"Jack, Emily and Hunter."
The names are spoken in a hushed tone by the teenage girl working at the ticket booth, given to her by the ticket-paying adults.
Unbeknownst to the children entering the Paul Bunyan Amusement Center in Baxter on Thursday, their names were broadcast on an intercom system that only can be heard in the dimly lighted room perched above the main entrance building, a secret room only accessible by opening the blue door to the left of the park entrance gates and climbing up the handmade wooden ladder.
Moments later across the open picnic area, as if by magic, Paul Bunyan greets the children by name as they walk into the park -- His park.
"Jack, Emily, and I see Hunter standing over there," the mighty lumberjack bellowed. "How are you, Jack? How are you, Emily? Here's a big Paul Bunyan wave for you."
The giant man suddenly spied a brave young boy getting a closer peek.
"Who's that crawling on my boot down there?," asked Paul, as his large head bowed down to look at the giggling youngster. "I can feel you."
Dave Borash, park manager and a longtime voice of Paul Bunyan, then lifted his foot off of the pedal that activates the microphone as he sat in the secret booth -- the hidden lair containing all of Paul's secrets -- and paused to listen to the name of the next child who walked through the gates.
Borash is one of the many voices of Paul Bunyan who have operated his controls since the park opened in 1950. It was Borash who spoke for Paul Bunyan when Gov. Tim Pawlenty visited the lumberjack in May.
The secret world of Paul Bunyan, a place where reality is suspended and a 27-foot-tall statue speaks, is a magical place even for the park's employees, who often take turns each summer as the voice behind one of Minnesota's cultural icons. Many of the park's former employees have been returning to the park for one last visit this summer. Park attendance jumped 30-40 percent from last year, said owner Don McFarland. Several former voices of Paul have climbed into the control booth to be Paul again for the final time.
Most visitors to the park think the voice of Paul is coming from Johnny Inkslinger's Workshop next to the statue. That is the former location of the control booth that was used until the current booth was built in the mid-1970s. The control booth can be seen if you turn your back to Paul Bunyan and wave to the small, slightly-opened window above the main gates. There are two strategically placed microphones on the stage that can pick up the questions often asked by the children and adults who visit the park.
There is a spiral-bound notebook filled with Paul Bunyan stories in the booth, a few of the tall tales were dreamed up by former employees.
There are many more legends behind Paul Bunyan that have been passed down from one voice to another. Like the time someone spiked the lemonade cooler in the booth with vodka and Paul Bunyan became noticeably drunk. Or the time a voice leaned back in the old chair in the booth and it broke, sending the teenage boy flying, along with a flurry of profanities that sounded out of place coming from Paul Bunyan.
The electrical board -- the heart and brain behind the giant statue -- has manual control levers that operate his head, hands and eyes. If one were to climb the wooden ladders behind Paul Bunyan, he would find that his clothes don't extend to his back, exposing Paul's chicken wire, plywood, wiring and fiberglass. His head is large and hollow with an equally large hole in the back where workers can manually fix any malfunctions in the statue.
Borash has spent 17 seasons at the amusement park and knows all of the secrets behind the famous lumberjack. He grew up in Brainerd and often visited Paul Bunyan as a youngster. He began working at the park while he was a student at Brainerd High School. Now he's a teacher there, and has continued to spend his summers with Paul Bunyan.
There were summers when the male employees took one-hour shifts to be Paul Bunyan. That changed in the mid-1980s, said Borash, when three to four employees were selected to be Paul all summer. It provided continuity for visitors to the park. Sometimes Borash said he worked eight hours at a time in the booth because he enjoyed interacting with the guests as the lumberjack.
"A lot of people look at me and say, 'Why do you go back?'" said Borash. "I enjoy this. You give up your summers when you work for Paul, but I wouldn't dream of any other thing."
Borash said when his two young daughters visit the park, he'll sneak up to the control booth and become Paul's voice. They have no idea it is their dad who is speaking to them through the giant statue.
"They haven't a clue," said Borash. "You don't want to give the secret away of Paul."
McFarland said the park will be open for the final day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday. Nate Whited, a longtime voice of Paul who works as a disc jockey in Iowa, called McFarland when he heard the park was closing and asked to work the last four hours as the voice. So that's where he'll be Monday, in the control booth.
Bill Satre, also known as Billy Holiday, the morning host at COOL 101.5 FM, spent three summers as the voice of Paul Bunyan. He said several radio personalities have gotten their first experience behind the microphone at the amusement center playing Paul Bunyan.
"Doing the voice of Paul was a lot of fun because I'm chatty, so it worked out well to sit around and talk to people as Paul," said Satre. "We had a lot of people who came through from all parts of the country and they come to see Paul Bunyan. That's the main attraction and it's really cool to be a part of that."
Satre said he and his wife took their two children to Paul Bunyan recently and was asked if he wanted to get back into the booth and be the voice.
"I went up and spent 15 minutes up there and got the burn to do it one more time," said Satre, who plans to take over in the booth one last time this weekend. "When I sat down in the chair a lot of the stories came running back to me in a flood."
Like Borash, Satre said he will miss the park and its most famous resident. The park was a place where lifelong friendships were formed.
"It's kind of sad," said Satre. "For me, it was such a big part of what I was doing at that point in time in my life. I grew up here, so we went to Paul Bunyan every summer. I moved back here and we brought our kids there every summer. It's sad for me to see this chapter ending."
This spring Borash wrote his master's thesis on Paul Bunyan and its impact on the cultural landscape of the Brainerd lakes area.
Borash said he and Steve McFarland have committed to working next year at This Old Farm to make sure things go smoothly during the amusement center's transition to that site. All of the buildings and attractions at the amusement park, including Paul and Babe the Blue Ox, will be moved to This Old Farm, where owners say it will open in mid-May.
Paul Bunyan may not have a say in where his next home will be, but rest assured, he'll still have a voice.
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