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Corn Palace and popular culture

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This is a sidebar featuring the intersection of agriculture, business, and culture in a place called Corn Palace in the southeast corner of South Dakota.

Korn Palace started out long with a geometric design, but soon took a thematic approach. The most frequent themes celebrate the frontier, the plantation age, brave pioneers, the American West, the flora and fauna of the plains, the arrival of the railroad, and the Native Americans, but also Egyptian (1911), Dutch (1914) and Turkish. (1937) theme is also included. To mark America’s momentous anniversary, Corn Palace displays his bicentenary mosaics of the Lewis and Clark expedition, the American Revolution and the American space program.

A black and white drawing of a small broad corn cob.

Corn Palace is beautiful in an unusual way (these are corn cob mosaics!). This year’s outer theme is ‘Under the Big Top’. That’s because the circus will be held at Corn Palace after a pandemic-related absence. Looking at the front of the building from the west side, there is a leader (woman) obsessed with a huge mosaic on the left, and a woman on the first of four elephants connected to the right. These main panels are huge: 30 x 60 feet and each require hundreds or thousands of ears of corn. The south wall of Corn Palace features a mosaic (20 x 20 feet) of a lion galloping in a ring of fire, an aerial exchange acrobat, a circus clown, a Shriner’s hat and a gaudy figure balancing on his lap. There is a rider mosaic (20 x 20 feet). Behind her richly decorated horse is a daredevil shot down from the circus canon and a forest scene left over from previous years to mark her 100th anniversary of Corn Palace. Drawn.

Over the years, Corn Palace has featured such memorable musicians as John Philip Sousa, The Hossy Tootsie Boys, The Beach Boys, Honolulu Fruit Gum Orchestra, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Jimmy Dorsey, Duke Ellington, Red Skelton, Bob Hope and more. I was. , The Three Stooges, Jack Benny, Willie Nelson, Trisha Yearwood, The Oak Ridge Boys, Crystal Gayle, Pat Boone.

The Palace also always has a place for local artists, such as singer-songwriter Dana Jones, who was born and raised in South Dakota.

Politicians such as Herbert Hoover, William Howard Taft, local boy George McGovern, and “prairie boy orator” William Jennings Bryan spoke at Corn Palace. JFK delivered a speech at his Palace on September 22, 1960, just weeks before becoming the 35th President of the United States. Among other things, he said, “I don’t see the issue of agricultural surplus as a problem. I see it as an opportunity to use the imagination, not just for ourselves, but for people around the world.” Kennedy had in mind solving the basic problem of hunger in America (and the world), not substituting corn for ethanol or sugar. Stop by and Barack Obama campaigned on the street in front of Corn Palace in 2008. Obama at Corn Palace — Only in America.

Kennedy Obama Corn Palace.png

May 10, 1968 (left) – People greet President Robert F. Kennedy as his plane arrives at Mitchell Airport in South Dakota, where 800 people greet the presidential candidate in cold weather. Despite the late hour, 3,000 people are waiting for his RFK speech tonight at Corn Palace.
June 1, 2008 (Right) – Barack Obama gathered at Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD due to a primary shift late in the 2008 campaign season.

(Twitter/RFKennedy_CH/, Twitter/DakotaStandard, Flickr/Kathy Kiely)

Lawrence Welk made countless appearances on Corn Palace before moving to Southern California. The Champagne Musicman was born in Strasburg (current population 357) in southern North Dakota. I stopped at his boyhood home just west of Strasburg to pay tribute to the Corn Palace pilgrimage. A charming homestead maintained by the North Dakota Historical Society. It’s hard to imagine that a small, secluded place could spawn such a huge figure in American popular culture whose TV shows are still being reruns on PBS.

Mosaic vignette of Prairie Public Television in Welk Barn, Strasburg, North Dakota


Just outside Mitchell, SD, a sign directs you to the farm of the Welk family, the birthplace of the famous orchestra leader and stars of the long-running public TV variety show. (Clay Jenkinson)

A black and white drawing of a small broad corn cob.

Clay S. Jenkinson

Clay S. Jenkinson ruleHe is a humanist, historian, and founder of Theodore Roosevelt Center. You can reach him at or @ClayJenkinson on Twitter.

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