We are joined this week by David Rheinstrom, who helps us parse through the history of fakelore in the USA! How do we feel about Paul Bunyan being invented to sell lumber? Does it make him any more or less a part of American folklore? Also featuring amazing accents, Olsen Twin movies, and just wayyyy too many puns!
Amanda recommends this week The Changeling by Victor LaValle.
David Rheinstrom is on Twitter @IcarusFloats. Do yourself a favor and follow him to hear some great stories!
Skillshare is an online learning community where you can learn—and teach—just about anything. Visit skillshare.com/spirits to get two months of Skillshare Premium for $0.99!
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Amanda: Welcome to Spirits Podcast, a boozy dive into mythology, legends, and folklore. Every week we pour a drink and learn about a new story from around the world. I'm Amanda.
Julia: And I'm Julia.
Amanda: And this is Episode 92, Fakelore with David Rheinstrom.
Julia: Oh, I love David. I love David with all my heart.
Amanda: Me too. He is one of our best, best pod pals and really excellent on Twitter. You should follow him at Icarusfloats.
Julia: Also confirmed fae king.
Amanda: He is absolutely a fae king, and don't let him tell you otherwise.
Julia: No, don't let him.
Amanda: Members of the seely high court, who definitely don't seduce humans and keep them in their bower forever.
Julia: Wink. Who would those be?
Amanda: That would be our new patrons, Sam, Emily, Ryan, Serenity, Dayna, Jess, and Bunny. Those high court officials who you look at and you're like, "Damn," that would be our supporting producer level patrons, Philip, Julie, Christina, Josh, Eeyore, Amora, Ella, Ashley Marie, Neil, Jessica, Maria, Ryan, Phil Fresh, and Debra.
Julia: You all have the best outfits made of only the finest spider silk and fallen leaves and whatnot.
Amanda: Man, I want to rock that aesthetic so bad. If we, for whatever reason, Julie, ever get invited to the Met Ball, I'm just saying it's not impossible, we definitely should dress like that.
Julia: Yes. Doesn't matter what the theme is. We're just going to be fae ladies and just do it up.
Amanda: We would definitely bring as our dates our legend level Patrons: Cassie, Sandra, Audra, Mercedes, Jack Marie, and Leon.
Julia: You all can come to the Met Ball with us and try to seduce all of the fancy, fancy celebrities that are there.
Amanda: We didn't plan this segue, but my recommendation for this week is actually fairy related. It's "The Changeling" by Victor Lavalle. I'm pretty sure that either Julia or a Spirits listener recommended this to me. It is a novel. It is some serious shit, y'all. It gets really real. It genuinely kept me up at night, but it is so good and completely like urban setting, fairy and fae related stuff. I could not love it any more.
Julia: It definitely wasn't me, because I think that sounds amazing, but I have not read it yet. I've got to check it out.
Amanda: Oh, my dude. Just set aside two days where you don't have to be available to anyone or thing, because your heart is going to be completely invested in the story.
Julia: Okay. All right. That sounds scary, but I'm into it.
Amanda: If you spend those two days reading a really good book and you, let's say, have a staycation week, like I'm doing right now, and you're like, "Huh, I have some time. I want to, I don't know, learn some stuff. Netflix, whatever. I've run out of things. What have I learned?" The best place to do that would be Skillshare, our sponsor for this week. At skillshare.com/spirits, you can get two months of premium membership for 99 cents.
Julia: We'll tell you a little bit more about the class that we really enjoyed this week during our refill.
Amanda: Our last bit of housekeeping for this episode would be that we got a PO box, y'all. Yo.
Amanda: We're going to be like that show on PBS that I want to call Zaboomafu but wasn't with all the millennial children whose PO Box 02134, send it to Zoom, zoom. I got there by the end of the jingle.
Julia: Okay. Good.
Julia: I'm so glad. Zaboomafu was the one with the lemur.
Amanda: Oh yeah. A friend of the show, Lucy, live blogged her experience watching Zaboomafu, and it was perhaps the best thing I've ever read in my life.
Julia: Amazing. So good. Anyway, PO Box.
Amanda: Yes, you can now send us physical stuff. Several of you have, and it really makes our day, but now there's a PO Box for everyone's enjoyment. You can send anything you want to Multitude PO Box 3241, Astoria, New York 11103. It has to be addressed to Multitude, so you can draw a little martini glass or write Spirits somewhere else on the envelope or the package. But that information, as well as a way to email us your urban legends, is at spiritspodcast.com/contact.
Julia: Yeah, send us your stories. We love your stories.
Amanda: All right. Well now I think it is time to hear some stories that may or may not be true, they're mostly not true, from our good, good friend in Spirits Podcast episode 92, Fakelore with David Rheinstrom.
We are delighted to be joined by David Rheinstrom, our friend, the Podfather, one of just our first and favorite podcast friends.
Amanda: Hey, what's up?
David: Thank you so much. Hey, folks.
Amanda: Hi, bud.
David: Hey, bud. It's lovely to be here. Thank you for having me.
Julia: It is our pleasure.
Amanda: You're one of those people that we've referenced on the show before, and so to us, it makes sense, since you're a person in our life, but I'm glad that people can hear from the source, from the mouth of the person.
David: It's true.
Amanda: I've had two beers. How are you?
David: I just got off work, so I'm ludicrously sober.
