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July 4th, 2011

A Celebration of Corn

nancy-80x80Crazy for corn? Author Craig Summers Black gives Organic Gardening readers a corn primer in our August/September issue (plus recipes from chef George Formaro of Centro restaurant in Des Moines), and his description of Iowa’s Adel Corn Festival will appear on this site soon.

I want to share some vintage postcards of another Midwest institution: the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota. This “cathedral of corn” has had three incarnations: The first was built in 1892, when Mitchell had a population of only 3,000; the second, built in 1905, would soon prove too small; so a third (the current structure) was completed in 1921. Having survived a major fire in 1979, it will celebrate its centenary in 10 years.

The building never looks the same from year to year, as native grasses and thousands of ears of corn are applied inside and out to create elaborate mosaics and designs related to that year’s theme. The theme for 2012, which workers began applying to the walls in June, is “Saluting Youth Activities.”

In 1914, the theme was “Dutch Scenes,” as you can see from my first example:

CornPalace1914

Second Corn Palace building in 1914

The 1929 decorations depicted the history of the state in 10-year intervals to celebrate Mitchell’s 50th anniversary:

Current Corn Palace building in 1929

Current Corn Palace building in 1929

Shortly after this photo was taken, minarets and towers were added to recall some of the details of the earlier Corn Palace buildings.

Today, besides hosting a half-million tourists every year, the Corn Palace building serves as a venue for entertainers, local basketball games, and civic activities. And a testimony to the cultural significance of corn in American life.

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