CLOSE

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

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

Image via visitbemidji.com

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/Roadsidewonders.net

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!

nextArticle.image_alt|e
gutenberg.org
arrow
literature
10 Things You Might Not Know About Little Women
gutenberg.org
gutenberg.org

Louisa May Alcott's Little Women is one of the world's most beloved novels, and now—nearly 150 years after its original publication—it's capturing yet another generation of readers, thanks in part to Masterpiece's new small-screen adaptation. Whether it's been days or years since you've last read it, here are 10 things you might not know about Alcott's classic tale of family and friendship.

1. LOUISA MAY ALCOTT DIDN'T WANT TO WRITE LITTLE WOMEN.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Louisa May Alcott was writing both literature and pulp fiction (sample title: Pauline's Passion and Punishment) when Thomas Niles, the editor at Roberts Brothers Publishing, approached her about writing a book for girls. Alcott said she would try, but she wasn’t all that interested, later calling such books “moral pap for the young.”

When it became clear Alcott was stalling, Niles offered a publishing contract to her father, Bronson Alcott. Although Bronson was a well-known thinker who was friends with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, his work never achieved much acclaim. When it became clear that Bronson would have an opportunity to publish a new book if Louisa started her girls' story, she caved in to the pressure.

2. LITTLE WOMEN TOOK JUST 10 WEEKS TO WRITE.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Alcott began writing the book in May 1868. She worked on it day and night, becoming so consumed with it that she sometimes forgot to eat or sleep. On July 15, she sent all 402 pages to her editor. In September, a mere four months after starting the book, Little Women was published. It became an instant best seller and turned Alcott into a rich and famous woman.

3. THE BOOK AS WE KNOW IT WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN TWO PARTS.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

The first half was published in 1868 as Little Women: Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. The Story Of Their Lives. A Girl’s Book. It ended with John Brooke proposing marriage to Meg. In 1869, Alcott published Good Wives, the second half of the book. It, too, only took a few months to write.

4. MEG, BETH, AND AMY WERE BASED ON ALCOTT'S SISTERS.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Meg was based on Louisa’s sister Anna, who fell in love with her husband John Bridge Pratt while performing opposite him in a play. The description of Meg’s wedding in the novel is supposedly based on Anna’s actual wedding.

Beth was based on Lizzie, who died from scarlet fever at age 23. Like Beth, Lizzie caught the illness from a poor family her mother was helping.

Amy was based on May (Amy is an anagram of May), an artist who lived in Europe. In fact, May—who died in childbirth at age 39—was the first woman to exhibit paintings in the Paris Salon.

Jo, of course, is based on Alcott herself.

5. LIKE THE MARCH FAMILY, THE ALCOTTS KNEW POVERTY.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Bronson Alcott’s philosophical ideals made it difficult for him to find employment—for example, as a socialist, he wouldn't work for wages—so the family survived on handouts from friends and neighbors. At times during Louisa’s childhood, there was nothing to eat but bread, water, and the occasional apple.

When she got older, Alcott worked as a paid companion and governess, like Jo does in the novel, and sold “sensation” stories to help pay the bills. She also took on menial jobs, working as a seamstress, a laundress, and a servant. Even as a child, Alcott wanted to help her family escape poverty, something Little Women made possible.

6. ALCOTT REFUSED TO HAVE JO MARRY LAURIE.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

Alcott, who never married herself, wanted Jo to remain unmarried, too. But while she was working on the second half of Little Women, fans were clamoring for Jo to marry the boy next door, Laurie. “Girls write to ask who the little women marry, as if that was the only aim and end of a woman’s life," Alcott wrote in her journal. "I won’t marry Jo to Laurie to please anyone.”

As a compromise—or to spite her fans—Alcott married Jo to the decidedly unromantic Professor Bhaer. Laurie ends up with Amy.