Julia: There we go.
David: But yeah, I want to challenge the listeners to guess how old I am, since Amanda thought I was old enough to be her dad.
Amanda: Yeah, I really did. I really did, buddy. There's nothing else.
Julia: There's no if, ands, or buts.
David: Just numbers. Give me a number, Amanda. How old did you think I was?
Amanda: Like 50.
Amanda: Like 55.
David: I'm 29.
Julia: I would have said late 30s, early 40s.
Amanda: Not from your face, to be clear.
David: Oh, all right. Oh.
Amanda: It was just an impression. No, no, no. I had never seen a picture of you.
David: Oh right.
Amanda: That's why when I was like, "Oh, you're what?" Oh no, just your Twitter avatar, which is a drawing of a person.
Amanda: You seemed quite institutional to me. Like, "Oh, this guy has an actual job, and knows what he's talking about, and is very nice, and knows a lot of things about food." Yeah.
Julia: You seemed like you had your shit together, so Amanda just immediately thought adult.
Amanda: We were like, "We're 24. I don't know what's happening."
David: Sure. Of course, we met and you quickly discovered I had my shit together as much or as little as anyone else does or doesn't.
Amanda: Absolutely, that is true, and also managed to beatbox "The Raven" under my recitation as a mic check.
Julia: Such a good moment.
Amanda: Which is probably top five experience of my life.
David: Certainly one of my proudest moments.
Amanda: Aww, thanks, bud.
David: I used to freelance ... Not freelance. I used to freestyle rap on top of a parking garage when I was in college.
David: There was a crew of five or six slam poets and improvisers. We would get together every couple weeks at night and just trade lines for half an hour, 45 minutes.
Amanda: See, David, let's just pause and notice this is the kind of story that makes me feel like, yeah, this guy must be 50, because you have so many stories. You have enough stories for two lifetimes.
David: Thank you.
Amanda: The name I used to ... In as much as I was an emcee, because I wasn't, but the name that I would rap under when we were in that little circle was D20.
Amanda: Because it was a joke on D12.
David: I'm so sorry.
Amanda: I love you, David.
David: I love you.
Amanda: See, Julia, this is the feeling that we had when we joined drama club in 8th grade and we were like, "Oh good, here are the people."
Julia: Here are my people.
Amanda: Podcasting is theater club for adults.
David: I must have sent you one of my high school raps, right? The antelope hunting thing?
Amanda: The text of it, yes.
Amanda: I have gotten it.
David: That's right. College was fun too, but we didn't have any fun, like all those raps were pretty ephemeral. I don't remember having written any of them down, and certainly not recorded any of them, because I became certainly more aware of how bad I was. But anyway ...
Amanda: Live and learn. Too late now.
David: Live and learn. Yeah. That's one of the many stories on my album, David Rheinstrom, raconteur.
Amanda: It's a really good example of how we construct our own narratives and how we decide-
Julia: Good segue.
David: This is a great segue.
Amanda: ... how we are presented to the world, how the world understands us, and how we're really able to constantly rewrite the past by deciding which parts of it and how to tell it.
David: Yeah. So today, I want to talk to you, talk with you about Fakelore. The idea behind Fakelore, this is the term was invented in the '50s by a professor named Richard Dorson came up with the term in 1954 or something. He defines it approximately as Fakelore is this manufactured lesson. Sorry. Let me take that again. Fakelore is a manufactured-
Amanda: We're buzzed.
Amanda: It's late. This is Spirits. It's fine.
David: I spent all day-
Amanda: That's our theory.
David: ... wrangling with the content management system at work.
David: I'm a little pool of melted butter. But I'm back.
David: Fakelore is a manufactured legend. It's presented as if it were real. It's really anything that purports to come from a previous tradition, but is, in fact, a contemporary fiction. Similar to some of the things that Eric came up with just sort of on his own during the fake or folklore game. Or sorry, Charles the Gamesman.
Julia: Charles the Gamesman.
Amanda: I don't know who Eric is.
David: I don't know who Eric is. That dashing fellow, Charles, however. Have either of you ever seen the Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne movie, "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance"?
Julia: I've heard of it, which doesn't help me in this situation.
David: I'm going to spoil it for you in the interest of saying something-
Amanda: Go for it.
David: ... that will, I hope, serve as a through-line for this conversation, which is that Jimmy Steward plays a lawyer who decides he's going to bring order to this town, because it's beset by this villain named Liberty Valance, who just beats up whoever he wants, take money from people, just exercises a reign of terror over the land.
Amanda: I love him.
David: Tom Doniphon, who is played by John Wayne, is kind of this hard-bitten rancher. What ends up happening is that Jimmy Stewart's character kills Liberty Valance in a gun fight, or appears to. What actually happened is that John Wayne's character shot him from an adjoining alleyway, because-
David: Yeah, because Jimmy Stewart's character was a terrible shot, and a Green Horn from back east, and a lawyer, and not a gun fighter. But he kills Liberty Valance in a dual, because he calls him out and he's like, "I stand for decency, and you're a big old bully," and he kills him and then goes on to have this long career in politics. He's being interviewed throughout the ... at the end of the film by this journalist who wants to get the whole story. Like, "How did you rise to national prominence, Senator? You're the man that shot Liberty Valance."
