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6 Towns That Claim Paul Bunyan as Their Own (and What They Should Be Bragging About Instead)

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Everyone knows Paul Bunyan: a man of extraordinary stature who traveled the country with an ox of extraordinary color.

Everyone also knows that this folkloric hero is blatantly imaginary. Bunyan is so entrenched in American culture that there are dozens of towns claiming to be his birthplace—an undeniable grab at roadside tourism fame and fortune. While they may not be the homes of giant woodsmen, these towns frequently have real marvels.

Town #1: Oscoda, Michigan

Paul Bunyan Claim: On November 6, 2006, the state of Michigan gave Oscoda the "Official Home of Paul Bunyan" title because the Oscoda Press published the first Bunyan story in 1906.

The Real Attraction: Oscoda is home to the now-decommissioned Wurtsmith Air Force Base. On the base is the Wurtsmith Aviation Museum, run by the Yankee Air Force, a volunteer group that restores vintage aircraft. Installations change regularly because the YAF focuses on restoration and making aircrafts flyable again.

Town #2: Ossineke, Michigan

Image via Great Lakes Gazette

Paul Bunyan Claim: A mere 36 miles north of Oscoda, Ossineke also claims to be Paul Bunyan’s home. They have a 25-foot statue of Paul and Babe in town, and for some reason, several websites note that this Babe is neutered. This is a Gender Studies thesis in the making for folklore buffs.

The Real Attraction: Ossineke only has 1,059 people according to the 2000 census, so there aren’t a lot of attractions. But there is Dinosaur Gardens: a 40-acre park filled with life-sized concrete dinosaurs and cavemen, often in conflict with one another. Visitors can play mini-golf on dinosaur-shaped greens and climb inside a brontosaurus to explore its thoracic cavity, which includes a portrait of Jesus where the dino's heart should be.

Town #3: Brainerd, Minnesota

Image via KSAX

Paul Bunyan Claim: While there are no official documents to put Bunyan in Brainerd, these Minnesotans do have the “World’s Largest Animated Man”—a 26-foot (seated) Paul Bunyan statue.

The Real Attraction: In winter, Lake Mille Lacs (French for "Lake Thousand Lakes" because redundancy is a hoot) becomes "Frostbite Flats,” a temporary town cobbled together by the Midwest’s most diehard fishermen. Frostbite Flats is built from ice-fishing houses—more than 5,000 of them. In case that number doesn’t sound that big to you, there are only 13,500 people in Brainerd itself.

Something Not to See: This little burg is also famous for Brainerd diarrhea. Brainerd diarrhea’s first occurrence was an outbreak in 1983. According to the CDC, the sufferers have “10-20 episodes per day of explosive, watery diarrhea” and it lasts approximately four weeks. Unfortunately, the cause is unknown, and it is almost completely untreatable.

Town #4: Bemidji, Minnesota

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Paul Bunyan Claim: Bemidji’s townsfolk also claim to have raised Paul Bunyan. And much like Brainerd, Oscoda, Ossineke, and countless other towns, they have a statue of the woodsman in town.

The Real Attraction: Bemidji isn’t just about the freakishly huge, though. They also host the annual “World’s Shortest Parade” on St. Patrick’s Day. Every year, the people of Bemidji get together and march from Brigid’s Irish Pub to Keg ‘n Cork Irish Pub—a trek that takes them down the block about 23 feet.

Any other day of the year, just think of Bemidji as the curling capital of the US, since they hosted the bronze-winning 2006 US Olympic team’s training and the 2005 World Curling Championship.

Town #5: Bangor, Maine

Image via SarekOfVulcan

Paul Bunyan Claim: The vast majority of Paul Bunyan’s homes are in the Midwest (obviously mostly in Minnesota and Michigan), but New England also claims Paul as its own up in Bangor.

The Real Attraction: Bangor was once the home of the world’s most powerful radar, the Over-the-Horizon Backscatter system. This Cold War-era device was designed to monitor the entirety of the North Atlantic, from Iceland to the Caribbean. Once there weren’t any more Soviets, the government saw the operation as overkill and shut it down in 1997.

For non-Bunyan tourism, Bangor has the Cole Land Transportation Museum: a stunning collection of rolling vehicles. The museum has bicycles, trains, trucks, and even stagecoaches on display. If you can’t make it to Bangor, there’s a virtual tour available.

