Everybody knows that Paul Bunyan is claimed by more towns than a person can count. But now, at least one Paul Bunyan impersonator is facing the same ‘calamity of fame’. Or, in his case, more likely the joy of it!
Wayne Chamberlain is well known in this area as the first Paul Bunyan character for the Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway Association (PBSBA). Over the past dozen years he has appeared as the big logger in numerous parades, at library story times, mingling with crowds at local events, re-enacting his marriage to Hackensack’s Lucette, and lending his persona to organizational functions throughout the Byway area.
That was then — when he still lived in Pequot Lakes. A few years ago he moved to Bemidji, and although still active with the PBSBA on the board of directors and making limited appearances locally, his Paul Bunyan appeal was starting to become known around Bemidji too.
This is now. Wayne was asked to be the main presenter on January 21 at the Beltrami County Historical Society’s 2012 kick-off event celebrating the 75th birthday of the Paul and Babe statues in Bemidji. As Paul Bunyan, he shared historical information about the origins of the legend in a presentation titled “Paul Bunyan the Legend: Fact or Fiction?” Wearing his red-and-black plaid shirt, cap and big black boots, he talked after his presentation, as Paul, to those who lingered, joking that rumors of his death were greatly exaggerated.
When asked about the history of his own enthusiasm toward the Paul Bunyan character and stories, Chamberlain shared a true-tale. He was still living in Pequot Lakes and had just portrayed Paul for the second time in his life at Beanhole Days, an annual summer festival in Pequot Lakes. Later that day, still in costume, he went to the post office to get his mail and an entranced 4-year-old boy excitedly told his father, “Dad, I know that man. … Dad, that’s Paul Bunyan!”
“I was hooked,” Chamberlain said. “That’s all it took.”
Not only did he become hooked on playing the Paul Bunyan character, he also became an exuberant collector of Bunyan memorabilia. He contributed about 200 items for the year-long Paul Bunyan exhibit at the Beltrami County Historical Society. Other pieces from his collection make up the lion’s share of the Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway Association’s exhibit room in Crosslake.
To learn more about the Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway Association, visit www.paulbunyanscenicbyway.org. For information on the January 21 kick-off celebration and the upcoming events celebrating the 75th birthday of the Paul and Babe statues in Bemidji, go to www.beltramihistory.org.