A National Treasure: The Mitchell Corn Palace
I am often asked how I find so many interesting stories for my blog. Well, sometimes a sweet little story just whispers itself into my ear and sometimes… sometimes a story comes dancing into the room wearing tap shoes, twirling a fire baton and singing patriotic songs at the top of its lungs! This is definitely a tap shoes and fire baton sort of story. (And, if you listen closely, I’m pretty sure you’ll hear Woody Guthrie singing, “This Land is Your Land” in the background.) Today, I’m going to tell you all about The Mitchell Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota!
They’re All Ears
The Mitchell Corn Palace has a long, proud history. Originally known as The Corn Belt Exposition, the first Corn Palace was built in 1892. Why, you ask? It was built to showcase the crops in South Dakota and encourage people to settle there. People displayed their crops on the outside of the building as sort of a way of saying, “Come for the Corn Palace; stay for the fertile soil!” At that point, it was a wooden palace located smack dab on Mitchell’s Main Street. The palace was rebuilt in 1905 when Mitchell was attempting to overtake Pierre to become the capital of South Dakota. I, for one, don’t know how they lost that challenge, what with having a palace and all! Surely, it would have made a suitable governor’s mansion.
In 1921, the structure was again rebuilt, into the glorious Corn Palace we know today. The new design wasn’t just your run-of-the-mill South Dakota palace style. We’re talkin’ Moorish domes and minarets folks! God Bless the good people of Mitchell, South Dakota! They seem to live by the mantra that anything worth doing is worth overdoing and they understand that if you’re going to make a shrine to corn, there’s no reason to be shy about it!
At the Risk of Sounding Corny
The exterior decorations of the Corn Palace change each year. The old is completely stripped off and the new installed. And, although it is hard to imagine if you have never seen the Corn Palace, that decoration is created entirely from corn. Yes. Corn cobs and corn kernels, in all twelve natural colors. And a few natural grasses and grains, just for the heck of it. I am not making this up.
After a committee selects a theme, a local artist designs multiple murals. This year’s theme is “We Celebrate”. On June 4, twelve decorators began removing the old murals. The new murals will consist of a dozen scenes of holiday celebrations. What does it cost to decorate the Corn Palace? I’m glad you asked! It costs around $130,000 annually to keep the Corn Palace the showcase for agricultural art that it has become.
The murals will remain intact until the Corn Palace Festival, in August. But, whenever you can make it to Mitchell, have no fear; the Mitchell Corn Palace exterior is never stripped completely bare. There is always something to see!
Oh, and about that Corn Palace Festival… deal me in! It sounds like it will be a whole bushel full of fun! The festival will run from August 21st through the 25th. Entertainers will include Dwight Yoakam and, one of my favorite funnymen, Terry Fator. How “a-maize-ing” is that?
Admission to the Mitchell Corn Palace is free, and you can even rent out portions of the facility for your events. Can you imagine how meeting at the Corn Palace could liven up your next corporate event? And I sort of envy the students of Mitchell High School for getting to hold their prom at the Corn Palace. There’s a story to pass down to future generations! (“When I was a young ‘un, we had our prom in the world’s largest birdfeeder!”) In all seriousness, I find it all so delightfully quirky that I can scarcely stand it!
A Kernel of Truth
Occasionally, the Corn Palace has attracted national attention. In 2004, gums were a flappin’ when the Corn Palace received Homeland Security funding. At the time, “The Daily Show’s” Jon Stewart offered up some humor about the Corn Palace being the next terrorist target. I don’t care what anyone says; palaces must be protected!
In 2012, the Corn Palace was even featured on “The Colbert Report” on Comedy Central. The folks of Mitchell, South Dakota had to know they had arrived when the great Stephen Colbert spent more than six minutes focusing on the Corn Palace. Mitchellites (Mitchellonians?) understood it was all in good fun when Colbert ran a story about the drought threatening the color varieties of corn used in Corn Palace murals.
If you find yourself wanting to throw the kiddos in the car and travel across country to the Mitchell Corn Palace, you are not alone. Each year around half a million folks make the pilgrimage to the great corn Mecca of South Dakota. In 2008, even President Obama made a trek to visit the great Corn Palace. Take that, Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota! Isn’t America great? This land really was made for you and me!