Jimmy Stewart finally comes clean and says, "I'm not. It was Doniphon the whole time." It was John Wayne's character. "I'm a fraud." He finishes the interview, and the reporter balls up his notes and throws them into the fireplace. Jimmy Stewart's character says, "What are you doing? Why are you throwing out those notes?" The reporter says, "This is the west, sir. When the legend becomes fact, you print the legend."
David: I feel like that ethos kind of undergirds a lot of what fakelore is about, because a lot of the tall tale figures that we have, and most of them are associated with various industries in the United States. Alfred Bulltop Stormalong, Joe Magarac, Paul Bunyan, all of these people are associate with different industries in the United States. Indeed, Paul Bunyan, though his story may have originally come out of lumber yard work gangs in the late 19th and early 20th century, it was the product of one guy, this Californian copywriter named William Loghead who brought him to prominence in the early 1920s in a series of pamphlets for the Red River Lumber Company of Westwood, California. So-
Amanda: Capitalism, man. That insidious source of stories.
David: Right. Dorson defined ... I should say who Richard Dorson was. He's not just some rando. He was the first director of the Indiana University Folklore Center. I think he was the director of that department from its founding in 1963 until he died in I think the '80s. He is famous for having introduced ... For a number of reasons. He devoted a lot of his life to just attacking the root of Paul Bunyan stories, but he's famous for having introduced to us the word fakelore, and also the term urban myth.
Julia: Ooh, he's my favorite person.
David: That's one of his.
Amanda: Man, it seems to me that the '60s through the very early '90s in academia was such a time of someone being like, "Hey, I don't know if you noticed this thing before, but here's just a word for it." Then that's just what we use forever more, whether it's biographical criticism, or gender being a spectrum, or whatever. I'm sort of jealous, because I feel like I want to name things, but it feels like all the things have been named.
Julia: Got to discover new things. Then you get to name them.
Amanda: That's true.
David: Okay, so here's what he wrote in 1922. Yeah, so there were a bunch of ads, and they were all kind of collected in this one volume by Loghead. He kind of wrapped it all up in this idea that, "Oh yeah, there's this mythical lumber man, this lumberjack that invented lumbering."
Amanda: Don't walk away. Hold on.
Julia: I got a good story for you, hold on. Just hear me out.
Amanda: Go with me.
David: He works for us now. Paul Bunyan came to Westwood, California in 1913 at the suggestion of some of the most prominent loggers and lumbermen in the country. When the Red River Company announced their plans for opening up their forests of sugar pine and California white pine, friendly advisors shook their heads and said, "Better send for,"-
Julia: Sugar pine sounds like such a bad drug name.
Amanda: Sugar pine, honey bunch.
David: Loghead tries throughout his book to situate the Bunyan myth in a past before himself, but it's hard to say how much of this was legend that predated his own creation, like how much of this came from people having told these stories before he started making them popular, because it had already become-
David: He kind of created a meme. Then 15, 20 years later after he had made it popular, made Paul Bunyan popular, this symbol of the American lumbering industry, he went around and he asked people, "Oh, what did you know about Bunyan." Here's something from Ester Shepherd at the department of English at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. This is a story about Paul's babyhood. "Paul Bunyan was born in Maine. When three weeks old, he rolled around so much in his sleep, that he destroyed four square miles of standing timber. Then they built a floating cradle for him and anchored it off East Port. When Paul rocked in his cradle, it caused a 75-foot tide in the Bay of Fundy. Several villages were washed away.
"He couldn't be wakened, however, until the British Navy was called out and fired broadsides for seven hours. When Paul stepped out of his cradle, he sank seven war ships, and the British government seized his cradle and used the timber to build seven more. That saved Nova Scotia from becoming an island, but the tides in the Bay of Fundy haven't subsided yet."
Amanda: Wow. Points for creativity and extremity.
David: Right. This all falls into a category of stories that we call tall tales. There are folkloric characters, and there are fakeloric characters. There are some people that are actually real, right? Let me go to my list. Yeah. There are real people, real historical figures that oral history has kind of embellished. So Johnny Appleseed, Daniel Boone, David Crocket, Mike Fink, John Henry, Calamity Jane, Molly Pitcher, and Matt Love, these are all real people around whom this shellacked veneer of legend has built up. Then there's other people, like Pecos Bill, Magarac, Alfred Bulltop Stormalong, and Paul Bunyan that are probably just inventions, and 20th century inventions at that.
David: But the question is does it really friggin' matter? Does it matter that they're fake I think is the question? Dorson would argue that they at least deserve to be considered separately, part of separate traditions. He was concerned that this commercialization of folklore was diluting its impact, kind of in the way that people that really love Hans Christian Anderson stories get a little salty when they get Disney-fied, right?
David: All the blood and guts and misery gets yanked out of it.
Amanda: I think I would argue that on the one hand, it's pretty easy to say, "Okay, in one hand, myths are invented with the fakelore aspect of things." Then there's this other class of myths that are somehow true or taken from reality or lived experience and propagated. But I would argue that myth telling is myth making. There isn't much of a difference between the stories that we choose to invent and propagate and the stories that we choose to retell. It still passes through this kind of human and societal filter of being somehow compelling, important, worth retelling. In the telling, they become something greater.
Whether the source material is a person that you saw planting an orchard in your hometown, or something that you read in a comic book, or that a TV commercial told you, the resonance is with the listener and the reteller and their experience, and less in the origin. I think that's my thesis.
