Saturday, January 16, 2021

Mitchell Corn Palace, South Dakota

Mitchell Corn Palace (in Mitchell, South Dakota) is one of those wonderful, unique (and a little odd) examples of Americana  that so many of us love. While I'd been aware of this place since I was a child, I didn't really know much about it. Wikipedia to the rescue!

In the late 19th Century, a number of cities on the Great Plains constructed "crop palaces" (also known as "grain palaces") to promote themselves and their products. As the idea succeeded, it spread, including: a Corn Palace in Sioux City, Iowa, that was active from 1887–1891; a Corn Palace in Gregory, South Dakota; a Grain Palace in Plankinton, South Dakota; and a Bluegrass Palace in Creston, Iowa.[3] From 1887 to 1930, at least thirty-four corn palaces were built across the Midwest United States; only the Mitchell Corn Palace has remained intact.

Notice the large panels on the side of the building (seen here in 1962), decorated with multicolored corn cobs, and what I assume is corn silk on those cylindrical features. This is known as "crop art".

Here's another view from 1962. The original Mitchell Corn Palace (known as "The Corn Belt Exposition") was built in 1892 to showcase the rich soil of South Dakota and encourage people to settle in the area. It was a wooden castle structure on Mitchell's Main Street, constructed on land donated by Louis Beckwith, a member of the First Corn Palace Committee.[5] In 1904–1905, the city of Mitchell mounted a challenge to the city of Pierre in an unsuccessful attempt to replace it as the state capital of South Dakota. As part of this effort, the Corn Palace was rebuilt in 1905. In 1921, the Corn Palace was rebuilt once again, with a design by the architectural firm Rapp and Rapp of Chicago. Russian-style onion domes and Moorish minarets were added in 1937, giving the Palace the distinctive appearance that it has today.

So much reading! Sorry.

As you can see in this probably-1950s photo, the crop art murals were in the midst of being redone. The exterior corn murals are replaced and redesigned each year with a new theme, with designs created by local artists. From 1948 to 1971, the artist Oscar Howe designed the panels. Calvin Schultz designed the murals from 1977 to 2002. From 2003 to 2017, the murals have been designed by Cherie Ramsdell. No new mural was created in 2006 due to an extreme drought. Beginning in 2018, designs have been created by Dakota Wesleyan University students. As of 2018, it costs an estimated $175,000 each time the Palace is redecorated.

The Corn Palace is used as a concert venue for many musical acts, some listed on Wikipedia. Johnny Cash thrice (once in 1968), The Beach Boys in 1969, Willie Nelson twice (once in 2003), Brad Paisley in 2004, Styx twice (once in 2005), Chubby Checker in 2005, Weird Al Yankovic in 2007, David Cook in 2009, Charlie Daniels Band in 2012, Billy Currington with Jake Owen in 2012, The Turtles with Mark Lindsay in 2013, Warrant with FireHouse in 2014, Pat Benatar in 2014, and Theory of a Deadman in 2015.

I don't know who Brad Paisley is, or Billy Currington & Jake Owen are, I'm guessing they are country acts? I'm not up on that stuff. If it ain't polka, I don't want to know.

I hope you have learned a little something about the Mitchell Corn Palace!


"Lou and Sue" said...

I must live a very sheltered life - as I have NEVER heard of these corn palaces. How fun! But in our area, the squirrels, birds, mice and rhinos would eat all the murals, in no time.

Thank you, Major, for all these fun pictures and info! As I've said before, you would make a terrific history teacher.

"Lou and Sue" said...

...and Jungle Cruise skipper!

TokyoMagic! said...

I was thinking the same thing as Sue. I wonder what they do to keep the critters away? I would think that rodents would be able to climb the side of that building, quite easily. Maybe the corn is soaked in DDT, first? If they were to use a Monsanto product, they could not only get a sponsorship, but they could rename the building, "The Corn Palace of the Future."

TokyoMagic! said...

