Paul Bunyan, according to his larger-than-life legend, is a man of many accomplishments. Along with his blue ox, Babe, he created Minnesota's 10,000 lakes with his footprints. He made the Grand Canyon with his ax and Mount Hood with stones.
But he is not, apparently, invincible.
The iconic 18-foot statue near the shores of Lake Bemidji was found this week to have suffered a major separation in his right arm. Just below the shoulder of Bunyan's buffalo-plaid lumberjack shirt, the concrete cleaved, and it's now held together only by the rebar that runs through him.
As is typically the case with the American folk hero, plenty of stories have been circulating about how Bunyan broke his arm.
"Maybe Paul was out chopping too much wood," said Bemidji's mayor, Jorge Prince. "But our community's taking it in stride."
The actual explanation, Prince assumes, is a bit more mundane: "Lots of tourists and locals get their pictures taken there, and they'll hang on his legs and grab on his arms. It could just be an accumulation of wear and tear. We're under that assumption."
The statue has been a Bemidji touchstone since 1937, one of the early roadside attractions during the rapid growth of America's highway system. It was featured in the 1996 movie "Fargo," made by two other Minnesota legends, Joel and Ethan Coen, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The statue has been referred to as one of America's most photographed roadside attractions and has become a symbol not just of Bemidji but of the vastness of northern Minnesota and the rugged, hardworking ethic of its people.
The city has contracted with Jensen Conservation Services out of Omaha to repair the statue and expects the repairs to be completed in the next month or so.
Rob Jensen, who owns the statue conservation company, has worked on plenty of well-known monuments before, from moving a 1,000-pound monument in San Francisco to re-leafing the gold on the Quadriga, the statue of a four-horse chariot at the base of the Capitol dome in St. Paul. He's done restoration work on Babe the Blue Ox, but never on the man himself.
"Paul, as far as I know, is a poured concrete sculpture whereas Babe is hollow," Jensen said. "It's got more than a crack — there's a separation of church and state going on there. We'll just bring them together and fit them back like originally."
When Paul Bunyan's injury was pointed out earlier this week, the city moved quickly. Workers set up barricades around the statue in Paul Bunyan Park to keep visitors away, and they secured the injured arm so wind wouldn't blow it around — a Bunyan-sized cast of sorts.
"Paul and Babe have been iconic statues in our community for many years, greeting people who come to Bemidji," the mayor said. "They're woven into the fabric of the community and used for symbols of our city and local businesses who see Paul and Babe as part of our heritage. We think of Bemidji as the birthplace of Paul and Babe."
Reid Forgrave • 612-673-4647