- Portland Tribune - News
Every Friday in Stumptown Stumper, the Portland Tribune offers a trivia question and answer that helps you boost your Rose City IQ.
Q: Why in the world is there a 35-foot-tall Paul Bunyan statue in North Portland's Kenton neighborhood?
A: The iconic Paul Bunyan statue is as much a novel neighborhood attraction as a nostalgic piece of the past.
No one knows that better than Betty Nelson, the 73-year-old widow of Victor Nelson, the engineer who worked with his father at the former Kenton Machine Works.
Vic Nelson and his father designed specialty equipment for the plywood and printing industries, and decided to design and build the statue for 1959's Oregon Centennial fair, held at the nearby Expo Center, to celebrate the timber industry.
They picked the mythical lumberjack who - with his blue ox, Babe - is said to have created American landmarks such as the Grand Canyon and the Great Lakes. As legend has it, they created Mount Hood by piling rocks on top of their campfire to put it out.
'I thought it was a great idea,' Betty Nelson recalled of her husband's statue idea at the time. 'He asked me to find some children's books with pictures of Paul Bunyan. I think they used one of the books to design him.'
Since her husband's death in 2004, Nelson has kept Paul Bunyan nearby - her Lake Oswego home is loaded with memorabilia, including the giant yellow hard hat and safety vest construction workers placed on the statue when they were moving it to make way for the Interstate MAX line.
Apparently, the Bunyan spirit is infectious. Lauralee Olson couldn't resist naming her deli after it when she opened shop directly across the street in February 2000.
'We were going to call it Jitters Junction,' she said, using the old name of the gas station that had been there for years. 'Then we looked out the window and said, 'Why not Paul Bunyan's?' '
Portland's Paul Bunyan is one of dozens throughout the country, images customers have collected for Olson's shop over the years. Out of all of them, she said, the one on North Denver Avenue 'has got the best face of all.'
Next week's Stumper: What does one author refer to as 'the grand-daddy of all public stairways' in Portland?