The "Meteor Rock" of Ideal
For the last one hundred years or so, there has been some debate about the origin of what has become known as the “ Meteor Rock “ of Ideal. One popular account is by a local resident who states that his father related to him the experience of actually seeing the rock fall from the sky.
The other explanation is a little more scientific. Suspicious of the meteor theory, a local resident sent a small piece of the rock to a geologist for analysis. The test results showed that the rock was an “ erratic “. During the last ice age, a glacier had picked the rock up someplace in Northern Minnesota or Canada and left it in Ideal when the glacier melted. Many locals are familiar with both stories and the debate continues today.
In 2001, I became the Official Paul Bunyan for the Paul Bunyan Scenic Byway Association and have appeared in many local parades and community celebrations. As a result, I began researching the Paul Bunyan Legend, Tall Tales and collecting related items and memorabilia. In the process, I recently came across an old account that was handed down by an elderly gentleman who actually worked in Paul’s Logging Camp located on Upper Whitefish. His following story may finally lay the mystery and debate to rest.
We were logging off the North shore of Whitefish that winter with Ol' Paul Bunyan. As I remember, the snows came early that fall and by late September, Whitefish was frozen over. By Mid-October we had already stacked 100,000 board feet of White Pine Logs on the ice. It was looking to be a good season but things soon changed. By November, the snow was pilling up and the temperatures had dropped to below zero at night.
Thanksgiving was so cold that our words froze in mid-air as we spoke them. We had to bring them in at night and thaw them out by the stove to find out what had been said that day. One day, Sven spit into the air and the snooze juice froze before it was half way to the ground. That night when his words were thawed, he said it was at least 80 below outside.
Christmas came and went as the temperatures kept falling. The day after New Years, the lantern flames froze solid in the lamps. Even Hel’s snooze froze in his cheek whenever he went outside! No one in camp could ever remembered it being so ungodly cold, but it was about to get even colder!
As I recall, we were awakened by Frenchy, the Bull cook, on the mor’nin’ of January 23.
“ Roll Out or Roll ’em up! ” roared Frenchy. “ Soon be day li”t in de swamp! “ We rolled out of bed into the frigid air and found our boots froze to the bunkhouse floor. Lars cussed at Frenchy for letting the fire go out. Frenchy strode over to the stove and threw open the door.
“ Look thar’ ", bellard Frenchy. " The fire, she is still lit, no?”.
We all took a look into the stove. It had gotten so cold that the fire itself had froze! Freeing our boots, we headed for the cook shack for some much needed warmth and a hot meal. We got neither. The cook fires had frozen too. The biscuits were hard as Pig Iron, the pancakes stiff as Sour Dough Sam’s cast iron griddle and the syrup needed slicing with a buck saw. Passing on breakfast, we headed for the woods under the cold light of a full moon.
We stomped our feet and slapped our bodies with our hands to try and get warm. The sun would soon be up and between the work and the sun, we were sure of getting warm. It seemed like an hour or so had passed when Sven looked up at the moon as he pulled out his pocket watch.
“ Holly Lut’fisk!” shouted Sven. “It’s ten o’clock and dat sun is late dis mor’in! ”
We looked up at the moon and then at each other. The moon had not moved since we had gotten up hours ago. It too had froze solid right there in the middle of the night sky. With the moon frozen in place, there would be no sunrise, spring would not come and it would be a bitterly cold winters night for a very long time to come. Something had to be done and soon!
We headed back to camp to tell Paul. We were relieved to find him and Johnny Inkslinger already working on a solution. After a few hours Paul called Hel’s Helson and Ole the big Swede into the office and handed them a drawing.
“ Yah, we can build dis. “ replied Hel’s as he pulled reflectively on the end of his beard.
“ Yah, take ‘bout a week I t’ink. “ added Ole. “ Maybe two at most.”
“ Good! “, said Paul. “ Lets get started.”
