The Paul Bunyans
Westwood, CA  •  Viola, CA  •  Klamath, CA  •  Grants Pass, OR  •  Shelton, WA  •  Puyallup, WA  •  Portland, OR

Klamath, CA

“Who’s that sitting on my toe?” the Paul Bunyan statue bellows as a Danish
tourist leans on his boot. Having pictures taken on Paul’s toe is the second-most popular tourist pastime here at the Trees of Mystery. The first is, of course, fondling Babe the Ox’s wooden testicles, which are the size of watermelons.

The Paul Bunyan statue at the Trees of Mystery can talk, wave his right hand, turn his head, and wink an eye. As he says, “I’m the biggest flirt on the West Coast,” and at 49 feet and two inches tall, he probably is. He’s a brunette with a full beard and a Friar Tuck hairstyle. His eyes are closer than usual to the top of his head, and one eye looks unflinchingly forward while the other eye — the one that winks — has a drooping lid. His shirt is rakishly unbuttoned, revealing a thick mat of chest hair. He holds a double-bladed axe as a walking stick.

The Trees of Mystery was founded in 1931 as a natural history theme park where visitors could tour twisted ancient sequoias with names like the Tree of Brotherhood and the Cathedral Tree. A path winds through the park, dotted with interpretive signs, chainsaw sculptures, and press-and-play narratives, some of which were recorded in the 1930s. A speaker embedded near the Cathedral Tree plays Nelson Eddy.

The current Paul Bunyan statue is the third and longest-lived of a series of Pauls at the Trees of Mystery. The first began life in a victory garden in Southern California but was moved to Klamath after the war. He was made of papier mâche and was better suited to a drier climate; his head melted off within a year.

The second statue lasted longer, from 1947 to 1962. Trees of Mystery owner Ray Thompson designed and built it himself of wood framing and cement. This one was 24 feet tall with a tiny head and broad chest, in which Thompson planted a speaker which could be operated remotely from a microphone in the office.

In 1952, the enterprising Thompson family ordered a giant ox kit from Long Beach, California, and built a tenton Babe to accompany Paul. “An ox,” notes current co-owner John Thompson, Ray’s son, “is a castrated bull, but my parents didn’t know that, so …” The ox was a hit, even earning mention in the Prophetic News Herald’s “Ode to Babe at the Trees of Mystery,” which declared Babe to be a sign from God testifying to “an apostate and unbelieving generation.”

Statue-mania then seized the Thompsons altogether. The World’s Fair was coming up in Seattle, and Highway 101, which runs in front of the Trees of Mystery, would surely be a major route to the Fair. The Thompsons decided to build yet another Paul Bunyan, this one twice as big as the old one, ready to unveil on Easter Sunday 1962. Not only would this statue talk, wave, and wink, it would dwarf the talking, waving, winking Paul Bunyan statue in Brainerd, Washington, previously the largest animated statue in the world.

The Thompsons hired Ann Cooper, who had remodeled the gift shop, to design the new statue. Ward Berg, a retired Hollywood set designer who now worked at the outboard motor shop in Klamath, would oversee construction of the statue. The statue was constructed in pieces of steel, wire, hardware cloth, fiberglass, resin, and concrete and then assembled in place. Except when the welders caught the statue’s head on fire, construction was smooth and on schedule.

The new Paul has a control room built inside to allow its occupant to operate the statue’s hand, head, eye, and voice. In 1981 a journalist from The San Jose Mercury made a rare visit to the control room. She reported that the Thompsons had posted a sign inside the statue forbidding the operators from asking women for their phone numbers and noting that “the purpose of this job is not to fill your little black books.”

Today, John Thompson points up at the statue and says, “Go ahead, ask a question.”

“Hey Paul,” calls up a teenager. “What size is your underwear?”

“I don’t know,” says Paul. “But it’s 15 feet, 4 inches at the waist.”

backward! onward!