Minnesota Legends Come to Life

Did you know that Paul Bunyan created the Grand Canyon while dragging his enormous axe? That he and his trusty sidekick, Babe the Blue Ox, were lost in a blizzard and their heavy footprints tracked throughout the state, producing Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes? Or that Mount Hood came about because Paul piled rocks on his campfire to put it out?

Yes, with the flip of a wrist, Paul the giant cut down entire trees and cleared acres in no time, eventually tapping down stumps with a quick step or push of the finger.

It’s the stuff of legends and late-night stories (and a controversially great advertising campaign to promote the logging industry), shared around a campfire or while tucked into bed—the epitome of “tall tales” originating in the 1900s, when the United States was expanding west and land was cleared for farming. This larger-than-life hero represents strength and hard work, determination and loyalty; things Minnesotans know well, and happily claim, especially in the Iron Range.

The man and his myths have become so popular over the years that they’ve invaded popular culture, making appearances in Fargo, The Simpsons, and That ’70s Show. Now there’s a musical rendition of his gigantic feats coming to Ted Mann Concert Hall on the University of Minnesota’s West Bank Campus Friday, April 26 and Saturday, April 27, 2013 at 8 p.m. Don Shelby will be the voice of Paul Bunyan in an opera by Benjamin Britten, recreated by Vern Sutton in celebration of the 100th anniversary of Britten’s birth. The operetta will feature ballad singer Pop Wagner, the VocalEssence chorus and ensemble singers, plus a 41-piece orchestra conducted by Philip Brunelle. Ted Mann Concert Hall: 2128 Fourth Street South, Mpls., 612-371-5656

For a good picture or inspiration to create your own epic tale, try these Bunyan stops throughout the state:

  • Bemidji is home to one of the most famous statues of Paul & Babe, which is part of the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
  • Hackensack, Minnesota is the home of Lucette, Paul Bunyan’s sweetheart, and boasts a statue of Lucette and her son (Paul Jr.) in the park downtown.
  • Paul Bunyan Land just east of Brainerd re-opens on Memorial weekend (through Labor Day) and showcases Pioneer Village, Paul’s Petting Barn, and amusement rides.

In the end, no one explains Paul Bunyan and Babe better than Disney, circa 1958: