An eight-foot, 30-pound “Paul Bunyan”-style baseball bat that once belonged to Baseball Hall of Famer Ted Williams appeared on the PBS show “Antiques Roadshow” this week.
Appraiser Leila Dunbar, a regular figure on the popular national TV show that travels around the country to appraise people’s historic objects and family heirlooms, described the one-of-a-kind provenance of the Bangor-made bat.
The Paul Bunyan Bangor slugger, as it was called when it was made in 1958, was crafted by Bangor’s Snow and Nealley, the famed ax-makers founded in 1864. It was presented to Williams in October 1958 in honor of his sixth time winning the American League batting champion title — and for Bangor’s 125th anniversary, which was coming up in 1959.
On the episode of “Roadshow,” which filmed in California and aired on Jan. 9, the person who owns the bat said he had no idea how it ended up in his family’s possession, but that it was always on display in his grandparents’ sporting goods store in San Mateo, California.
Appraiser Dunbar said the bat was worth between $8,000 and $12,000.
The gigantic bat bears both the logo for Bangor’s 125th anniversary and a dedication to Williams as the “Paul Bunyan of baseball,” though Dunbar pointed out that he was better known as the “Splendid Splinter,” due to his tall, slim frame.
While his legendary 19-year career with the Boston Red Sox made him one of the greatest ball players of all time, Williams’ other big passion in life was sport fishing — particularly with his greatest fishing buddy, Bangor Daily News sports editor and columnist Bud Leavitt.
Leavitt and Williams met in the Red Sox dugout in 1939, when both were upstart young talents — Williams as a rookie for the Sox and Leavitt as a young sports reporter for the Bangor Daily Commercial. Leavitt wouldn’t join the BDN until 1946, after his World War II service, where he would spend the next 48 years writing his long-running and beloved outdoors column, and serving as the paper’s sports editor.
Over the course of nearly 50 years of friendship, Leavitt and Williams fished the waters of Maine and Atlantic Canada as often as possible, developing a close relationship not just as fellow anglers but as kindred spirits.
Williams was a regular visitor to Maine, famously arriving at Bangor’s Union Station on the Bangor and Aroostook Railroad, and later, via Northeast Airlines at Bangor International Airport, to visit Leavitt before they headed off on their latest adventure.
Paul Bunyan being constructed; Bud Leavitt, the former Bangor Daily News executive sports editor (left) chats with Ted Williams at the induction ceremony for the Maine Sports Hall of Fame in 1985. Williams served as the presenter for Leavitt at the event; Ted Williams on Bangor and Aroostook Railroad fishing excursion in September 1954, right after the end of the baseball season. Ted Williams tries some fly fishing from the shore. Credit: BDN Archive
As Dunbar noted on “Roadshow,” it was almost certainly during one of those visits that the organizers of Bangor’s 125th anniversary celebrations — it’s Quasquicentennial, to use the Latin phrase — arranged to give the bat to Williams as a gift.
Furthermore, it was all part of a larger effort to celebrate the anniversary with all things Paul Bunyan. Maine has long held claim as the birthplace of Bunyan, despite the protestations of Minnesotans, who claim their state as the legendary giant lumberjack’s native land.
For the 125th, Bangor not only themed the celebration around Bunyan, the city also erected a statue of him. The 31-foot fiberglass effigy of the folk hero was designed by J. Normand Martin, and it still stands in front of the Cross Insurance Center as an iconic symbol of Bangor.
Clockwise, from left: Paul Bunyan, legendary native son of Bangor, joined Hawaii in 1959 in celebrating its becoming the newest state in the Union. Placing the 40-foot lei of laurel and white carnations around the 31-foot statue of Bunyan are two Hawaiian airmen from Dow Air Force Base in Bangor, A3-C Harry Asato (left) and A2-C George Hoshino, both of Honolulu; Ted Williams is at the left enjoying a Maine meal after a fishing excursion with the Bangor and Aroostook Railroad; Mr. Bowden and Mr. Nealley look over the “Paul Bunyan” model of an ax, produced at the Snow and Nealley company in Bangor. The company would later create the ax seen on the Paul Bunyan statue in Bangor. Credit: BDN Archive
The Paul statue needed an ax, of course, and his famed giant chopper and peavey were built by Snow and Nealley, the Bangor-based toolmakers that have for the past 158 years crafted fine axes among other tools. In addition to the ax and peavey, they also made the Bunyan baseball bat for Ted Williams, according to a 1958 Bangor Daily News article. Today, Snow and Nealley is owned by an Amish family based in the Aroostook County town of Smyrna.
How such a specific piece of both baseball and Bangor memorabilia made it across the country to California we’ll probably never know — but at least we know the unusual history behind this big, Bunyan-sized baseball bat.