Build it and they will come
The Corn Palace is dreamed up in 1892, just three years after South Dakotas’ statehood, by a group of local businessmen. They desire to increase the local population in order to secure the success of their ventures. They decide to build a Corn Palace that might help convince potential residents of the area’s agricultural abundance.
The Corn Palace, in all its grandeur, and its annual fall Corn Belt Exposition grew in popularity. By 1905, the local businessmen who support the Palace determine that they need a bigger venue. They tear down the first Palace and build a second one. In an effort to challenge Pierre as the state capitol, they go all out and hire John Phillips Sousa for a week of concerts to promote their efforts. Despite much fanfare the campaign to unseat Pierre as the capitol is unsuccessful. The Palace, however, remains a hit and they expand and rebuild it a 3rd and final time in 1921.
Some say the Corn Palace is a just a bit too corny of a gym with corn on it, others call it the world largest bird feeder and some will say it’s the most a-maize-ing thing they’ve ever seen. I fall more into the latter camp. In an era were every town pretty much looks like the next, it is refreshing for a town to celebrate its uniqueness. And the Corn Palace is unique.
The Corn Palace serves the community as a venue for concerts, sports events, exhibits and other community events. It is also home to the Dakota Wesleyan University Tigers and the Mitchell High School Kernels basketball teams. In the summer months, the palace becomes a mini-mall with vendors selling local goods as a fundraiser for the $130,000 annual redecorating budget.
And this year’s theme is…
Redecorating of The Palace occurs annually with naturally colored corn and other grains and native grasses to make it “the agricultural show-place of the world”. Many different colors of corn are needed to decorate the Corn Palace: red, brown, black, blue, white, orange, calico, yellow and even green corn. Rye and other grasses frame out the murals.
A designer chooses a different theme each year, and artists design murals to reflect that theme. Ear by ear decorators nail approximately 275,000 ears of corn to the Corn Palace to create the scenes. I arrive and the panels are transitioning from the 2018 theme of Weather to the 2019 theme of Military Appreciation. The decorating process usually starts in late May with the removal of the rye and dock. Stripping of the corn murals begins at the end of August. New murals are completed by the first of October.
I am happy to see a pet-friendly sign on the Palace door. Murphy and I watch the video on the history of the Palace and peruse the vendor floor. No trip to the palace is complete without sampling some of the local goods. I am more of popcorn connoisseur and Murphy seems to fancy corn on the cob with extra salt and butter. He’s becoming more like me every day
Corn Palace Special Events
In addition to the nightly light show and patriotic music at the palace, other popular annual events include the Corn Palace Stampede Rodeo in July, The Corn Palace Festival in August, and the Corn Palace Polka Festival in September.
My visit just happens to coincide with the Corn Palace Stampede Rodeo. The event reminds me much of a Friday night high school football game. American Flags line the arena as uplifting rock and country music plays over loudspeakers. The event starts with a video tribute. Then the Stampede Lady Equine drill team performs. A prayer for the safety of the animals and cowboys is recited, followed by the signing of the national anthem. It’s satisfying to see everyone stand, all cowboy hats removed, and most sing along.
I get the sense that most people kind of know each other and any differences they may have are set aside for the night. As tonight is a time to cheer for the Cowboys when they have a good run and to sigh loudly and show appreciation and support when things don’t go so well.
Perhaps overshadowed by other popular destinations in the state Mount Rushmore, The Badlands, Custer State Park, and Sturgis. The Corn Palace and Mitchell, in general, are a bit of Americana that can hold its own with the other tourist destinations. It’s an unassuming place that represents all that is great about this country. The Palace planners originally wanted the Palace to draw people to the community and to highlight its agricultural abundance. With 500,000 visitors per year, I think they would be overwhelmed at how successful their vision was after all, ’cause I didn’t visit Pierre.