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Farmers Almanac
The 2014 Farmers Almanac
Farmers' Almanac

Category — Blog

Who Was Paul Bunyan?

Who Was Paul Bunyan?

Myth-sized man or man-sized myth, Paul Bunyan and his fabled companion, Babe the Blue Ox, have achieved life incarnate in the constant retelling of stories, theater productions, anecdotes, animation, festivals, songs, and literature. The larger-than-life legendary lumberjack has been a folk hero for generations.

But who was Paul Bunyan?

It seems that many U.S. States lay claim to being the birthplace of Paul Bunyan, from Maine to Minnesota, with stories abound about his logging exploits. Even Canada has been known to mark the fabled phenomenon as its own, with the arrow pointing to the nation’s 1837 Papineau Rebellion, where loggers armed with “axes, mattocks and large wooden forks,” according to one account, joined in the opposition to English rule.

Residents of Bangor, Maine, claim the city as not only the birthplace of the lumber industry, but the birthplace of Paul Bunyan, as well. There, Paul Bunyan Day is celebrated on February 12th, the supposed date of his birth. The statue of his likeness that stands in front of the Bangor Civic Center in Bass Park is “reputed to be the largest statue of Paul Bunyan in the world,” at 37 feet high, 3,700 lbs., and designed to withstand 110 mph winds. A time capsule is entombed in the statue’s pedestal, slated to be opened on February 12, 2084.

Brainerd, Minnesota, who claims he is their native son, has a Paul Bunyan theme park, called Paul Bunyan Land, which opened in 1950, and is believed to be the oldest and first amusement park with the Paul Bunyan theme.

The legendary lumberjack is also celebrated in North Dakota, where Paul Bunyan Day is on June 28th each year. According to the stories, Bunyan was a giant man with incredible physical strength who single-handedly established the logging industry, cleared North Dakota of its forests, dug out Lake Superior, and even trained carpenter ants to help his fellow loggers. It is believed a young woman named K. Bernice Stewart was the first person to write down the original Bunyan tales. Stewart collected the stories from local loggers while studying at the University of Wisconsin in 1914.

Some historians connect Bunyan’s name with the Quebecois term bon yenne, meaning to express surprise or astonishment. The English surname Bunyan, however, comes from the old French bugne, meaning large lump or swelling. Nineteenth century woodsmen are said to have promulgated the Paul Bunyan myth, regaling one another with tales of his size, strength, proportion, and valor around flickering camp stoves on coal-black nights.

Though the genesis of this favorite folkloric figure many never be known, Paul Bunyan is said to have first been popularized in print, in James McGillivray’s 1910 Detroit News-Tribune feature, Logging Tall Tales. In 1916, a promotional Red River Lumber Company pamphlet by writer William B. Laughead, who is credited with naming the blue ox, Babe, perpetuated the myth.

With his popularity and mass market appeal the subject of discourse among historians, academics, popular culture pundits, and others, the character of Paul Bunyan’s may simply be an aggregate of loggers and logging stories. His name and image continue to sell food products, sports items, clothing, and toys, and promote media, local businesses, and tourism. So much for a man that may never have existed!

Popular Myths About Paul Bunyan:

  • Five storks were engaged to deliver the over-sized baby to his parents.
  • As a newborn, he hollered so loud it scared all the fish and frogs out of the rivers and streams.
  • Two dozen cows per day had to be milked to keep his baby bottle full.
  • A team of oxen had to pull his baby carriage.
  • He could fit into his father’s clothing a week after his birth.
  • At four weeks old, he lumbered around so much he destroyed four square miles of prime timberland.

And About Babe the Blue Ox:

  • One winter, it was so cold the fish moved south, geese flew backward, and the snow turned blue. Uttered words froze in midair. On a late night walk in the woods, Paul Bunyan came upon a baby ox, blue from the cold. He brought him home to warm by the fire, but he always remained blue after that.
  • Lake Michigan was dug by Bunyan as a drinking hole for his favorite blue ox.
  • Babe’s primary role was to pull the kinks out of logging roads.

 Watch Walt Disney’s animated short, Paul Bunyan from 1958!