David: Sure. I think, and I would need to ... I'm not a folklorist. I love this stuff, but it's not my academic briar patch, as it were. I think he would argue that because a lot of these stories that he called fakelore emerged from advertising and were literally designed to sell products, that they carry along with them nasty messages, or at least the stink of capital.
Julia: Yeah, I think in my mind where you draw the line is stories that are being told because they have some truth to them, or they teach a lesson, or something like that, but stories that are propagated solely to sell a product is kind of where you have to draw the line between folklore and fakelore. It's kind of like in the same vein as Denny's is like on point with memes, but I'm not going to start telling Denny's stuff as urban legends, because I know that Denny's is just trying to sell me pancakes.
Amanda: Yeah, and I guess my thought would be if in 40 years people are still talking about Denny's memes alongside Vine, then I would be like, "Hey, Denny's has earned a place in our culture, and that was earned for a reason." Even though it was initially created to sell lumber, or, in this case, pancakes or whatever, the fact that it still exists is significant. I am all for the academic discussion and study of the origins of these things and parsing things into different categories in order to better understand them. On that front, completely agree, but I also still think we should talk about Johnny Appleseed and Paul Bunyan side by side, because these are still things that are in the popular consciousness 100 years later.
David: Yeah, I mean-
Julia: Sure, I think but you got to keep intention in mind is the point of it.
David: I think it's basically impossible to divorce American culture from the impact of these fakeloric characters. If you ever drive through the north woods of the upper Midwest, Minnesota, Wisconsin, upper peninsula of Michigan, you're going to see a lot of Paul Bunyan stuff, just a lot of men in plaid standing next to blue oxen. There's just statues throughout. Paul Bunyan was the log of the Red River Lumber Company. In fact, it's weird, because he looks nothing like what modern depictions of him look like. He kind of has a weird rat-whisker mustache and a dumb hat.
Amanda: Was that the image that you sent us before we recorded?
David: Yeah, that's the one.
Amanda: Oh yeah. That was quite a mustache. I will link it for our listeners, but ooh boy.
David: Yeah, staking my claim there. That's my take. That is not a good look. I think that as the myth matured, he definitely got a little sexier. Anyway, the point of this-
Julia: As they usually do.
David: I have brought along ... This does not really help the narrative that I'm not an old man, but in my previous life, I used to make educational card games. Before I started working for an ed tech non-profit, I used to work for an educational game company called Left Side, Right Side Games. One of the games that we made, the last one that I published with that company was called Hit or Myth, because I'm a bad man.
Julia: So good.
Amanda: Yes. I think the puns didn't help with the whole age scansion.
David: The game is divided up into four chunks. There's an American mythology one, there's a Norse mythology section, Egyptian, and Greco-Roman. The Norse section was called Norsed Back to Health.
David: The Egyptian one was Mummy's the Word. All of them had different conversation starters. So the Egyptian one was-
Julia: No, I'm sorry. You have to tell us the Greco-Roman one, if you remember it.
David: Freaks and Greeks.
Julia: Oh my god, David.
Amanda: Yes. Best friend.
David: The American one was How the West was Fun, which I later discovered is an Olsen twins comedy.
Julia: It is.
Amanda: Oh, it sure is, David.
Julia: It 100% is.
Amanda: We could have told you that.
David: This is why people need editors. You got to have that kind of copy check.
Amanda: I know, it's one of my number one podcast how-to tips is have a team, mostly because you can't tell if your own jokes are funny. You really need someone there to tell you when they are or are not.
David: Right. Everything had a primary question, a primary challenge, a bonus question, and a conversation starter to get folks talking round the dinner table.
David: The Egyptian one was called Food for Thoth. The Norse one was called For Your Edification.
David: The western one was called Chuck Wagon Chatter, and I don't remember what the Greek one is off the top of my head.
Julia: Oh, that's a shame.
David: Nope, I do. It was Lost in the Blabberynth.
Julia: Oh my god.
Amanda: Very good.
David: This really exposes, I think, two mysteries. One, how I managed to have any friends, and two, the mystery of how I'm getting married in three weeks.
Amanda: Listen, you found your match.
David: Jillian just puts her fingers in her ears.
Julia: I get it.
Amanda: Also a good strategy.
Julia, we're sponsored again my Skillshare this week, one of our favorite sponsors who is an online learning community with over 20,000 classes in design, business, technology, and more. It's not just companies that make these classes. It's real people who are really good at what they do. I actually didn't know this for the first few weeks I was on Skillshare, but you can also become a teacher. You can be an expert in whatever you're doing. I know our listeners are creative and motivated as hell. If you have something to teach, you can also do that on Skillshare and earn money and give back to this community.
Julia: Yeah, and the best part is if you get a premium membership, you get unlimited access to high quality classes on must-know topics so you can improve your skills, unlock new opportunities, and do the work you love. The class that I was checking out this week, Amanda, is called Building Character. It's a three-part series for people who are interested in art about character design by this guy named Jessie LeDoux who does character design for Disney, Nickelodeon, and Cartoon Network.
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Amanda: I love that so much. If you want to check out that class or any of the 20,000 others that Skillshare has to offer, go to skillshare.com/spirits where you can get two months of unlimited access to their premium membership for only 99 cents. That's skillshare.com/spirits.