7. THERE ARE LOTS OF THEORIES ABOUT WHO LAURIE WAS BASED ON.


Frank T. Merrill, Public Domain, Courtesy of The Project Gutenberg

People have theorized Laurie was inspired by everyone from Thoreau to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s son Julian, but this doesn’t seem to be the case. In 1865, while in Europe, Alcott met a Polish musician named Ladislas Wisniewski, whom Alcott nicknamed Laddie. The flirtation between Laddie and Alcott culminated in them spending two weeks together in Paris, alone. According to biographer Harriet Reisen, Alcott later modeled Laurie after Laddie.

How far did the Alcott/Laddie affair go? It’s hard to say, as Alcott later crossed out the section of her diary referring to the romance. In the margin, she wrote, “couldn’t be.”

8. YOU CAN STILL VISIT ORCHARD HOUSE, WHERE ALCOTT WROTE LITTLE WOMEN.

Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts was the Alcott family home. In 1868, Louisa reluctantly left her Boston apartment to write Little Women there. Today, you can tour this house and see May’s drawings on the walls, as well as the small writing desk that Bronson built for Louisa to use.

9. LITTLE WOMEN HAS BEEN ADAPTED A NUMBER OF TIMES.

In addition to a 1958 TV series, multiple Broadway plays, a musical, a ballet, and an opera, Little Women has been made into more than a half-dozen movies. The most famous are the 1933 version starring Katharine Hepburn, the 1949 version starring June Allyson (with Elizabeth Taylor as Amy), and the 1994 version starring Winona Ryder. Later this year, Clare Niederpruem's modern retelling of the story is scheduled to arrive in movie theaters. It's also been adapted for the small screen a number of times, most recently for PBS's Masterpiece, by Call the Midwife creator Heidi Thomas.

10. IN 1980, A JAPANESE ANIME VERSION OF LITTLE WOMEN WAS RELEASED.

In 1987, Japan made an anime version of Little Women that ran for 48 half-hour episodes. Watch the first two episodes above.

Additional Resources:
Louisa May Alcott: A Personal Biography; Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women; Louisa May Alcott's Journals; Little Women; Alcott Film; C-Span; LouisaMayAlcott.org.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Mario Tama, Getty Images
arrow
science
Hawaii's Kilauea Volcano Is Causing Another Explosive Problem: Laze
Mario Tama, Getty Images
Mario Tama, Getty Images

Rivers of molten rock aren't the only thing residents near Hawaii's Kilauea volcano have to worry about. Lava from recent volcanic activity has reached the Pacific Ocean and is generating toxic, glass-laced "laze," according to Honolulu-based KITV. Just what is this dangerous substance?

Molten lava has a temperature of about 2000°F, while the surrounding seawater in Hawaii is closer to 80°F. When this super-hot lava hits the colder ocean, the heat makes the water boil, creating powerful explosions of steam, scalding hot water, and projectile rock fragments known as tephra. These plumes are called lava haze, or laze.

Though it looks like regular steam, laze is much more dangerous. When the water and lava combine, and hot lava vaporizes seawater, a series of reactions causes the formation of toxic gas. Chloride from the sea salt mixes with hydrogen in the steam to create a dense, corrosive mixture of hydrochloric acid. The vapor forms clouds that then turn into acid rain.

Laze blows out of the ocean near a lava flow
USGS

That’s not the only danger. The lava cools down rapidly, forming volcanic glass—tiny shards of which explode into the air along with the gases.

Even the slightest encounter with a wisp of laze can be problematic. The hot, acidic mixture can irritate the skin, eyes, and respiratory system. It's particularly hazardous to those with breathing problems, like people with asthma.

In 2000, two people died in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park from inhaling laze coming from an active lava flow.

The problem spreads far beyond where the lava itself is flowing, pushing the problem downwind. Due to the amount of lava flowing into the ocean and the strength of the winds, laze currently being generated by the Kilauea eruptions could spread up to 15 miles away, a USGS geologist told Reuters.

[h/t Forbes]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios