Sunday, April 29, 2018

the world has only one corn palace, and it’s in mitchell, south dakota

corn palace
A farmer in his fields, made of corn, in downtown Mitchell, South Dakota.

If you’re ever driving Interstate 90, going east or west, it matters not, get off in Mitchell, South Dakota (pop. 15,254), and wind through town to the Corn Palace. If you are at all like me, you will love it.

mitchell south dakota
The World’s Only Corn Palace.

Even though I had perused pretty thoroughly the website for the World’s Only Corn Palace and knew to expect large murals made with ears of corn nailed to the outside of a building, I had little idea, really, what murals made of corn might look like.

mitchell south dakota
South side corn murals.

I knew that by showing up on a Sunday, I would not be able to go inside the Corn Palace, which is an arena where some lucky folks get to play basketball, attend graduation ceremonies, dance at the prom, stuff like that. Others can simply visit during normal business hours (which are everyday during the right season but just Monday through Saturday otherwise) and mosey around looking at exhibits and displays, gaining insight into the work that goes into making these murals of corn, a new set, a new theme, every year since 1892. Except for that drought year, 2007. No new corn, no new murals. But otherwise … imagine. 1892.

mitchell south dakota
A corn mural.

But a blizzard had delayed the start of our trip by two days, so it was early on a Sunday morning fresh with spring air and a bright sun that Josie and I wandered around outside the Corn Palace. We had the streets and sidewalks and corn murals pretty much all to ourselves. We got lucky with the Corn Palace’s 2017 theme of South Dakota Weather. I love weather, and I loved the corny snowman, the summer flowers, the spring tornado; honestly, I loved it all.

mitchell south dakota
Summer flowers made of corn and native grasses.

A few birds were there loving it too, pecking at the seed and the corn, mostly pigeons, but maybe not as many birds as you’d think, and I wonder why not. Maybe if I had gotten inside (so if not for the blizzard, which hit South Dakota, closing I-90, before slamming the Upper Peninsula), I would have learned about that. How these corn murals survive the birds and the squirrels and the blizzards and hot sun.

mitchell south dakota
A tornado of corn.

Also, who started this? I mean, back in 1892, who said hey, let’s make a mural with this here corn. Two guys who wanted to start a corn palace to promote South Dakota corn and everyone just went along with it, thought it was just kooky enough to work or maybe genius? And how has it kept going, year after year, through all kinds of weather and economic times and this president, that president, this war, that war, technology, and still, hey, let’s make some murals with this here corn! Not to mention the native grasses. I think I’ll have to find me a book with some history.

mitchell south dakota
Tornado close-up.

According to the Corn Palace website, the murals start coming down “in late May with the removal of the rye and dock. The corn murals are stripped at the end of August and the new ones are completed by the first of October.” None of this happens without a big festival in August.

mitchell south dakota
Corny snowman.

I wonder what this year’s theme will be.

mitchell south dakota
The winter corn mural, complete with a snowball fight.

Could it possibly be as much fun as the weather?

mitchell south dakota
Throwing a snowball made of corn through a mural of corn.

With this post we begin a series on a recent road trip Josie and I took. It encompassed eight days, two thousand four hundred and seventy miles, four motels, one tiny cabin, and some of the most interesting art I have ever seen, most of it free and much of it—surprisingly—in the form of statues. Next week, on to the National Presidential Wax Museum!