Tuesday, July 2, 2013

"The Lord is Good to Me": BIG American Folk Legends

Johnny Appleseed, twelve feet of folk-hero fiberglass

My sister and brother-in-law are far more indulgent than my parents.  If, when getting onto the highway in the backseat of our jam-packed, road-tripping mini van, I had shouted, "Wait!  Wait!  Johnny Appleseed!  We have to stop," one or both of my folks would have blindly wielded a flailing hand in my direction and told me to keep quiet; we had places to go.  Lucky for me, my sister was willing to drive nearly 15 miles to the next exit and backtrack so I could visit the 12-foot, fiberglass, effigy of one American history's most legendary characters, John "Johnny Appleseed" Chapman.

One of this kid's favorite pastimes is pushing buttons
(literally and figuratively), so we let him do the honors
of activating "Johnny Appleseed."

Is the pronunciation "rest-runt" a regional thing?
History + apple dumplings = Mmmmmmmmm!!!

Mr. Tiny really is tiny compared to Johnny!

I am the first to admit that most of my knowledge of history, music, math, and the fine arts comes from a childhood largely spent planted directly in front of a television that played old Disney movies and cartoons almost exclusively.  I won't use this opportunity to get on my "Thanks goodness old cartoons are so funny and informative because there is no way I could have relied solely on a public school education to get me through" soapbox; all I'm asking is how could anyone expect me to whistle "The Anvil Chorus," "The 1812 Overture,""Sabre Dance," and Chopin's "Funeral March" on demand without the help of classic animation?  How would I possibly have any grasp of basic mathematics unless Donald Duck took me to "Mathmagic Land?"  How could I conceivably get through the "Double Jeopardy!" round without the fundamentals of American history as presented in cartoon format?  Once again, old Uncle Walt came to the rescue by teaching me a little about my country's colorful history (with the voice talents of Dennis Day) in the cartoon classic, "Johnny Appleseed."

"Johnny Appleseed" from Walt Disney's Melody Time

I had a feeling that Johnny Appleseed wasn't the only American folk hero I was going to meet on my travels.  West Virginia, an ideal breeding ground for vivid imaginations and even more vivid characters, just has a way of promising adventure around every corner.

Imagine my excitement as I pulled off the road in Nitro, WV and found two of the BIGGEST characters in American mythology - Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox.  Approaching the fiberglass figures of Paul Bunyan and Babe, it appeared as if they were running away from the noise of the highway traffic and the oddly-close nuclear reactor chimneys (maybe that accounts for the gigantism).

Speaking of power, doesn't Paul Bunyan's beanie look a little bit like Devo's Energy Domes?

They were running; what else could I do but join in the freeze-framed chase?

Paul and Babe stand outside a rural/farming supply store with little to no explanation as to their history or purpose.  It's a good thing that wacky tacky isn't in the business of demanding explanations beyond "This is awesome!!!"  We'll take crazy, roadside statuary for any reason!

Aside from the excitement of actually stumbling upon Paul and Babe, the encounter was mildly disappointing.
Paul Bunyan was supposed to be a GIANT and this figure was awkwardly close to human size.  Needless to say
it wasn't very flattering to stand next to a giant and find that we could have shared clothes...

Would you believe that Walt Disney also had a cartoon version of the legend of Paul Bunyan?  Well, get used tot he idea, it's a good one!

Walt Disney's Paul Bunyan (part one) 

Walt Disney's Paul Bunyan (part two) 

Are there any giant, roadside figures that you pass by on a regular basis?  What's the best one you've ever seen on any of your travels?  Please let us know because we're always anxious to add them to our "list"  and take the road we haven't traveled!  Thanks!

Johnny Appleseed's Restaurant (located at the Quality Inn)
162 West Old Cross Rd
New Market, VA

Paul Bunyan & Babe (located)
4400 N 1st St
Nitro, WV


Mr. Tiny


  1. What a great trip! We stopped at the Hawthrone Munitions museum on our last trip to Vegas. Lots of really cool items in there.

    1. Thanks Mariela! I need to check that out. I have never been huge fan of Las Vegas (and surrounding environs) but I think that is because I have never taken the time to explore it properly. I'll have to add the museum to my itinerary!

  2. Not sure how Paul and Babe got all the way to west virginia I think they actually live in Brainard Minnesota ;)

    1. It's a wonder how anybody ends up in West Virginia! I guess wherever there is need for some lumber jacking, Paul Bunyan will be there. Johnny Appleseed was a real person and he was born in Massachusetts; I suppose we all want to co-opt the best parts of America's folklore!

  3. AGH! MELODY TIME!! I remember watching that at many a pre-school sleep over! We were so edgy! BTW- I am so jealous that Rae and Travis get to hang out with you and will be very excited to hear of your adventures!

    I am going out to Cali in August but not sure of the plan! My brother lives in Monrovia.

    1. Well, if your plans allow, we would love to meet up with you too. We love Monrovia - very quaint and full of cool houses!! I love "Melody Time" (and all the others); I still watch it.

  4. What fabulous fiberglass finds! I remember those Disney versions of J. Appleseed and P. Bunyan fondly. Thanks to those films I checked out a LOT of American folklore at the library. Happy memories...

    1. It's a magical combination - the cartoons, the road trip memories, and the smell of old books. I really wish that somehow I could make a decent living at adventuring!!!

  5. Patrick!!!! I loved the video. I told you little kids love Johnny Appleseed! I'm not sure if you know about the golf man figure that is on Manchester heading toward Sepulveda in LA. He isn't that exciting but I used to drive by him all the time when I lived there and every so often they would paint a diffrent outfit on im. So en vouge!

    1. I've seen him but never stopped to take a picture...there is so much that still needs to documented!

  6. We have loads of big roadside architecture here in Australia. A personal favourite would have to be the big prawn!

    1. I love Australia! I hope to come back someday and explore all of its wacky tacky!!! Thanks for the link!