The Paul Bunyan Statue in Portland, Oregon’s Kenton Commercial Historic District

bunyan-bangor 2

the 37-foot Paul Bunyan statue in Bass Park, Bangor, Maine

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Superstitions To Digest

Superstitions To Digest

The other day, I cracked an egg and saw a double yolk, the first time that’s ever happened to me. I was sure it had to mean something!

It sure does — eggs are a symbol of fertility, and apparently, getting a double yolk means someone I know will be having twins or getting married! It made me wonder, what other food superstitions are out there? I uncovered quite a few:

Garlic – One of the most long-held superstition about garlic is that it wards off vampires and evil. This originated because of garlic’s medicinal and healing properties. It was used during the Plague in Europe, also known as the Black Death, and actually protected some people from catching the deadly disease. In Romania, if a corpse was thought to be in danger of becoming a vampire, people stuffed cloves of garlic into the orifices of the corpse, especially the mouth. This was done in order to prevent evil spirits from entering the dead body.

Salt- We’ve all heard that if you spill salt, you should toss some over your left shoulder with your right hand. Ever wonder why? Superstition says that the Devil is always over your left shoulder, and the Angel is over your right (can you picture the cartoon of each whispering in your ear convincing you to do good or evil?), so if you toss the salt, it will blind the Devil and he can’t take your soul.

Bread – Superstition says that if you cut open a loaf of bread and see a large hole in the middle, someone in your life will die. The hole represents a coffin. We all know this is just an air bubble but it sure makes for an unsettling sandwich!

Rice – it used to be a common practice to throw rice at weddings (many use birdseed now), but did you ever wonder why? Tossing rice at a newly married couple is said to bring them wealth and happiness.

Hot peppers – did you know you’re not supposed to hand a friend a hot pepper? Doing so can put a strain on the friendship. You should put it on the table and let him or her pick it up. So use caution the next time you say, “pass the jalepenos!”

Black-eyed peas – In the South, they eat Hoppin’ John,  a dish made with black-eyed peas, for good luck and prosperity in the new year. The practice of eating black-eyed peas for luck dates back to the Civil War. The fields of black-eyed peas were ignored as Commander William Tecumseh Sherman’s troops destroyed or stole other crops, thereby providing a nutritional food source for surviving Confederates.

Bananas – Did you know it’s bad luck to cut a banana with a knife? You should break it into pieces. And fisherman folklore says never bring a banana on board a ship because boats carrying bananas don’t do well at catching fish. This superstition dates back to the early 18th century, when wooden boats in the Caribbean had to deliver bananas before they spoiled, and the fisherman on board couldn’t catch fish on such fast moving vessels. Another theory is that the bananas gave off gasses that could kill those below deck.

So these are just a few. What food superstitions do you know? Share them with us in the comments below!


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Jupiter Among The Stars of Cancer

Jupiter Among The Stars of Cancer

On February 4, the planet Jupiter will cross over from the zodiacal constellation of Leo the Lion into Cancer the Crab. My mentor at the Hayden Planetarium, the late Dr. Ken Franklin, used to refer to Cancer as “the empty space” in the sky to his planetarium audiences. Cancer is a star pattern whose brightest star is only fourth magnitude. This makes it difficult, if not impossible to see Cancer in skies suffering from the plague of rampant light pollution.

The night before Jupiter crosses from Leo into Cancer – Tuesday, February 3 – we will have a Full Moon. If you look low toward the east-northeast horizon around 6 p.m. EST, you’ll see the Moon slowly ascending the sky and about 6° to its left will appear Jupiter, the largest of the planets. Jupiter will reach opposition on February 6, meaning it’s opposite to the Sun in our sky. Therefore, Jupiter rises around the time the Sun sets, shines highest about midnight and sets around sunrise. Opposition is also when Jupiter is closest to the Earth for the year, appearing biggest and brightest. Look for it in the east as the blue sky darkens. When you face Jupiter, Venus is almost directly behind you.

How impressive is Jupiter this month? The giant world burns at magnitude -2.6, three times as bright as Sirius, the brightest star, which sparkles very far to Jupiter’s right or lower right on February evenings.

I hesitate to state that Jupiter can be “found” among the stars of Cancer – as if you must locate dim Cancer first in order to find that brilliant planet!

Lear more about the mythology surrounding Cancer the Crab here!