Major, I just had to go and look at Google "street view," to see what the Corn Palace looks like today. It appears that sometime between 2016 and 2019, those onion domes were replaced with something fancier. And in 2019, the corner of the building had murals of Willie Nelson and Elvis Presley.,-98.0258011,3a,75y,32.96h,97.5t/data=!3m7!1e1!3m5!1s4hM-ZF9X5QvzDEo6I7RSuQ!2e0!5s20160901T000000!7i13312!8i6656

And you didn't mention that across the street from the Corn Palace, was a "Walk-Thru Ancient Bible World" and Children's Jungle":,-98.0255433,3a,42.5y,253.15h,89.83t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sW3__kJtSTrbEZAxp2LdHaQ!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

TokyoMagic! said...

Correction....make that 2016, that the corner of the building had murals of Willie Nelson and Elvis Presley.

TokyoMagic! said...

Correction #2....and make that between 2011 and 2016, that the domes were replaced.

JC Shannon said...

Major, I always suspected you were a polka man. When I was stationed at Offutt AFB, they closed the runway for resurfacing and moved all the aircraft to Ellsworth in S. Dakota. That's when I got to see the Corn Palace. It is really quite impressive, and a genius way to draw in the tourists on their way to the Black Hills. Thanks Major. OOM Pa OOM PA.

Stu29573 said...

Wow! I never knew about these either! I can see why popcorn palaces never really made it (here in Texas anyway) Although whole building turning into a fluffy white mountain would be great to see!
I usually only listen to Acid Polka...

Pegleg Pete said...

Great photographs today, Major – thanks! I saw the Corn Palace on a family drive out West in August 1975 when I was 8 years old. The exterior of the building remains strongly in my memory but I have only a hazy recollection of the interior: I think there may have been some exhibits about corn and farming? It's good to know that the Palace is still around and being used as a concert venue. Back in the 1970s (and perhaps still?) South Dakota had lots of great roadside Americana. I'd love to make it back to the Badlands and the Black Hills, but I haven't yet had the opportunity.

zach said...

In a story handed down through my family, they tried to make a Creamed Corn Palace with disastrous results! I know this because my family settled in the Dakotas in the 1880's which is why my Dad watched Lawrence Welk in the 60s.

Thanks for the corny history lesson, Major! I look forward to Saturdays.


Andrew said...

I first heard about the Corn Palace in the documentary A Program About Unusual Buildings and Other Roadside Stuff. (44:15 is the timestamp.) We watched it in school during our year-long 3rd grade gifted program unit about architecture. To answer Sue's question, they say in the program that birds will eat half of the corn during a bad winter. One of my dad's sisters has been here with her family, and their photo album was where I first saw an image of the fancier onion domes.

Thanks for the Street View links, TM! Did you see the smiling ear of corn statue next to the museum across the street? I like how you can see multiple years' murals just by clicking around, and when you click the clock icon, you can go "back in time" even further. Another cool thing I saw is that in Google's satellite imagery, they're installing the new domes on the roof, as you can see cranes in front of the building and the updated domes sitting in the street bordering the S side.

Great pictures too! haha - thanks, Major.

Andrew said...

Whoops, wrong link! Here it is if anyone's interested. These WQED Pittsburgh/PBS documentaries were a big part of how I formed my interests.

Major Pepperidge said...

Lou and Sue, for some reason I’ve known about the Corn Palace since I was a kid, I think maybe it appeared on a Viewmaster reel. You make a good point about critters, maybe mice and rats are constantly crawling all over the building! A dried ear of corn is like rock, but that doesn’t mean a critter doesn’t want it.

Lou and Sue… I wonder how long the average Jungle Cruise skipper lasts? It looks like it would be fun - for a while. And then it would be mind-numbing. Maybe not?

TokyoMagic!, somehow I doubt that they poison the corn first! But it does seem like they’d have to treat it in some manner. I’d imagine that South Dakota’s weather could do a number on those ears of corn as well. The whole concept of covering a huge building in corn is just wacky.

