If you’ve lived in Michigan for any length of time, then chances are good that you’ve heard the legend of Paul Bunyan. His list of accomplishments is legendary and he’s been immortalized in books, on TV by The Simpsons, and in Disney movies.
If you remember back to your days in school, then the legend of Paul Bunyan is a familiar one: a gentle giant with Babe the Blue Ox as his companion; a man so big, that as a baby, it took five storks to carry him; a man so big that his laughter broke windows. A man who, at seven-feet tall, had superhuman strength and is said to have carved Michigan’s familiar mitten shape.
Michigan has wholeheartedly embraced the legendary lumberjack and signs of Paul Bunyan’s influence can be found all over the state. From statues to festivals to a football trophy, the jolly giant has left a big impression on the Mitten State that isn’t going away anytime soon.
The Legend of Paul Bunyan in Michigan
So just how did Paul Bunyan and Babe originate (or end up) in Michigan? Well, that depends on where you look and who you ask.
In 2006, Michigan officially designated the Lake Huron coastal town of Oscoda as the birthplace of Paul Bunyan’s legend, first written in 1906 by James MacGillivray.
A 1906 article, based on MacGillivray’s stories, was based on French-Canadian lumberer Fabian Fournier, who worked in Michigan in the 1860s and 1870s.
MacGillivray’s tales took on a new life when they were republished in 1910 in the Detroit News. Paul gained a companion in 1914 when Babe the Blue Ox was created by a company in Minnesota.
Paul’s legend only grew from there and many of his exploits were said to have taken place in Michigan as the oral tradition has grown over the years…
- He’s said to have used Saginaw Bay for a bathtub. Sometime later, he made the bay bigger, turning it into Lake Huron.
- With just his boot heel, Paul is said to have dug out Lake Michigan and Lake Superior, giving Babe watering holes to drink.
- Once during a snowstorm, Paul lost his mitten and was said to be so cold that he carved a mitten into the earth, giving Michigan its familiar mitten shape.
Other Fantastic Exploits of Paul Bunyan
There’s something enchanting about the tall tales of Paul Bunyan and his ilk – Pecos Bill, Calamity Jane, Johnny Appleseed, Davy Crockett. They were heroes but in a quiet way. Men and women of the earth, who knew their way around trees and farms, axes and plows.
Michigan may lay claim to this famous giant, but tales of his exploits can be found from California to Oregon to Montana to Quebec.
- He’s said to have formed the Mississippi River when a heavy container he was carrying sprung a leak.
- He’s said to have formed the Grand Canyon after dragging his axe behind him while searching for wood.
- The gigantic fingerprints he left behind in Minnesota created the 10,000 lakes for which the state is known.
- He’s said to have extinguished a fire in Oregon by piling rocks on it, thus creating Mount Hood.
Where to Find Paul Bunyan Statues in Michigan
Statues of this famous giant can be found as far west as California and Oregon, as far east as Maine, and many places in between. But in the Mitten State, visitors and residents alike can find a half dozen Paul Bunyan statues, with three of them in Northeast Michigan alone.
The Michigan Paul Bunyan statues can be found in these spots:
Oscoda’s Paul Bunyan Statue
On the Lake Huron coast, this 13-foot-tall Bunyan statue can be found in front of Furtaw Field. The original statue was made of paper mâché and used in Detroit’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. It was brought to Oscoda in 1971 and restored in 1983 with fiberglass.
Ossineke’s Paul Bunyan Statue
This massive 25-foot tall statue of Paul Bunyan leaning on his giant axe can be found right on US-23 as you head south from Alpena. It’s been in its current location since 2006.
Right next to Paul is a Babe the Blue Ox statue that stands 10 feet tall. The Babe statue was originally white and became Babe in 1950 when it was painted blue. Paul’s statue was built in 1953 and paired with her.
Paul Bunyan Statue in Alpena Michigan
Just a short distance from downtown Alpena stands a 28-foot-tall metal sculpture of Paul Bunyan on the campus of Alpena Community College. It’s quite appropriate since ACC’s sports teams are known as the Lumberjacks.