Julia: Let's get back to the story.
David: The way Hit or Myth works is these are all short monologues, personal statements written by various mythic figures. Your job is to identify who is speaking. I figured this would be a fun way for me to just rattle off a bunch of different folkloric tall tale type characters. The actual game itself has a bunch of different influences. There's the tall tales element. There's various Native American mythologies, and then there's also west African stuff, just to represent all the many ways, the many folk ways that contribute to what we conceive of as American mythic culture.
For our purposes, I'm just going to read because of our constraints about what we're talking about today. I'm just going to read from the ones that are folkloric, like the tall taley ones.
Julia: Gotcha. Time for some competition, which Amanda and I love.
Amanda: I'm not feeling good about my chances here, but I'm going to try.
Julia: Yeah, you're probably pretty good at this point.
David: Let's try number one. "Settle down, fella. Settle down. Don't get excited, you'll wake my necktie, and I don't want him to bite you. I see that there tornado up and swirling around that mesa, but I'll be a varmint's bedpost if that's the scariest twister I've ever seen. I've seen dust devils 14 times the size of that little runt. Don't you worry. In 10 minutes time, I'll have this entire problem all tied up. Who am I?" I can give you options, if you want options.
Julia: Please give us options.
Amanda: I'm definitely getting cowboy lasso vibes, but I don't know who.
David: Yeah, was it A, Pecos Bill, B, David Crocket, or C, Mike Fink?
Julia: Pecos Bill.
David: Ding, correct, Julia.
David: It was Pecos Bill, the toughest cowboy in Texas. Pecos Bill was raised by coyotes on the open plain, and only realized he was a man and not a varmint when someone pointed out that he lacked a tail. He went off to win a great deal of fame for his activities, lassoing a tornado and riding it all over the west until it got tired enough for him to ring out all the water, thus making the Gulf of Mexico. He wore a live rattlesnake for a necktie, and he rode a horse named Widowmaker, a horse made of lightning that ate dynamite instead of oats.
Julia: I want to marry that horse.
Amanda: Oh my god.
Julia: Can I marry that horse?
Amanda: I love it. That horse is my son.
David: You can marry that horse. This is the future liberals want.
Amanda: The west, you can marry that horse.
Julia: No one can tell me I can't.
David: Pecos Bill was made up. He was mostly collected in stories by a writer named Tex O'Reilly in the '30s.
Julia: That's a good name.
David: Edward Tex O'Reilly.
Amanda: Very. That's Harper Lee's grandfather.
David: This dude, I want to know more about Tex O'Reilly, because he was a mercenary. He was one of those late 19th century soldiers of fortune that went all over the world murdering people for the sake of American empire.
David: Yeah. Not a good man, I don't think. Probably a-
Amanda: Not a great look.
David: Certainly a hero in his day, but I would be very interested in reading, because before he wrote the Pecos Bill stories, he wrote a very well-regarded auto-biography that brought him some prominence.
Amanda: I'm always very interested to see what books were best sellers or very popular in their time, because it tells you so much more about what has sort of aged into the literary cannon, like what people were actually interested in buying and reading.
David: Shall we move on to the next one?
Julia: Of course.
Amanda: Yes, please.
David: Okay. "I'm at Loggerheads with my camp cook, Sourdough Sam. He says to me, he says, 'Boss, we've got too many mouths to feed. We'll have to dig another reservoir to fill with Johnnycake batter.' I says, 'That won't be the trouble, Sam. Trouble is we'll need to dig another hundred dozen acres of fields to grow the corn for the Johnnycakes, and I'm not doing that 'til winter's over.' Sam said I was stubborn as an ox, but I think he was confusing me with my little pet. Who am I?"
Amanda: Paul Bunyan.
David: Paul Bunyan.
Julia: Good job, Amanda. Damn.
Amanda: Yay. I needed to get it out before you, because I needed at least one.
Julia: You got it. You got it.
Amanda: That was what happened there.
David: It was Paul Bunyan, king of the lumberjacks. Wherever the pines grew thick in the north woods of the United States, Paul and his faithful blue ox, Babe, were there. Bunyan ran a logging camp at the head of the Onion River in Minnesota, so they say, and amassed quite a healthy crew of men there. Paul's cook, Sourdough Sam, needed a griddle twice the size of Congress and three times as useful to cook the loggers' flapjacks each morning, and had to sit on top of a-
David: Thanks. That one, actually, I made up, because I wanted to, and because I figured if it's all made up, it's all made up. I don't know if that's ethical.
Julia: Eh whatever, it doesn't matter.
David: It had to sit on top of a forest fire to heat up, and every day before breakfast, a dozen lumberjacks with sides of bacon strapped to their feet like ice skates slid around the griddle to grease it.
Julia: Oh no, also for the record, the Sourdough Sam is the name of the mascot for these San Francisco 49ers, I believe.
David: That's amazing.
Amanda: Oh, sports are so good.
Julia: Sports are so pure sometimes.
David: Yeah, that giant griddle thing is an element of all the Paul Bunyan stories going back to the beginning and possibly even before Loghead himself started collating them and sanitizing them. Although, to look at it now, it's not that sanitized in that there's a weird kind of racist joke in this original one. A lot of the stories around Paul Bunyan refer not only to his giant strength but to his enormous appetite and the appetites of the men at Big Onion Camp.
