The legend of massive lumberjack Paul Bunyan, the very tallest of tall tales, was first spoken in lumber camps as loggers from New England moved west in search of fresh timber. With each telling, Bunyan’s accomplishments grew. Many towns have adopted Bunyan, but Bangor, Maine — home to so many of those migrating lumbermen — has perhaps the oldest and most legitimate claim. For more than 50 years, that claim has been marked by one of the most distinctive landmarks in New England: the Paul Bunyan statue.
In its early days, Bangor was regarded as the lumber capital of the U.S. The day the city incorporated — February 12, 1834 — is listed as Paul Bunyan’s birthday on an oversized (of course!) “birth certificate” hanging in City Hall. Commissioned as part of Bangor’s 125th-anniversary celebration in 1959, this likeness of “Tall Paul” was designed by Bangor artist J. Normand Martin. Martin, who worked for a small advertising agency in Bangor, crafted a 22-inch mock-up out of wire and clay, for which he was paid $137. When Martin flew to New York to present the model to the firm that would build it, he held it in his lap for the whole trip, out of fear that it would break.
Constructed of fiberglass, metal, and wood, Bangor’s Bunyan statue stands 31 feet tall (or 37 feet, if the stone base is included) and weighs in at a trim 3,700 pounds.
The statue depicts Bunyan in a classic lumberjack pose, with a huge, double-bit axe in his right hand and a peavey in his left. The first real-life peavey was created by Stillwater resident Joseph Peavey in 1857. Watching lumbermen working to break up a logjam on the Stillwater River, Peavey was inspired to create a better tool for the job; after a bit of experimentation, he mounted a metal hook on the end of a wooden pick. The peavey revolutionized the lumber industry and is still used today, even in modern, automated sawmills.
For two and a half years, the four-foot swing hook from Bunyan’s massive peavey was missing in action, having broken off and disappeared. Police eventually stumbled upon the wood-and-fiberglass hook behind a house in Bangor.
A time capsule was buried in the base of the statue, to be opened on February 12, 2084.
Bangor’s other favorite son, novelist Stephen King, worked the Paul Bunyan statue into his 1986 novel, It. In Derry, King’s fictional counterpart to Bangor, the statue comes to life when it’s inhabited by an evil spirit.
Over the years, Bunyan has been decked out in a fez during a Shriners convention and a bandanna when Willie Nelson was in town for a concert.
Have you ever seen the Paul Bunyan statue?