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