Julia: I will admit when you said, "Not only his giant size," and then I immediately went real dirty in my mind, and I don't want to think about that no more.
Amanda: I was going to say his domestic skills, because there's been an emphasis on cooking so far. I am very interested in the ways in which frontiersmen were expected ... the ways in which survival skills and domesticity overlap, and how the rugged, independent cowboy or explorer or frontiersman is expected to be proficient in the sort of things that we now code as feminine and in the domestic sphere. Anyway, that's just me.
Julia: I'm glad your brain went somewhere good.
David: Well, I think the way in which they try to countermand that femininity is through out-sized feats of invention.
Amanda: There it is.
David: If we're going to cook, it has to be absurd. Here's what we have from the Loghead. "There are two kinds of camp cooks: the baking powder bums and the sourdough stiffs. Sourdough Sam belonged to the latter school. He made everything but coffee out of sourdough. He only had one arm and one leg, the other members having been lost when his sourdough barrel blew up. Sam officiated a Tadpole River headquarters, the winter Shot Gunderson took charge.
"After all others had failed at Big Onion Camp, Paul hired his cousin, Big Joe, who came from three weeks below Quebec. This boy sure put a mean scald on the chuck. He was the only man who could make pancakes fast enough to feed the crew. He had Big Ole the blacksmith make him a griddle that was so big you couldn't see across it when the team was thick. The batter, stirred in drums like concrete mixers, was poured on with cranes and spots."
So he continues, "It used to be a big job to haul prune pits and coffee grounds away from Paul's camps. It required a big crew of men and either Babe the blue ox or Benny the blue calf to do the hauling. Finally, Paul decided it was cheaper to build new camps and move every month."
Amanda: Man, it is crazy how it's like, "America, things are big here, and also efficient."
David: In researching this episode, doing research for this episode, I knew about Babe the blue ox, but I didn't know about Benny the giant calf.
Amanda: I want to know everything about him.
Julia: Yeah, I was going to say I've never heard that before.
David: I'm pretty sure that Babe is original to whatever oral myths there were, but Benny is like a whole cloth invention, I think specifically because he wanted to come up with an excuse to kill a giant animal. Before you get too attached to Benny-
Amanda: David, it's too late. I'm attached.
David: It's too late?
Amanda: He's my son.
David: Oh, he died.
Amanda: Oh no. Oh no.
Julia: Oh no.
David: "Gluttony killed Benny. He had a mania for pancakes."
David: "One cook crew of 200 men ..." I'm so sorry.
David: "He had a mania for pancakes, and one cook crew of 200 men was kept busy making cakes for him. One night, he pawed and bellowed and threshed his tail about until the wind of it blew down what pine Paul had left standing in Dakota. At breakfast time, he broke loose, tore down the cook shanty, and began bolting pancakes. In his greed, he swallowed the red-hot stove. Indigestion set in, and nothing could save him."
Amanda: He died from an upset tum.
David: He died from an upset tummy.
Julia: That reminds me of the time that one of my high school ex-boyfriends invited me to the all-you-could-eat pancakes at IHOP after I had already eaten breakfast.
Amanda: Early in your courtship.
Julia: It was towards the end, actually. That was one of the nails in the coffin. It was not a fun time, because they decided we're going to have an all-you-can-eat pancake contest, and the person who loses has to pay for everyone's pancakes. I'm like, "I've already eaten, and I'm not going to lose, because I'm poor." I ended up throwing up in an IHOP bathroom, so that was fun.
David: The things we do for love.
Amanda: Things are better now.
Julia: Very hard though. I get it.
Amanda: Oh, Benny.
Julia: I get it, Benny.
Amanda: Poor Babe.
David: Here's what became of Benny. "What disposition was made of his body is a matter of dispute. One old timer claims that the outfit he works for bought a hindquarter of the carcass in 1857 and made corned beef of it. He thinks they still have several car loads left. Another authority states that the body of Benny was dragged to a safe distance from the North Dakota camp and buried. When the earth was shoveled back, it made a mound that formed the Black Hills in South Dakota."
Julia: I like that one better.
Amanda: All right. That's kind of sweet, but also, how are these authorities? Can we stop and interrogate them for just a second?
Amanda: No. Probably can't.
Julia: Hard no.
Amanda: Don't worry. It's America. It's big. Keep going. There's more.
David: Then I was reading along, and then just in the middle of this book of stories, Loghead just jumps in with a promotional pitch for the hardwoods harvested and sold by the lumber company.
Julia: Oh buddy.
David: Oh, oh, oh. This is sort of related to fakelore and also to your recent episode about the Kalevala. I was reading this book by folklorist Alan Dundes, and it references a previous Spirits episode about the Kalevala. He wrote that there are some Finnish folklorists, and this would have been early 20th century through the mid century that argued that ... What's his name? Elias Lönnrot or Lunderad was a fakelorist. I know that Alana covered this a little bit in the previous episode. They claimed that he'd invented a lot of the Kalevala that he claimed to be original oral tradition.
David: The Finnish folklorist, Martti Haavio wrote ... I don't really know how to say names in Finnish, so I apologize, but he wrote in 1954, "Kalevala is not regular folklore, but the Finnish people, including many intellectuals, preferred instead to believe that the Kalevala was a genuine folk epic, that it was the forces of romanticism and nationalism that propelled this narrative into the popular consciousness."
