Supersize surprises

You have to talk to me for only about a minute before I slip a "y'all" into the conversation, exchange the word "git" for "get" or, by some other linguistic faux pas, reveal the truth - I am a transplant from the South.

The Paul Bunyan statue

You have to talk to me for only about a minute before I slip a "y'all" into the conversation, exchange the word "git" for "get" or, by some other linguistic faux pas, reveal the truth - I am a transplant from the South.

I moved here with my wife, a native of northwestern Minnesota, and our children about six months ago. And the people of Fargo-Moorhead have been nothing but kind and accepting of my alien language and ways.

But, the roots of this Louisiana-born, Tennessee-reared man run deep, and the old heart longs for the sweet tea, catfish and coconut cake of home.

Yet, despite the heartache, my new home in the metro area does offer my soul this consolation - big stuff. I have a thing for the oversize roadside statues of culturally iconic animals (such as the loon in Vergas), fictional creatures (the sea serpent in Crosby),

little-known legendary people (i.e., any of the billions of Paul Bunyans around) and random objects (such as the world's second-largest hockey stick in Eveleth) that dot America's highways. Indeed, when it comes to big stuff, Minnesota is king.


"I believe Minnesota has, by far, the greatest concentration of big stuff in the U.S.," said Catherine Oakeson, publisher of a Web site that documents her and others' visits to large roadside attractions ( ).

Canada is the "only other place in the world that can even come close," she said. "It really makes me wonder if there's a connection between long, cold winters and creative endeavors in oversized cement."

And while some such statues in other parts of the country are falling into disrepair, "Minnesota seems to be fairly vibrant and caring about their statues and how they relate to their civic identity," said Doug Kirby, publisher of

So, while I may have lost the grandeur of Tennessee's Smoky Mountains, I gained the grandeur of the world's largest crow in Belgrade. An even trade it's not, but Minnesota did throw in some lefse with butter and brown sugar.

Given the plethora of large attractions in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, my family and I had a number of routes from which to choose for our big stuff road trip. We opted for a route that took us south and east to Rothsay, then to points back north and further east until we arrived at our final destination in Akeley.

From a road-trip perspective, this route has a lot going for it. There's big bang for the mileage buck. You will see seven big things for three hours of driving. That's one big thing for every 25 minutes of driving.

So, on a Thursday morning, my wife and I loaded our twin 3-year-old daughters, clad in Elmo shirts, into the minivan. And, despite rainy, overcast skies, we hit the trail.

Prairie chicken


Interstate 94 east took us to our first stop, the prairie chicken of Rothsay. This 13-foot-tall, 9,000-pound, steel and concrete bird is just to the right of the exit ramp.

Rothsay was designated the "Prairie Chicken Capital of Minnesota" by the state's Department of Natural Resources in 1975. The statue was unveiled the next year. According to the city, the prairie area around Rothsay is still home to nesting broods of prairie chickens, who are known for the "booming" sound they make during their courtship dance.

The statue served as a way to draw attention to the town, said Roberta Ouse, who co-chaired the committee that spearheaded efforts to secure the designation. "And it's still doing it today."

Old Glory snapped and rustled nobly on a flagpole nearby as our family lined up for the obligatory snapshot in front of the gargantuan bird. The scene could be more American only if the giant chicken were fried.


From Rothsay, the trip heads north and further east to Pelican Rapids. The city takes its name from the rapids that were on Pelican River before the dam was built and from the pelicans inhabiting the area.

And so, appropriately, Pelican Pete stands 15½ feet tall and keeps a watchful eye on the river and the nearby Mill Pond Dam. The plaster-and-steel bird was set up in 1957 at a cost of $1,200. More than 120 bags of cement were used to create the concrete base upon which Pete stands.

Tidy downtown shops, the waterfall over the dam and a peaceful, green park make the stop a good place to stretch your legs before hitting the trail again.


But the off-again, on-again rain that threatened us the whole morning was on again in Pelican Rapids. So we ducked in for lunch. Given our late start, that wasn't so bad. We picked up a pretty good burger at the Muddy Moose Coffee & Wine Bistro. And, by the time we were done there, the rain had subsided and we went in for the photo. Say "cheese!"


