Coca-Cola created the way we envision Santa Claus, in his red and white outfit.
The Bunyan story became popular, spawning a whole bunch of fiberglass statues – and at least one giant, ox-less plywood sign, standing alone in an empty field, save for an uncomfortably dressed family. That makes for one amazingly awful postcard.