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Buffalo Is Tough

Buffalo Is Tough

Earlier this week we received 27” of snow in Maine, accompanied by 50 mph winds. After 3 days, we can now get around and life is good (or until we get another 12” today). As I was shoveling Tuesday night, I gained a new born respect for the citizens of Buffalo, New York, and surrounding communities who got hit with a major lake effect storm last November. What we had on Tuesday, they received in triple and a much heavier dose. So, thanks to those in Buffalo for reminding us that no matter how bad it snows up north, nothing compares to lake effect snow.

What’s in store for the remainder of the winter where you are? Check out our long-range weather forecasts.

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Poll: Groundhog Day 2015

Poll: Groundhog Day 2015

Every year, weather watchers from around the world gather at Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to find out just how much more winter they’ll have to endure. If Phil the groundhog sees his shadow, it means 6 more weeks of winter. Previously, Phil has only gone without seeing his shadow 17 times. What do you think he’ll see this year?

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Do You Break During Commercial Breaks?

Do You Break During Commercial Breaks?

Super Bowl XLIX is right around the corner. When you think of the Super Bowl, what comes to mind? If it’s not the game, it’s probably the ads. There is a lot interest (and publicity) in these commercials that run 30 seconds at a cost of $4.5 million each that we actually rate the best. It may be the only program during the entire year where viewers actually stay glued to the set during commercials. But, what about the rest of the year? How do you bide your time?

Have you noticed just how long commercials breaks are becoming during national and cable shows lately? Recently, I timed normal “breaks” at 4 – 5 minutes, with up to 10 ads during each break.

I also noticed that as our attention span drops, so do the length of ads – many are now a mere 15 seconds. As the cost of producing shows grows, so does the length of the breaks to pay the bills. Heck, I now see half-hour reruns scheduled in 45 minutes. With, yes, more ads.

So, my question is, what do you do during commercials? Are you glued to the set for each and every one? Do you flip channels, or do you do chores around the breaks? Tell us in the comments below!

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Happy Burns Night!

Happy Burns Night!

Across the United Kingdom each year on January 25th, people celebrate “Burns Night,” which commemorates the life of Scotland’s favorite son and poet, Robert Burns, who was born on January 25, 1759. The day honors Burns’ contributions to Scottish culture. He is best known for his work, Auld Lang Syne, which many around the world sing on New year’s Eve at the stroke of midnight.

Robert Burns

Scottish poet, Robert Burns

The evening celebration of Burns Night includes playing of bagpipes, and the reading of his works, including the poem, Address To A Haggis, Burns’ ode to the national dish of Scotland, when the feast is presented. (Read our story, What The Heck Is Haggis? here).

Many people are quite squeamish when it comes to haggis, due to it’s many unusual ingredients. In fact, when vacationers in the U.K. were polled, many admitted they wouldn’t consider touching the stuff. As you can imagine, this didn’t sit well with the Scots, as this is their national dish, after all.  I would imagine a few people here in the US might have the same reaction to someone’s adversity to the All American hot dog.

One group , at The Sykes Cottages, which promotes U.K. holiday getaways, decided to hold a contest, The Sykes Cottage Haggis Championship, inviting foodies, bloggers and chefs to develop a version of haggis that might have broader appeal.

The recipes came pouring in. Click here to see the haggis entries, and which entry actually won.

Would you try any of them? Tell us in the comments below. And Happy Burns Night!


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90 Years Ago, The Sun Disappeared Over New York!

90 Years Ago, The Sun Disappeared Over New York!

January 24, 2015, marks an auspicious anniversary in the history of New York astronomy.  It is the 90th anniversary of the last total solar eclipse that was visible from New York City.*  On January 24, 1925, the southern portion of the Moon’s umbral shadow passed across upper Manhattan, parts of Queens and all of the Bronx.  Only in these locations would totality be visible; places like lower Manhattan, Staten Island and Brooklyn would unfortunately be outside the zone of the total eclipse.

Here is a short film from 1925 showing preparations being made at Lakehurst, NJ, to observe the eclipse from the U.S. Navy Airship, Los Angeles, which was then the largest in the world.  There are also views of the partial stages and totality which was observed near Montauk Point, Long Island, at an altitude of 3,000 feet.  The footage of the Los Angeles was copied from a copy at the National Archives and Record Administration in Washington. elipse

So on a bitter cold morning (the air temperature hovered near 0° F), but under a brilliantly clear, blue sky, millions of New Yorkers who properly positioned themselves, were able to briefly witness one of nature’s greatest spectacles.  What made me think about this was not so much the anniversary date itself, but the fact that like this year, in 1925, the great event occurred on a Saturday.

