Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Paul Bunyan Befuddled

Roadside Double Takes

While in Portland a few weeks ago, we drove by this giant statue of Paul Bunyan and (of course) screeched to a stop.  I love this type of roadside kitsch.  The bigger the better.  But this one was curiouser and curiouser.

The big guy seemed sorely out of place, standing in front of a bank and looking out at a strip joint across the street.  After all, this American folk hero lived his whole life in the Northern woods and shunned cities and women.  What was he doing in the middle of a concrete jungle?

The truth is, the real Paul Bunyan may not have been an American at all.  The stories can be traced back to a French Canadian who gained fame during the Papineau Rebellion of 1837 for his strength and savage slaughter of the English foe.  Because he was a giant of a man with a bushy black beard and a bellicose disposition who later operated a logging camp, the stories about him grew and grew.

 And jumped the border.
I reread a book I have in my library--Paul Bunyan by James Stevens.  It was published in 1925 and is illustrated with beautiful woodcuts by Allen Lewis.  The author traveled to Canada, Maine and the Great Lakes area to talk to old loggers who remembered the days when they were entertained at the end of a 12-hour shift with stories and songs around the camp fire.  Stevens collected the legends and put them in his book.  He wrote:  He visualizes perfectly the American love of tall talk and tall doings, the true American exuberance and extravagance.  Beginning in Paul Bunyan, soldier with Papineau, he has become the creation of whole generations of men.

The statue was erected in 1959 to honor Oregon's timber industry and to commemorate the state's centennial.  Porlandians loved him so much they got him placed on the National Register of Historic Places in January 2009--the only roadside attraction to garner such architectural prestige.

Paul and I are completely baffled.  Curiouser and curiouser.

Found near the vicinity of North Interstate and North Denver Streets
Portland, Oregon

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