When you leave Pelican Rapids, the way gets a bit less commercial and a bit quainter. The road rises, falls and bends as it passes between Lake Crystal and Lake Lida on the thin strip of land that separates the two.

Within minutes, you arrive at the Vergas loon. Built in 1958, the loon is 20 feet of steel, plaster and concrete. It stands strong, majestic and, somehow, maybe even a little lonely, as it overlooks Long Lake.

The loon is in a small park area where you can also catch a glimpse of a real loon. A small beach and playground equipment are nearby in case that last package of Skittles induced a mouth-foaming sugar high in your children. Precious restrooms are also available, a must for family accord on road trips.


About 10 minutes up the road, you'll hit Frazee, traditionally known as a turkey-farming center. And there, atop the highest point in town, stands Big Tom. He's is one of the more professional-looking statues we saw on our trip (and there's nothing worse than an unprofessional turkey). The approximately 20-foot gobbler is made of formed fiberglass and boasts a glossy finish.

It isn't Frazee's first such statue. In fact, the previous Frazee turkey once appeared on "Good Morning, America." But after some years of service, the first bird was rendered a smoke-billowing ball of fire when efforts to cut through one of his legs with a cutting torch went awry and the poor turkey was set aflame. In fairness, the turkey had been damaged by vandals and was being replaced anyway.


Be sure to keep an eye out for the much smaller, but still larger-than-life turkey in town. It was just enough unplanned joy to make me feel that I'd cheated the cosmos a little.

St. Urho

Not too far outside Frazee I began to notice that the landscape was changing again with more woods, brush and evergreens. In fact, our next stop was the charming town of Menahga, known as the "Gateway to the Pines."

But, more to our point, it's home to St. Urho, the oddest, yet perhaps most intriguing, of the sites we visited. The tan-colored statue stands high above the rock-covered pedestal upon which he stands and has Urho holding what appears to be a pitchfork with a giant grasshopper on the end.

According to information at the statue site, ages ago, grasshoppers were threatening the wild grape harvest in Finland. Urho banished the creatures with words translated "Grasshopper, grasshopper, go away." No explanation is offered as to why he has impaled a giant grasshopper with a pitchfork.

Not to offend his faithful, but Forum research indicates that Urho was invented by a store manager in the 1950s.

The current statue is actually a fiberglass replica of the original St. Urho, which was made of wood by chain saw artist Jerry Ward. He started the six-month project in the winter of 1982. The original statue is stored in the Menahga cemetery mausoleum.

Tiger Muskie


Nevis, our next destination, claims to have the world's largest tiger muskie. The Nevis fish measures more than 20 feet long. And, for my part, I can't say I've seen one bigger than that so I'm taking them at their word.

A tiger muskie, by the way, is the sterile offspring of a muskellunge and a northern pike, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Web site.

The creature was constructed in the late 1940s when local businessmen were looking to draw summer tourists to town. They considered a log cabin but opted for the fish.

And I would be remiss if I didn't mention that some of the best pizza I have ever had in my life is in Nevis and within walking distance of the tiger muskie. (Come to think of it, I believe everything in Nevis is within walking distance of the tiger muskie.)

The personal Italian meat pizza I ordered at Steve & Jill's Steak & Pizza was literally covered in meat, then covered in cheese, with more meat on top. All that yumminess was cradled in what looked to be made-from-scratch crust. I was shocked at how good it was. My wife ordered a chicken Alfredo pizza, complete with large chunks of fresh tomato on top.

Paul Bunyan

There are multiple Paul Bunyan statues in Minnesota, but only one I know of at which you can sit in Paul's hand for a photo.

The Paul Bunyan statue we visited in Akeley is about 33 feet tall, according to Dean Krotzer, 76, who directed the statue's construction and says he owns the copyright. lists the height at 20 feet, saying it might be the "claimed 33 feet, if he was standing."


At any rate, it's big. The statue was built in 1984, and its three-story frame contains six tons of steel, Krotzer said.

The statue is coated in fiberglass, and his beard was made from fiberglass-soaked hay-bailing twine.

And just like that, our little big stuff road trip came to an end. We packed the kids back in their car seats and returned to our boring life full of normal-sized things. Sigh.

Good night, gentle giants.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Shane Mercer at (701) 451-5734

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