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Statues draw a variety of visitors

Since 1937, visitors from all over the world have been stopping in Bemidji to see the legendary Paul Bunyan and his sidekick, Babe the Blue Ox. Pioneer Photo/Jake Urban

The statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox are quite a sight to see for travelers to Bemidji.

"There are four generations standing here," said Leslie Brightwell of her family as they lined up to pose in front the iconic Paul and Babe.

Nine people stood close, ranging from Great-Grandpa Jamie Martin to little Jaylee, who looked at the daunting figure of Paul with the amazement that could only be felt by a 3-year-old.

Hailing from Adel, Iowa, Brightwell and her family visit Bemidji nearly every summer to enjoy the lake, experience the culture and take a picture with Minnesota's logging hero.

The periodic sheets of rain that fell on Tuesday did not deter visitors from collecting at the feet of the legendary lumberjack and his trusty blue sidekick. Instead, tourists used jackets, bags, and anything else to cover their cameras and cell phones from the rain so they could document the duo.

From 2-8 p.m., children and adults alike excitedly stood next to Paul and Babe. Some sightseers swung from the ox's nostrils, others attempted to climb up the pant leg of Paul, while the cautious merely stood at the feet of the giant lumberjack.

The dynamic variety of visitors who deemed Paul and Babe worthy sights ranged from cities around Minnesota to countries in Eastern Europe.

A look into Paul's guestbook in the Tourist Information Center shows an array of signatures and comments about the formidable Bunyan and his personal items.

John Lindberg, a Minnesota resident, was taking his Polish father-in-law to see Paul and Babe for the first time. His father-in-law was visiting the United States from the Ukraine.

"He likes it here," said Lindberg, as his father-in-law prodded Babe's concrete leg inquisitively, "It is pretty new for him."

Paul and Babe are more than interesting statues for one-time guests to Bemidji.

Families from across the continent view the pair of giants as a part of long-standing customs.

Kathy and Larry Franzin from Colorado come every year to see "Big Blue," the ox.

"We always come up to see Babe," said Kathy, with an appraising look to the statue, "He has been treated pretty well after all these years."

"It has been a tradition with us for awhile now," added her husband.

Kerry Ziegler has had a 20-year tradition with Paul and Babe.

"It certainly has changed since I have first seen it," said Ziegler.

Whether or not by coincidence, people usually flocked to see the statues in waves, where up to six different families would be waiting to get their turns with Bemidji's celebrities.

To combat the wait, people usually would offer to take a photo for another family and share their stories.

In a matter of minutes, the waterfront area would become home to several different families, creating a small ecosystem of tourists weaving in and out, brushing knowledge of each other's lives.

Soon, a family from North Carolina would be chatting about Bemidji's best dining areas with a couple from Manitoba.

These acts of acquaintanceship continued, so when the families left to their next destination, they would smile and wave goodbye to each other.

James and Amy Garner from Kansas City, Mo., said they had met an old couple from Clarksville, Tenn., who had shown them how to cast a fishing pole.

"It's strange how something so simple can be so important," said James, who had been fishing only once in his life, "If they hadn't taught me today, who would, and when?"

The fleeting friendships people had made with one another represent the ideal of Minnesota Nice, of Bemidji's own community.

The last family, a mother carrying her toddler son who was shrieking in delight as he pointed at Paul's daunting demeanor, slowly left Paul and Babe at around 8 p.m. Tuesday evening, with the statues alight with the setting sun. Yes, it truly is a sight to see.