I can recall as a very young boy, my grandfather telling me stories of how he and throngs of others watched this eclipse from along the East River Drive in East Harlem.

In 1970, just before the solar eclipse that swept along the U.S. East Coast on March 7th of that year, I remember attending a meeting of the O.G. (Observing Group); a division of the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York.  The meeting was held in one of the basement classrooms of the old Hayden Planetarium and the topic that afternoon was: Can you remember the 1925 Eclipse?  Many participants who were there that day provided spirited anecdotes.  Back then, the 1925 eclipse was still fresh in their minds, for it had occurred only 45-years earlier.

In 1990, when I was on “Easy 93,” WPAT Radio in New York, I asked on the 65th anniversary day if any listeners remembered the 1925 eclipse, and was delighted to get about a half-dozen responses from folks who indeed recalled that special day.  One woman wrote that she lived in Gravesend, Brooklyn, back then: “I don’t remember much about the eclipse, so much as I recall that Papa woke me and my two brothers up very early that morning, bundled us up, piled us into our car and took us on what was then (for us) was a great adventure: We were going to the Bronx!”  Another sent me an eclipse viewer—a piece of exposed film mounted on a piece of cardboard—dated January 24, 1925, with instructions on how to properly use it.  “I’ve held on to this for many years,” wrote the listener, adding, “maybe you can put it to some use.”

It is a sobering thought as I type these words to realize that virtually all of those people who saw the 1925 eclipse have passed on to the great beyond.  Indeed, to have any good memory of that event of so long ago, a person would have had to attain the age of five, meaning they would be 95 today; those few who are still with us are not likely to be around when the next total solar eclipse sweeps across the Continental US in 2017.

Certainly most of us are not likely to be around when the umbra touches NYC again on the first of May in 2079 (a Tuesday).

I would suppose that in 2017, there might be some kind of a pre-eclipse gathering of those who will vividly recall the US East Coast Eclipse of 1970.  After all, that event will have occurred only 47-years earlier.  I can already see myself talking to a group of fresh-faced young people, most of whom probably will have never been exposed to the panoply of phenomena that accompany that magic word, totality! Listening intently to me, an old-timer, describing a memorable event from an era which to them might seem almost like the Stone Age: the ’70s.

On the morning of January 24, 1925, millions of New Yorkers were eagerly awaiting that magic moment when the Moon’s umbra would descend upon their great city and briefly plunge them all into darkness.  Newspapers had been publicizing the time for weeks, so that when the big day finally arrived virtually every man, woman and child knew when that eagerly awaited moment would come.

It was 9:11.

To read about one of Joe’s solar eclipse adventures, click here!

*Note: New York City did see an eclipse on July 20, 1963, however, it was 89% visible from the city.

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Brain Teasers!

Brain Teasers!

Here are some classic brain teasers from past editions of the Farmers’ Almanac.  See the answers on the next page!

1. What food item do you:
Throw away the outside,
Then cook the inside,
Then eat the outside,
And throw away the inside.

2. What is it?
He who makes it doesn’t want it.
He who is busy it doesn’t need it.
He who needs it doesn’t know it.

3. Rearrange
The six letters in the word chesty can only be made into one other word, what is it?

4. Body Parts
Name 10 parts of the body spelled with three letters.

5. Name That Capital
How many state capitals begin with the same letter as the state?

6. Now You See It
What happens twice in a moment, once every minute, but never in a hundred years?

7. Hidden Letters
What word has three syllables and yet has 26 letters?

8. What Do These Words Have In Common?
1. Banana  2. Uneven  3. Dresser  4. Potato

See the answers on the next page! →

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If you notice a hole in the upper left-hand corner of your Farmers' Almanac, don't return it to the store! That hole isn't a defect; it's a part of history. Starting with the first edition of the Farmers' Almanac in 1818, readers used to nail holes into the corners to hang it up in their homes, barns, and outhouses (to provide both reading material and toilet paper). In 1910, the Almanac's publishers began pre-drilling holes in the corners to make it even easier for readers to keep all of that invaluable information (and paper) handy.