TokyoMagic!, I knew that they’d replaced the domes, but figured I’d made the Junior Gorillas read enough! I wonder if the old ones were structurally compromised? I don’t really care for the way the new ones look, to be honest. I did NOT know about “Walk-thru Ancient Bible World and Children’s Jungle”!!

TokyoMagic!, I appreciate your diligence, but nobody was going to check on your data. Well, then again, maybe they would!

Jonathan, oh yes, there is nothing as thrilling as a polka. I remember reading the “Peanuts” comic strips when I was a kid, and seeing something about “polkas, schottisches, and waltzes”. I vaguely knew what a waltz was, but otherwise I was baffled. Cool that you got to see the Corn Palace years ago!

Stu29573, oh man, why didn’t I think about making a joke about the whole building popping? I’m slipping!

Pegleg Pete, wow, sounds like you had a great road trip when you were 8. My dad would always be in such a hurry to get to our destination that we rarely stopped to see any of the stuff along the way. You are probably right about the interior and its displays. I’ve never even set foot in South Dakota at all!

zach, yes, the Creamed Corn Palace was a failure. They also tried Corn Nuts, but the supply of those was too small. Lawrence Welk, ha ha; my grandparents watched that show faithfully, even though they were ancient reruns. And sometimes I’d catch my dad watching it on rare occasions. I still remember some big-haired ladies singing “Windy”.

Andrew, I see that you corrected your link, thanks! Looks like a fun show. Sure the birds might eat some of that corn, but I might want to have a bite or two if I skipped breakfast. Just bring a packet of salt with you in your pocket! I do like being able to travel through time with Google Maps, what an amazing technical accomplishment. If they hadn’t already done it, I’d have said it wouldn’t be possible.

Chuck said...

I think I first learned of this place via my grandmother's post card collection. I think I may have mentioned this before, but she saved all of the postcards family and friends sent her and kept them rubber-banded in a stack on the windowsill in the kitchen, propped up so you could see the top card. Every morning, she would rotate the top card to the bottom of the stack so she could have a new picture to brighten the place up. This postcard would have been from my parents' honeymoon in 1963.

My parents joined us for a vacation (from Offutt AFB, JC) to the Black Hills (and Ellsworth AFB) in 2005, and we stopped to see the Corn Palace on the way home. The inside was like a big festival hall, except that there were corn murals on the walls. I don't remember the Bible World and Children's Jungle, but there was a pretty extensive doll museum a block to the south. No Zuni fetish dolls, but I do have a vivid memory of the then-two-year-old barfing potato chips all over his stroller.

TM!, thanks for correcting your data. This will be useful for the serious scholars who use GDB as a reference.

Andrew, I think WQED played an instrumental part in many of our educations. Fred Rogers...'nuff said.

Nanook said...


Let's see... A 1957 Buick; a 1953 Ford; the weirdest-looking [in this image, anyway] 1957 Chevrolet; a 1957 Oldsmobile; and finally, maybe a 1962 mercury. In the 2nd image - a 1959 Chevrolet; a 1961 Chevrolet; and driving away from us, a 1962 Ford. And, oh yeah - a 1949-1953 Studebaker truck.

I just want to know - Where are the all the corn holders-??

For the Lawrence Welk-deprived among you, you can still find plenty of full shows on YouTube, fulfilling your inner need to hear "WINDY". (Sorry, Ralna's hairdo is a bit 'tame'). You'll have to search further to find some lovely examples of Big Hair [and Bobby Burgess sightings], if that's your thing...

Thanks, Major.

Chuck said...

I hadn't heard about the discontinuation of Annual Passes. Will be interesting to see if that contributes to improving the visitor experience, although I'd be hard-pressed to agree that APHs are overcrowding the Park right now.