Town #6: Westwood, California

Image via Steve & Amanda/

Paul Bunyan Claim: While a lot of places claim to be Paul Bunyan’s birthplace, Westwood just claims to be his hometown after he got a job with the Red River Lumber Company. There’s the yearly Paul Bunyan Mountain and Blues Festival where a major attraction is Blue Ox Bingo, “where Babe the Blue Ox (or reasonable facsimile) will walk around until a ‘chip’ is dropped.”

The Real Attraction: The area around Westwood is Lassen Volcanic National Park, a 106,372-acre park with over 150 miles of hiking trails. But maybe the most exciting part of the park is Lassen Peak. In 1915, 9 years after Paul Bunyan’s story was first told, Lassen Peak exploded and scattered ash for over 200 miles around. The park is still full of active hydrothermal areas and sputtering fumaroles throughout.

One for the Road

Image via St. Maries Chamber of Commerce

St. Maries, Idaho, doesn’t claim to be Bunyan’s birthplace or hometown. However, the annual Paul Bunyan Days festival draws thousands of tourists in to see the Blue Ox—the “Biggest Topless Bar in Idaho.” The locals are just screwing with you, though: the Blue Ox is a normal bar that simply doesn’t have a roof. Those Idahoans!

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25 Benefits of Adopting a Rescue Dog
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According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year in the United States. Although that number has gone down since 2011 (from 3.9 million) there are still millions of dogs waiting in shelters for a forever home. October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month; here are 25 benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

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How Urban Legends Like 'The Licked Hand' Are Born
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If you compare the scary stories you heard as a kid with those of your friends—even those who grew up across the country from you—you’ll probably hear some familiar tales. Maybe you tried to summon Bloody Mary by chanting her name in front of the mirror three times in a dark bathroom. Maybe you learned never to wonder what’s under a woman’s neck ribbon. Maybe you heard the one about the girl who feels her dog lick her hand in the middle of the night, only to wake up to find him hanging dead from the shower nozzle, the words “humans can lick too” written on the wall in the dog’s blood.

These ubiquitous, spooky folk tales exist everywhere, and a lot of them take surprisingly similar forms. How does a single story like the one often called “Humans Can Lick Too” or "The Licked Hand" make its way into every slumber party in America? Thrillist recently investigated the question with a few experts, finding that most of these stories have very deep roots.

In the case of The Licked Hand, its origins go back more than a century. In the 1990s, Snopes found that a similar motif dates back to an Englishman’s diary entry from 1871. In it, the diary keeper, Dearman Birchall, retold a story he heard at a party of a man whose wife woke him up in the middle of the night, urging him to go investigate what sounded like burglars in their home. He told his wife that it was only the dog, reaching out his hand. He felt the dog lick his hand … but in the morning, all his valuables were gone: He had clearly been robbed.

A similar theme shows up in the short story “The Diary of Mr. Poynter,” published in 1919 by M.R. James. In it, a character dozes off in an armchair, and thinks that he is petting his dog. It turns out, it’s some kind of hairy human figure that he flees from. The story seems to have evolved from there into its presently popular form, picking up steam in the 1960s. As with any folk tale, its exact form changes depending on the teller: sometimes the main character is an old lady, other times it’s a young girl.

You’ll probably hear these stories in the context of happening to a “friend of a friend,” making you more likely to believe the tale. It practically happened to someone you know! Kind of! The setting, too, is probably somewhere nearby. It might be in your neighborhood, or down by the local railroad tracks.

Thrillist spoke to Dr. Joseph Stubbersfield, a researcher in the UK who studies urban legends, who says the kind of stories that spread widely contain both social information and emotional resonance. Meaning they contain a message—you never know who’s lurking in your house—and are evocative.

If something is super scary or gross, you want to share it. Stories tend to warn against something: A study of English-language urban legends circulating online found that most warned listeners about the hazards of life (poisonous plants, dangerous animals, dangerous humans) rather than any kind of opportunities. We like to warn each other of the dangers that could be lurking around every corner, which makes sense considering our proven propensity to focus on and learn from negative information. And yes, that means telling each other to watch out for who’s licking our hands in the middle of the night.

Just something to keep in mind as you eagerly await Jezebel’s annual scary story contest.

[h/t Thrillist]


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