Digest>Archives> December 2009

Paul Bunyan’s Lighthouse


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Paul Bunyan, the giant logger, is one of America’s most treasured “tall-tale” heroes. Several parts of the country, but especially the upper peninsula of Michigan, claim Paul as their own. Many of the finest stories of his exploits come from the shores of Lake Superior, especially in the area of today’s Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. But not many folks know that Paul Bunyan was responsible for one of the many lighthouses on Lake Superior.

Paul was a big man, although arguments still rage to this day over just how big he was. Even Truthful Tim, Paul’s trusted storekeeper and bookkeeper, was hard pressed to pin it down. Tim did allow that the bed sheets they bought for Paul were twenty-five feet long, which tells you something. Everything else about Paul was big too, including Babe the Blue Ox, who measured twelve ax-handles between the eyes, and those were Paul’s ax-handles, not just the average lumberjack’s.

Another thing that was big was the ship Paul built to haul lumber on Lake Superior. Fittingly named the “Paul Bunyan,” the ship was so big that the Captain needed a horse to gallop around the decks and give his orders to the crew. The officers needed a spy-glass to see the lookout in the crow’s nest, and the main-mast was hinged so it could be lowered to let the clouds go by. Yep, it was a big ship.

The “Paul Bunyan” could carry one hundred million feet of lumber had only been afloat for a few years when, just as has happened to many a ship on that great lake, a wicked Lake Superior storm did it in. It was in the fall of ‘86 when the big ship hit the rocks off Isle Royale. She sank keel down in two hundred fathoms of water. But the top of the mainmast is still hundreds of feet above the water, and ever since that day the government has made use of it as a lighthouse. It could be plainly seen fifty miles away, and remained in service for many a year.

Editor’s Note: This tale is taken from, and credit must be given to, the book Paul Bunyan of the Great Lakes, a collection of tall tales about Paul compiled and edited by Stanley D. Newton, published in 1946. We will leave it to other lighthouse experts to decide exactly which lighthouse the “Paul Bunyan” became, and whether Paul himself became the lighthouse keeper. Submitted to Lighthouse Digest by Jack Graham.

This story appeared in the December 2009 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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