Also just read that Disneyland will be Orange County's first COVID vaccination super POD is being staged in the Toy Story parking lot: I think that's a perfect location, with large areas to set up support facilties, park cars, and maintain social distancing with easy interstate access.

JG said...

Major, while I knew vaguely of these buildings, this informative post has greatly increased my knowledge. Now I want to know all about the crop palaces.

It’s too bad that Gilroy doesn’t have a Garlic Palace, or a Date Palace in Indio, San Francisco did a Cow Palace though. Someplace should build a Rhubarb Palace, that would bring visitors in droves, I tell you. The possibilities are endless, Baked Potato Palace, Sour Cream Palace, Ketchup Palace, Bacon and Egg Palace, Zucchini Palace...

Putting corn on the walls is deeply weird, sort of a static version of a Rose Parade float. Imagining a corn kernel Elvis is making me dizzy.

Mom and Dad loved Lawrence Welk show. Dad preferred Myron Floren, but Mom’s heart belonged to Tom Netherton. I have a number of Champagne music albums, Major and Jonathan, we should swap. Many thanks to Nanook and Andrew for the YouTube tips!

Lately I’ve been bingeing on sea shanties, thinking of the Columbia and Thurl Ravenscroft.


TokyoMagic! said...

Andrew, I did not see those new domes sitting in the street, on the "satellite" view! I also didn't notice the smiling ear of corn statute. Thanks for pointing those out! And thanks for the link to that documentary. I am saving that to watch a bit later.

Major, I agree about the new gold domes. I don't think they look good on the building. They look too modern or "space age fantasty" or something. Now if they put something like that on Sleeping Beauty Castle, I'd be okay with it. As long as they painted the rest of the building hot pink and electric blue. Ha, ha......this isn't even a Disney post and I was still able to get a jab in at "Disney's" current color choices! ;-)

Nanook, wow....Ralna was kind of "gettin' down," there! I mean, as much as anyone was able to "get down" on the Lawrence Welk show. She's almost as groovy as E.J. Peaker! I remember watching Lawrence Welk with my grandparents, but I don't remember Ralna ever singing a solo. Where was Guy? Maybe he was backstage, hanging out with the lovely "Anacani"?

Major Pepperidge said...

Chuck, I used to have an aunt who saved postcard too, she would write to me on a bunch of vintage cards and put them in an envelope with numbers on them so that I’d know what order they should be in. She was so sweet, I miss her very much. She might be partly responsible for my postcard collecting bug! I love that your grandma rotated her collection to feature a different card all the time. I’m so jealous of you folks who have had the chance to see all these places that I’ve never managed to get to!

Nanook, I don’t know how you do it! Your car knowledge is truly impressive. Oh boy, I’m going to have to watch “Windy” later, but I vividly remember the cheesy wind effect after they sang, “Everyone knows it’s Windy”!

Chuck, like you, I will be very curious to see how things change with the end of the AP program. It’s going to be the wild west out there! And yes, isn’t that interesting that they will be using Disneyland as a vaccination site? I love it.

JG, I actually wonder if there weren’t other crop palaces. I could see wheat being used. Or dried beans. Baked potato and sour cream? I’m all for it, yum! I guess one could define bacon and eggs as a crop if they tried REALLY hard. I love the folksy, slightly weird idea of making artwork with colored cobs of corn. Only in America, maybe. I think you have already generously shared some of your “Bachelor Pad Music” with me, and I feel bad because I don’t think I have that much to share with you in return. That’s generally the polite way to do it, and I hate to be a taker and not a giver. Sea shanties! Now there’s a musical avenue I have not explored.

TokyoMagic!, I think the new domes look like some sort of chopping device. Slide, dice, and julienne! Make french fried potatoes IN A JIFFY! There’s nothing faster than a jiffy, even Einstein knew that. Oh gosh, reading about how funky Raina is in that video is making want to watch it right now, but I have to get back to taking care of my mom for a while. I’ll definitely watch it later tonight, however! Who’s “Guy”? What’s “Anacani”? Where am I?