Amanda: Yeah, Alana mentioned that as well, especially in a time of kind of Russian occupation and sort of a conscientiousness about wanting to be Finnish and wanting to figure out what that means, a story that was close enough, and well timed, and well publicized, really hit home.
Julia: I believe Alana referred to it as Finnish fan fiction.
David: Right. The late 19th century was a very interesting time for national myths and national symbols. I'm not sure that we've really fully reckoned with the way that these icons that we dug up of ourselves in the 1850s through the '70s, how those metastasized into nationalistic forces that resulted in the World Wards. I don't know, I think about that a lot. I think about the national projects of the late 19th century in central Europe that created Germany, and then kind of created a German ethnostate and gave Nazism something to grab onto and say, "This is ours, and this is our heritage." Yeah, I just think that national myths can be very dangerous.
Julia: Yeah. I can agree with that from a historical perspective.
Amanda: Yeah, and I think underlines the importance of the stories we tell each other, whether it's the stuff that we choose to propagate or the stories that we consume that allow us to kind of think about ourselves and our identities in what an adult version of the little maelstrom of feelings that an 11 or 12-year-old's self might be. It really has power. People should be conscious about the kinds of myths that they give life to.
David: This kind of goes back to what Dorson was saying and what, Julia, I think you were saying too is that this is why it's important for us to interrogate the origins of our stories so that we don't take poison along with the oatmeal. Okay. Yeah, so I've reached the end of my immediately relevant fakelore entries in the Hit or Myth game, but I have a couple more. I want to see if you've heard of them.
Amanda: Go for it.
David: So there's Joe Magarac, which I would say Magaratch, but it's M-A-G-A-R-A-C, and that's fakelore. I don't know if y'all have ever heard of that one.
Julia: I don't think so.
David: He is the patron saint of steel workers. This name, this story first appeared in print in a Scribner's Magazine article in 1931. There is a possibility that the author that "first reported", I was going to say invented, but that first reported the existence of this story, he might have just been getting dunked on by some Croatian American steel workers in Pittsburgh.
Julia: The best kind.
Amanda: The best.
David: Because Magarac means jackass in Serbo Croatian.
Amanda: Oh my god. Whose great-grandfathers were steel workers that did this shit? I know you are listening.
David: It's so good.
Amanda: I love it.
David: When you think of Joe Magarac, imagine basically Colossus from the X-Men. He's made of steel.
Amanda: My favorite.
David: He was born in an ore mine. He works 24 hours a day. He saves people from falling crucibles. The legend goes that he was so sad when the steel mills started to close that he melted himself down just to give everyone one last thing to do with the Bessemer process.
Julia: Oh, that's so sad.
Amanda: Giving tree golem bullshit. No.
David: I know. Again, you have to interrogate the values of that story. Why is it so great that steel worker works 24 hours a day? That's terrible.
Julia: It's not. It's an industry taking advantage of its workers, but also that's still sad, and I feel bad for him.
Amanda: I know. Julia, I'm glad you shared this with me, because any object that is anthropomorphized or anything with a personality, I'm immediately like, "My friend, my son," and I get very sad when it goes away.
Julia: My sweet child.
David: This is why your boy, David, can't watch "The Brave Little Toaster" ever again.
Amanda: Oh, don't bring up that name in my house. No.
Julia: We have a lot of feelings about "Brave Little Toaster" right now.
Amanda: We sure do.
David: I'm sorry to keep introducing you to these adorable characters and then murdering them.
Julia: Why? Why?
Amanda: I ask myself that question a lot also.
David: Here's one, and he's not going to die. Have you heard of Alfred Bulltop Stormalong?
Julia: No, but I love his name.
David: Yeah, so that's a Cape Cod story. When he was born, he wasn't born so much as he washed ashore. When he washed ashore, he was already-
David: ... three fathoms tall, so about 18 feet.
Amanda: Also me. I was a long baby, y'all. I became a long adult.
David: What, were you born when you were two?
Amanda: No, I was just very long.
David: Just a long baby.
Amanda: They were like, "Wow. Wow, this is a,"-
Julia: It was one of those Athena popping out of Zeus's forehead incidents, but it was Amanda.
Amanda: Yeah, and it was like, "Wow, this baby can read, and also, she's going to be six feet tall," and it's true.
David: And the world was never the same.
Amanda: Anyway, please tell us the story.
David: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. Stormalong had a ship, a three-master called the Tuscarora, and it was so tall that it had a hinged mast, because he would need to yank on the hinge so that the top mast wouldn't scrape the moon as he went by.
Amanda: Aww, I love that.
David: I don't believe there is any kind of fate of Alfred Bulltop Stormalong. He had an enmity with a kraken, but I'm not sure if he ever defeated a kraken, and I don't think the kraken ever got him.
Amanda: Who hasn't had a beef with a kraken.
Julia: He's my favorite boy though. Just my favorite boy.
Amanda: I love that. I love that, and I love the physical presence of the sun and moon in folklore. I'm super fascinated by the study of space, but this kind of earlier human idea of that being just a thing that is reachable physically just gets at some part of me. I love it.
David: Also, the real ones that have been embellished, and I don't have a ton to say about them, except that I found a bit from ... Do you know about Mike Fink, the Mississippi boat man?
