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On National Paul Bunyan Day, Bunyan birthplace debate still goes on

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One of Minnesota's favorite sons, Paul Bunyan, is being celebrated with a national holiday Sunday. But the occasion serves as another reminder that several places around the country still make claims to being the legendary lumberjack's real home.

Folks in Bemidji, which is home to the most iconic statues of Paul and his companion Babe the Blue Ox, vigorously defend their right to call their city the birthplace of Paul Bunyan.

The Paul and Babe statues sit near Lake Bemidji - legend has it they're located "on the very spot where Paul was born," the Bemidji Pioneer notes. The city's statues were erected in 1937, and thought to be the first ones in the country to be built.

“Paul Bunyan is the identity of Bemidji,” Bill Batchelder, owner of Bemidji Woolen Mills, told the newspaper. “He was much more than an American lumberjack.”

Even in Minnesota, there's some disagreement over which town is really the birthplace of Paul Bunyan.

Akeley, Minnesota, claims to be his birthplace, with another large Paul Bunyan statue on display there. And Akeley is hosting its annual Paul Bunyan Days this weekend.

Brainerd also lays claim; it's home to Paul Bunyan Land, an amusement park which features a 26-foot talking Paul statue that greets visitors by name.

Cities in Michigan, California and Oregon all have statues of Paul Bunyan and claim a connection to his legendary feats of strength. But the most egregious offender, in the eyes of Bemidji residents, is Bangor, Maine, according to the Bemidji Pioneer. (MPR News has a photo gallery with pictures of Paul Bunyan statues from around the country)

Bangor calls itself the birthplace of the lumber industry and says it has Paul Bunyan's birth certificate on display in the city clerk's office.

The certificate, which was issued in 1959, lists Paul Bunyan’s birth in Bangor on Feb. 12, 1834, to parents Jaques Bunyan and Sarah Marie DuBois, according to the Bangor Daily News.

It also has a massive 31-foot tall statue of Paul, which Bangor officials say is the largest statue of him in the world. Bangor is lacking in at least one area, though - it has no Babe.

But the city is preparing to do something about that. The Bangor City Council voted in February to begin working with the artist who created Paul on a second statue of Babe which will be added to the display.

So, how to settle this debate once and for all? It just may not be possible, given the large life that Paul Bunyan led. And the friendly rivalry just makes Paul and Babe legend that much more appealing.

But the American Folklore website does provide one possible explanation. In one version of the Paul Bunyan story, the youngster was indeed born in Maine. But eventually he grew so large and his presence was so disruptive that his parents "decided the East was just too plumb small for him, and so the family moved to Minnesota."

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