"Lou and Sue" said...

That version of Windy is so bad that I had to watch it a couple times. I love the original version, btw.

Thanks, everyone, for all the links and laughs. I still need to look at everything, later. What fun!!

Major Pepperidge said...

Lou and Sue, yep, that's the Lawrence Welk show for you! It's such a fascinating look at a certain time, place, and mentality. So bland it hurts, and yet... I can't hate it. I sort of love it.

I thought that the version of "Windy' that I remembered had two women, and sure enough, there is another version from the Lawrence Welk Show with Sandi and Sally! The video quality kind of stinks, but I'm pretty sure that this is the one I saw in Minnesota. The song starts at around 1:30.

"Lou and Sue" said...

Major, that version is HILARIOUS! Thank you for sharing that one, too! Never was The Lawrence Welk Show more entertaining than in the present.

Nanook said...

Oh, Major-
That version is puuurfect-! In a couple of shots, the gals appear as if Siamese twins. (And notice, that in spite of all the action from the wind machine, the hair barely moves. Aqua Net... how we love thee).

Nanook said...

I forgot... HERE is the antidote for those intolerable 'interpretations'-!

"Lou and Sue" said...

Nanook- hahahahaha! I’m laughing so hard I’m crying...

"Lou and Sue" said...

Btw, I’m not laughing at the Association’s version. They were terrific!

TokyoMagic! said...

Major, I just watched that first link that Nanook gave us, and maybe Ralna isn't "getting down" as much as I initially thought. But she was gyrating just a tad, and normally whenever I saw her on the show, she just stood their calmly, next to her husband (Guy), while they both sang. The "lovely" Anacani was another singer on "The Lawrence Welk Show." She was from Mexico and I seem to remember Lawrence Welk always introducing her by just the one name.....sort of like "Cher"!

Here's the Knott's Berry Farm version of "Windy," sung by the Muppets. It's a version that Jim Henson did many, many years ago on TV (on Ed Sullivan, I think) and his son, Brian Henson, revived the sketch.....with a few expletives!

Major Pepperidge said...

Lou and Sue, the “blowing wind” interludes are so cheesy, But I guess I like cheese!

Nanook, yeah, look at how they had to sit. One is practically on the lap of the other. Maybe we need the Lawrence Welk show to air on Prime Time again?

Nanook, thanks for the link! I don’t think I’ve seen a video of The Association singing that song before. Look for the Smothers Brothers video of them singing “Along Comes Mary”, it has a crazy machine/robot theme that is wonderfully nuts.

Lou and Sue, laughter is not allowed here! Only grumbling about teenagers.

Lou and Sue, well OK, as long as you like the original, I can forgive you.

TokyoMagic!, it is clear that for Raina, that was her version of getting funky. Her feet actually moved, instead of being nailed to the floor like in most Lawrence Welk singing videos. Which is funny, since his show often featured dancers too. I always thought it was sweet that my very quiet and low-key grandparents (the ones in Minnesota) continued to go out dancing with friends well into their 80s, I’m sure it kept the romance alive! And I would not be surprised if they danced to more than a few accordion masterpieces. Thanks for the link to the Knott’s video, I have to admit that the expletives made me laugh! And I love the hip thrusts. But… why was that at “Knott’s Scary Farm”?!

TokyoMagic! said...

Major, that is a good question and one that I was asking, too. Elvira retired (from doing her live shows) a couple years ago. The first year without her, Knott's tried having an improv group in their big theater. I chose not to go see it, because of the reviews I was hearing from other people. The next year (2019), rather than bring back that improv group, they had Brian Henson's show, "Puppet Up!" which is an "adult" puppet show. They do a couple of classic sketches, but then the rest of the show is improv, with puppets. It doesn't really have anything at all to do with Halloween, but I guess they figure that Halloween Haunt is kind of an adult event, and the show is an "adult show," so they kind of sort of go together?