David: Oh man. I think he's one of those people where the myth possibly started with him telling stories about himself. He was just a legendary brawler and liar and marksman. He was famous for being really good at fighting and also for being very good at navigating keel boats down the Mississippi.
Julia: According to him though.
David: According to him, but also according to contemporary reports.
Julia: All right.
Amanda: From what I understand, that's a hell of a river to navigate.
David: Yeah. These are Mark Twain type stories. We're talking contemporary with him. According to Wikipedia, this is some kind of transcript of an actual boast of his. It goes like this, "I'm a salt river roarer. I'm a ring-tailed squealer. I'm a regular screamer from the old Missisip', whoop! I'm the very infant that refused his milk before its eyes were open, and called out for a bottle of old rye. I love the women, and I'm chock full of fight. I'm half wild horse and half cockeyed alligator. The rest of me is crooked snags and red-hot snapping turtle. I can hit like fourth proof lightning, and every lick I make in the woods lets in an acre of sunshine. I can outrun, out-jump, out-shoot, out-brag, out-drink, and out-fight rough and tumble, no holds barred any man on both sides of the river from Pittsburgh to New Orleans and back again to St. Louis. Come on, you flatters, you bargers, you milk-white mechanics and see how tough I am to chaw. I ain't had a fight for two days, and I'm spiling for exercise. Cock-a-doodle doo!"
Julia: He sounds like he's cutting a promo right before Wrestle Mania.
Julia: He sounds like he is a late 1980s rapper, and I love it.
David: That may just be my malign influence though.
Julia: I love it. Oh yeah. I love it. I love it so much. That is another just American thing is, "Fuck you, I'm great," and obviously destructive in the larger course of society and the world very often, but I also very much appreciate it. Man, there's just so much Americanism and Americana in these myths. I'm sure that there are listeners out there who have studied this kind of thing or who are hobbyists and read a lot about Americana and American myth-making. I would love to have your recommendations about stories and articles.
I'm going to go on J Store myself and try to look up some things, because again, especially in this day and age, it's a fraught thing to be an American, especially a white American. It is easy to just kind of disconnect with that whole shebang, but there are also real ways in which ... I don't know. Our legacy is complicated. Now our identity is complicated. A lot of the stuff that we bring to the modern world is stuff that our ancestors chose for us as a national identity. Digging more into that, I think, is only going to be helpful for deciding how we want to shape that identity going forward. Also, I want a big blue cow.
David: I got permission from Jillian to tell you about this last part.
David: I'm talking about my fiance, my wife to be, who may actually be my wife by the time this airs. Woo.
Julia: I was going to say probably.
Amanda: She will be. She will be.
David: My wife, Jillian. Her mother died a couple of years ago, and Barbara had this absolutely wild life that beggars belief, she was a brain surgeon. She was a pilot. She was an athlete. She broke horses for the racetrack. I didn't really get to know her that well before she died. The Barbara that I met was not that Barbara.
Jillian and I started talking about what's the version of your mother that we want to develop for when we have kids? There are a lot of stories about Barbara that are incredible and true. I think that they're so incredible that I started making tall tales about Jillian's mom, like the Rio Grand once got too fresh with Barbara, so she slapped it. That's why the river is so windy. As a young girl, she once out-thought a computer, and it was one of those big experimental ones from the '60s that took up an entire room. The computer was so embarrassed that it shrank in on itself. That's why your phone can fit in your pocket today.
Julia: These are so delightful.
Amanda: I want to cry.
David: If y'all can think of good myths that I can make up about my late mother-in-law, let me know, because the actual person herself was pretty astounding.
Amanda: Those tales sound like the only way to really get at the reality of what she was like.
Amanda: Because that's why impressionism is a thing. That's why poetry is a thing.
David: She was a flight surgeon in the '60s and '70s when there were no women in that field.
Amanda: It's incredible. Saying that is remarkable, but feeling it and evoking the sense of what it was like to talk to her and think of her and recon with her individuality and her life doesn't have to be limited to the details of her biography.
David: Right. Thank you.
Amanda: That's what I think.
David: I'm glad you understand that.
Amanda: That's so beautiful. Well, thank you for sharing that with us, David, and all of the other fakelore that you brought to the table, which, in some ways, is the truest kind of story we have to tell about ourselves.
David: Print the legend.
Julia: David, why don't you plug your stuff before we head out.
David: Secrets, Crimes, and Audiotape, which is another anthology, audio fiction program. That one's from Wondery. We are currently between seasons, but feel free to make some noise on the internet and say, "Hey, where's that second season."
David: Wouldn't mind that. I also work for Khan Academy, which is a free online educational non-profit. Our mission is to bring a free world class education to anyone anywhere. If you want to start teaching yourself US history, or calculus, or chemistry, or anything, or donate to our non-profit, visit Khanacademy.org. Try it another language. You'll be shocked and delighted to see how much stuff there is on there. Oh, I built the grammar section, if you want to see that.
Amanda: That's awesome. In addition to making some great stuff and helping some great missions, you are, in my humble opinion, one of the real community leaders in podcasts today and audio today.
David: Oh jeez.
Julia: Heck yeah.
David: Thank you so much.
Amanda: I am grateful to be your friend.
David: I am grateful to be your friend.
David: This does my heart good.
Amanda: That's good. Well, remember, listeners, wherever you are and however big your pancakes, you just got to stay creepy and stay cool.