Paul hooked Babe to the sled and headed to the woods while Sven and Ole put us to work felling the biggest, tallest trees we could find. We knew we were building a Trebuchet, but none of us loggers knew just what it was. But if Paul and Johnny thought it would solve the problem that’s all we needed to know. So we set to work on a seemingly impossible plan.
By the time Paul and Babe returned we had almost finished constructing the giant contraption. Babe pulled the monstrous trebuchet out onto the middle of the lake. Johnny studied his papers as he directed us in the exact placement of the machine. We then hauled every scrap of iron in camp down to the lake and put it in the trebuchet’s basket. Stoves, axe heads, log chains, Babe’s Shoes and even Sour Dough’s precious pots and pans were all added to the basket. But according to Johnny, it was still not quite enough.
So we set about cutting a hole in the ice. We had to work fast as the hole froze over in a matter of minutes. Scooping water out by the bucket full, we poured it into the basket. Running down between the iron, the water froze solid in seconds turning the iron filled basket into one huge ice cube. Paul thought this would be enough, but Johnny had us cover the outside of the basket with a foot of ice just to be on the safe side.
Satisfied that the trebuchet was ready, it was time to load the rock. It took Paul, Babe and all of us loggers to pull the arm down so Tiny could put in the trigger pin. Paul and Babe rolled that big rock off the sleigh and onto the sling we had made from all the rope we could lay our hands on. After a last minute check by Johnny, we were ready to launch the rock.
We headed for the safety of the trees as Paul prepared to pull the pin. With everyone clear, Paul gave the trigger rope a mighty yank and ran for cover. Slowly, the arm began to move. The rock followed with a great swooshing sound as it picked up speed. Near the top of the arms swing the rock was released and headed into the night sky.
There was a thunderous boom, followed by another as the rock disappeared from sight. We strained our eyes to see any sign of the rock, but it was gone. We were about to give up when we noticed a shooting star. We scattered quick-like as it seemed to be headed straight for us. But luckily, it fell South of the lake with a thunderous crash.
The ground shook as trees fell and we were thrown to the ground. As we picked ourselves up, there was a low rumble from the lake and the trebuchet began to shake. We watched in disbelief as the ice gave way with a thunderous roar and our fabulous machine sank into the depths of Whitefish, never to be seen again. We had failed miserably.
“ It moved! " Lars called out. " The moon just moved! “
We anxiously looked upward as the moon slowly began moving across the sky again. Within a hour it had set and a shout rang out as the sun peeked above the Eastern Horizon. In a few days the temperatures started to rise and by Mid-February things had returned to normal. That winter became known as the ” Winter of the Frozen Moon “.
After the logs were delivered to the Brainerd Mill, we returned to Whitefish to find the fallen star. Tiny found it about half mile South East of Lake Bertha in a section of land that had been logged off the season before. The rock was half buried in the middle of a small depression and covered with a thick, sooty coating. There were a few new cracks, but the rock was still pretty much as it was before it’s trip into the sky. From out of nowhere, an excited boy came running up. He told us in detail of how he had seen the rock fall from the sky.
Now many of you may dismiss the above account as just another one of Paul Bunyan's Tall Tales. But it is the only solution that addresses both sides of the debate. During the last ice age a glacier did bring the rock to the area where it sat for thousands of years. Then about a hundred years ago, during the Winter of the Frozen Moon, Paul Bunyan and his mighty loggers used a giant trebuchet to launch the rock into the sky in an attempt to dislodge the frozen moon. The rock hit the moon, jarred it loose and then fell back to earth. A little boy saw the rock fall from the sky and land in it’s present location in Ideal. When he grew up, he passed the story on to his son. So in fact, both stories of the rock are true!
Facts are facts, but for those of you requiring more proof, try this. Next January take a look at the moon through a telescope on a still and clear night. If you look closely, you may just find that to this day, the Man in the Moon still retains the black eye given to him by the Meteor Rock of Ideal.