This statue originated in Gaylord, where it sat atop the Paul Bunyan Gas Station. It came to ACC in 1988 and has been there ever since and is still a popular tourist spot in town.
West Branch’s Paul Bunyan Statue
This statue, known locally as the Giant Lumberjack, could be seen as a tribute to Paul Bunyan and sits in front of the Lumber Jack Food & Spirits in West Branch.
If you’re traveling on I-75, this is a great spot to stop for a meal and a picture with the statue. The restaurant’s menu includes offerings like Lumberman’s Hash, the Big Axe burger, and the Sawman’s Jackel, so it’s safe to say the legend of Paul Bunyan is alive and well here.
Paul Bunyan at Castle Rock in St Ignace
Just over the Mackinac Bridge in St. Ignace are statues of a sitting Paul Bunyan and Babe that sit behind chainlink fencing at the site of Castle Rock.
Once you’ve climbed all the way up Castle Rock for its stunning views, come on back down and snap a selfie with Paul and Babe.
Manistique’s Paul Bunyan Statue
Further up in the Upper Peninsula, in Manistique, stands a 15-foot Paul Bunyan statue that sits right in front of the town’s Chamber of Commerce. The statue was proceeded by a 42-foot tall sign of Paul built for Manistique’s centennial that was destroyed around 1975.
Paul Bunyan in Brooklyn Michigan
Located just east of M-50 in Brooklyn Michigan, Paul Bunyan and his axe can be seen in front Knutson’s Sporting Goods store. The statue was previously located at the Stagecoach Stop USA on US-12 in Irish Hills.
Football, A Rivalry, and the Paul Bunyan Trophy
One of the most lasting impressions of Paul Bunyan can be seen in the Paul Bunyan Trophy, the annual prize awarded to the winner of the Michigan State-Michigan football rivalry game each fall.
College football has a great history of rivalries and the trophies that go with them, from the Little Brown Jug (awarded to the winner of the Michigan-Minnesota game) to Paul Bunyan’s Axe (awarded to the winner of the Minnesota-Wisconsin game) to the pig-adorned Floyd of Rosedale (awarded to the winner of the Iowa-Minnesota game).
But the Paul Bunyan Trophy is the one that the Spartans and Wolverines covet every year. The four-foot wooden statue has been called one of the ugliest trophies in college football, but if you have it, it means your team won.
Officially, the trophy is known as the Paul Bunyan-Governor of Michigan Trophy and was first awarded in 1953. Since its introduction into the rivalry, Michigan leads the series 39-29-2. After each game, the winning team’s victory is engraved into the base.
It’s a familiar sight at both Spartan Stadium in East Lansing and Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, depending on where the game is played each year.
A Celebration of All Things Paul Bunyan in Michigan
As you’ve read, this gigantic fictional lumberjack has quite a history, and each year, Paul’s supposed Michigan birthplace loves to celebrate that history.
For more than 40 years, Oscoda has celebrated the jolly giant during Paul Bunyan Days, a three-day celebration full of fun takes place at Furtaw Field, the sight of Oscoda’s Paul Bunyan statue.
Visitors of all ages will delight in the usual festival fare, including delicious food (inspired by Paul and Babe), carnival rides, arts and crafts, and a cornhole tournament.
But the festival also takes time to celebrate Paul too. Visitors can participate in a beard contest, dress their pets up like Paul Bunyan, and even participate in a tall-tale competition.
Learn About Paul Bunyan’s Michigan Influence Today
You don’t have to look too much or travel too far to find evidence of Paul Bunyan’s impact on Michigan. If you love Michigan history, there’s a whole lot of it out there about Paul Bunyan to learn.
- Travel to Northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula and take a selfie at one of the many wonderful roadside statues of the legendary giant.
- Visit Oscoda and soak up the atmosphere of Paul Bunyan Days.
- Get into the spirit of the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry and see if you can get a look at the Paul Bunyan Trophy up close.
Let us know what your favorite Paul Bunyan story is or which of Paul’s famous Michigan statues is your favorite to visit!