World's Largest Paul Bunyan
America's Northwoods are home to many towering Paul Bunyan statues. But only Akeley, Minnesota, has a Bunyan who has dropped to one knee, inviting visitors to perch in his mighty palm, a perfect place to sit for a souvenir snapshot.
In 1949 the town declared itself the Birthplace of Paul Bunyan, and unveiled an oversized wooden baby cradle that sat in a park beneath a little roofed shelter. As an attraction it was, well, okay -- but as time passed and competing towns built big Bunyans, the cradle became a second- or third-tier Bunyan destination. So did Akeley.
Dean Krotzer was struck by the unfairness of this claim's decline. Krotzer told the town that he could build a Bunyan worthy of his birthplace, bigger than all the rest. With the help of his six grown sons and a son-in-law, Krotzer spent months working on Paul, using rebar, fiberglass, and 4.5 tons of welded steel. Paul's suspenders are lumber mill machinery belts; his hair and beard are made of more than a mile of resin-soaked twine (This is not the only unusual use of twine in Minnesota).
To get the proportions right, the Krotzers -- all big men -- built Paul to be "eight times the size of the average Krotzer."
The statue was dedicated in 1985 during Akeley's annual Paul Bunyan Days. The town proclaimed it to be the World's Largest Paul Bunyan. A Bunyan in Oregon might be slightly taller, and one in California definitely is, but those Bunyans are standing. If Akeley's Bunyan ever stood upright, said the Krotzers, he'd be roughly 60 feet tall, making him the largest Paul of all. He definitely dwarfs any other Minnesota Bunyan, which was a point of pride to both Dean Krotzer and Akeley.
Krotzer also understood that by the 1980s Paul Bunyan had an image problem. The legendary lumberjack was famous for destroying entire forests -- not exactly a role model for a tree-friendly generation.
Instead of designing a traditional Bunyan -- oblivious to the people at his feet, ready to buzzsaw the ecosystem into pulp -- Krotzer created a woodsman that was "mighty, but gentle." Krotzer gave Paul a warm grin and an outstretched hand. He even positioned Paul at an angle so that photographers wouldn't have to stand in the middle of the highway to take his picture.
Dean Krotzer died in 2011. But the Bunyan that he built still delights visitors, and has put Akeley back on the Bunyan map. Akeley's Paul has proved so popular that his kneeling knee and friendly palm need frequent repairs because of the thousands of people who sit, stand, and sprawl on them.
The old Bunyan cradle has been moved next to the statue, but none of the tourists that we saw even noticed it -- nor do they seem to care that gentle Paul's other hand grasps an ax big enough to chop the World's Largest Stump with one mighty swing.
(Sculpture Copyright 1984 by Dean Krotzer)