Big Onion; Origin of "Paul Bunyan" (1904? 1906?)

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Sat Nov 24 17:57:49 UTC 2007

1904 is undoubtedly the earliest discovered date, Barry.  For many years the date to beat was 1910.

  Bunyan was a prominent topic among American folklorists from the '20s through the '50s, but now they mostly don't care. The character appeared in 1914 in an advertising booklet written and illustrated by W. B. Laughead for the Red River Lumber Co. of Westwood, Calif. Ex-lumberman Laughead claimed to have heard his first Bunyan story between 1900 and 1908 in northern Minnestota. He said the original ad campaign was a flop because few loggers had ever heard the name of Paul Bunyan.


Barry Popik <bapopik at GMAIL.COM> wrote:
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Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: Barry Popik
Subject: Re: Big Onion; Origin of "Paul Bunyan" (1904? 1906?)

>> The "Big Onion"
>> tour company states that the "Big Onion" nickname applied
>> "long before New York was called the Big Apple." This is not
>> true, unsupported by any evidence at all.

>I fully agree that their assertion isn't supported by evidence.
>I think it's a big leap to go from there to saying that it isn't true.
Bill Mullins sure knows how to get me angry. If anyone else would have
said this, I'd shrug it off. But I really thought that Bill--on this
ADS-L list, in late 2007-- had known better.
I went to the garage this Thanksgiving to search for my still-packed
slang books and picked out my copy of THE CASSELL DICTIONARY OF SLANG
by Jonathan Green. There is no entry for "big onion." So we have two
of the greatest slang scholars in the world--Jon Lighter and Jonathon
Green--and neither one of them included "big onion" in their slang
Making of America added numerous books on New York City in the past
year. If there's one single "big onion," I'd like to know where it is.
Google Books is quite significant. I checked for "big onion" and "New
York." Again, there is not one relevant citation.
Gerald Cohen published a book called THE TAD LEXICON. The popular New
York City slang cartoonist of the 1920s and 1930s never used "big
NewspaperArchive has 75 million digitized newspaper pages. Yet, if you
check "big onion" and "New York," then get the hits in chronological
order, there are only about 50 hits to go through. If there's one
relevant hit, I missed it.
Damon Runyon and Walter Winchell were leading New York City slang
experts in the 1920s and 1930s. Runyon often associated with
underworld types. A NewspaperArchive check for "big onion" +
"Winchell" shows not a single hit. A check for "big onion" + "Runyon"
shows one irrelevant hit.
People all across the country loved to read about New York City in the
1920s and 1930s. O. O. McIntyre had a popular column called "New York
Day-by-Day." Yet, "New York Day-by-Day" never once used "big onion."
Again, I'm just astounded that Bill Mullins can say, knowing the
hundreds of millions of digital resources we now have, that there is
no relevant "big onion" evidence pre-1940s (or pre-"Big Apple"), BUT
IT'S A "BIG LEAP" to say that it doesn't exist.
Just astounded.
Searching for "Big Onion" led me to the Paul Bunyan stories and the
"Big Onion River." Wikipedia states the first record of "Paul Bunyan"
is 1906. Can anyone do better than this?
4 August 1904 Duluth (MN) News Tribune, pg. 4:
His pet joke and the one with which the green horn at the camp is sure
to be tried, consists of a series of imaginative tales about the year
Paul Bunyan lumbered in North Dakota. The great Paul is represented as
getting out countless millions of timber in the year of the "blue
Paul Bunyan is a mythical lumberjack in tall tales, originating either
with an American newspaperman or with French Canadians.
Newspaper myths
The earliest published versions of the myth of Paul Bunyan can be
traced back to James MacGillivray, an itinerant newspaper reporter who
wrote the first Paul Bunyan article for the Oscoda Press in 1906, and
an expanded version of the same article for the Detroit Newsi

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