Paul Bunyan's broken arm puts statue maintenance ahead of schedule
The Paul Bunyan statue in downtown Bemidji has sustained damaged to the arm. The city is investigating what caused the damage and is bringing in a firm to handle repairs and maintenance work.
BEMIDJI -- Paul Bunyan, Bemidji's most renowned lumberjack, will have arm surgery before the start of the summer season.
According to a release from the city Parks and Recreation Department, the Paul Bunyan statue in downtown Bemidji sustained damage on Monday, with the concrete in the arm giving way. The arm is currently being held in place by rebar that runs through the statue.
Because of the damage, Parks and Rec has secured both the Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox statues for their maintenance and public safety and is making repairs to the statue a priority.
This spring, the city hired Jensen Conservation to work on both statues at a cost of $24,000 and the company has now changed its schedule, with work set to begin next week on damage assessment and repairs. Following the arm repair, additional maintenance will take place with both statues.
"The city allocated liquor store funds to pay for the conservation of Paul and Babe and I anticipate they'd use contingency funds for the additional repairs," Bemidji Parks and Recreation Director Marcia Larson said. "There was also potential damage caused by people climbing on the statues, so we could potentially be looking at insurance dollars, but at the same time, we'd be looking at a deductible. So we're looking at all angles right now."
To help with the restoration, some citizens have launched fundraisers, such as former Bemidji resident Duane Lundin, who now lives in Grand Forks.
"They already had work planned on it in the summer as I understand it," Lundin said. "It all takes money and the city is only going to have so much and there are only so many grants available. When you have unexpected repairs, it doesn't help either.
"I've had people say 'the city will take care of it.' Sure the city will take care of it, but the money comes from taxes," said Lundin. "Also, by doing it that way, it tends to shut people out, and people like to be part of something like this."
"I think it's very cool that people are interested in that," Larson said. "I know in the past there has been fundraising for Paul and Babe, and the community is very supportive. So the Parks and Recreation Department and the city are very appreciative of community efforts."
Activity related to the damage is now under investigation by the Bemidji Police Department, which has reviewed security footage of the area which revealed that the cause of the breakage appears to have been caused by several people climbing and hanging off of Paul’s arm and the adjacent sign.
Those with information on the damage can report details anonymously through Crime Stoppers of Minnesota at crimestoppersmn.org or by calling (800) 222-8477.
The 18-foot Paul Bunyan statue has been downtown, near the shore of Lake Bemidji, since 1937. The adjacent Babe statue was built around the same time and was used in parades to promote Bemidji as a tourist destination. However, this caused damage to the statue and Babe was eventually placed beside Paul.
The statues are now on the National Register of Historic Places and earned a place on National Geographic's Top 10 U.S. Roadside Attractions as well as Time magazine's Top 50 American Roadside Attractions.
Bemidji is just one of several American cities to feature a statue of the lumberjack. Others include Akeley, Minn., Bangor, Maine, Brainerd, Minn., Klamath, Calif., Lakewood, Wis., Manistique, Mich., Muncie, Ind., Ossineke, Mich., and Portland, Ore.