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  • Writer's pictureHelen Avaient

Pop into the world's only Corn Palace in Mitchell South Dakota

My list of unusual places to visit would have to include the strange but oddly enticing Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota. Travelers often bypass Mitchell on their way to other South Dakota tourist destinations such as Sturgis, Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse or the Black Hills. Honestly, it was definitely worth the detour into Mitchell to see this amazing creation.

Each year since 1892, the concrete building has had its facade redecorated in murals made entirely out of corn, local grasses and local grains. It is estimated to cost over $175,000 each year to decorate. This was originally done to attract tourists to the town. In 2020 the population of Mitchell was 15,660. Over 500,000 people visited the corn palace in the same year. Indeed, Mitchell is often called "the Palace City". There is a Corn Palace Festival held once a year, at the end of August.

Surprisingly, in the late 1800s, at least thirty-four towns in the USA mid-west, built corn palaces to attract tourists and promote the products of their area, and to attract new citizens. Today, the only one still standing is the one in Mitchell, and it has undergone several changes since it was first built over 100 years ago. In 1937 distinctive Moorish minarets and Russian-inspired domes were added, giving it a more "palace" feel.

Inside the palace is a large auditorium with additional corn cob constructed murals, each depicting different historical events of the area.

a picture made out of different shades of corn cobs shows historical scenes of a Native American sharing a pipe with a white man and a horse and farmer plowing the land

Various artists have planned the different facades each year, and since 2018 Dakota Wesleyan University students have had the honor. Mitchell farmers grow corn in more than 12 different naturally occurring shades. These corn cobs are split in two lengthways and nailed to the exterior to form the murals. Around 1.5 million nails are used. Examples include the 2004 Lewis and Clark display, and the 2016 Rock of Ages display. 2022's theme was circus inspired.

a board with a cartoon lion has a printed thought bubble over his head. This tells how the University students decorate the outside of the Corn Palace. Surrounding the lion are different colours of corn cobs and a childish copy above of the minarets found on the outside of the building

The only year since 1892 that the corn palace hasn't been decorated was in 2006. A severe drought in the area that year meant there was not enough product to use. Postcards can be purchased in the onsite gift shop that show the various facades over the years.

postcards on a display board have photos of the different years of the outside of the Corn Palace. There are also postcards of South Dakota waterfalls and bison.

Entry into the corn palace itself is free. In the foyer are large columns made to look like corn cobs.

inside the corn palace, the pillars are made to represent corn cobs. They are all different colours, yellows, reds, browns. The material is stamped plaster with bright paint and covered in a shiny transparent material.

Along one wall inside are several posters that present a timeline detailing events and photos of South Dakota and the world. It is well presented and only takes around ten minutes to read it in full.

on a wall is a pictorial and information timeline of the corn palace and things that were happening in the world at the same time as various redecorative years.

The large onsite hall is used for various functions, including a sports arena, convention center, marketplace and music venue. There are corn products that can be purchased on site.

a bag of Corn Palace yellow popcorn has a picture of the palace on the front of it. Next to the material bag are containers of Ass Kickin Bacon popcorn seasoning. That packet has a cartoon picture of a donkey kicking up its back legs and doing a handstand on his front legs. He is smiling.

When I was at school in Iowa (also a corn raising state), we would raise funds by making and selling popcorn balls. They were made of freshly made popcorn coated in a sticky mixture made of sugar, corn syrup, butter, vanilla and food coloring. These were all mixed together and rolled into large fist sized balls. High on calories and low in nutritional value, they were delicious and a great way to raise money as people loved them. Similar products can be bought at the Corn Palace today.

a Corn Palace popcorn ball in a plastic bag with a sticker on it promoting the business. The corn ball is green and yellow coated popcorn.

Just as a side note (especially for those unusual places to travel) Sac City in Iowa holds the fame of having the largest popcorn ball in the world. It is over 8 feet in diameter and weighs just under 10,000 pounds! It took over 900 pounds of popcorn, 2,500 pounds of sugar and 1,400 pounds of syrup to make. Road trip anyone?

Across the road from the palace in Mitchell is a corn cob mascot that is a popular photo spot. The mascot is affectionately called "Cornelius". What else?

author helen posing with a silly grin on her face, next to the 6 and a half foot cornelius corn cob statue. the green corn cob has a cartoonish smile and large eyes on his yellow cob. The sides of the statue are bright green leaves.

The Corn Palace can take around an hour or so to visit, unless a market is on, and the delicious locally grown and made produce can tempt you to stay longer!

The Corn Palace

604 N Main St, Mitchell, South Dakota USA

Happy Travels!

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