The World’s Only Corn Palace

The Corn Palace stands as a majestic, uniquely American, folk art icon on the rolling prairies of South Dakota. The first Mitchell Corn Palace was built in 1892, just three years after South Dakota became a state – when the city was just 12 years old. Early settlers displayed their agricultural bounty on the building’s exterior to prove the fertility of the region’s soil. The Corn Palace that now sits on Main Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues is actually the third Corn Palace in Mitchell, but its purpose hasn’t changed. The building is famous for the huge, colorful murals on its sides, which are redesigned every year. The 2012 theme is “Celebrating Youth Activities,” depicting various youth activities including track, gymnastics, golf, baseball, basketball, cheerleading, wrestling, soccer, hockey, tennis and volleyball.

The Murals

  • Much of the work is done by hand.
  • In June the rye and sourdock is removed from the building and new bundles are stapled there by the end of July.
  • Sketches are created and transferred to roofing paper and nailed to the mural panels.
  • Thirteen shades of colored corn are planted and hand-picked locally.
  • The cobs are then sawed in half, shaped and trimmed to fit the designated spaces, then nailed into place.
  • Roughly 275,000 ears of corn are used to redecorate the murals each year.

Corn Palace Festival Week August 22-26, 2012

‘Dock hunting’ for the Corn Palace

As he drives through the area, Dan McCloud is always searching for his elusive prey. Some years it’s where he’s discovered it before. Other times, he has to drive on, always keeping an eye out for it. McCloud is a dock hunter. “Dock,” as he refers to it, is a term for Rumex crispus, a weed that grows in fields, ditches and numerous other locations. It’s also called sour dock, curly dock, yellow dock and narrow dock. “You always look for it,” said McCloud, a seasonal city employee. “Kind of like pheasant hunting.”

The names may not be familiar, but Corn Palace visitors have almost certainly seen lots of dock. It’s used as a trim material to complement the Corn Palace murals. In addition to dock, rye and brome grass also are used to frame the murals. Each spring, crews begin to remove the trim erected the previous summer as the first steps are taken to give the Corn Palace a new look. Dock is taken from fields and ditches, twisted into a bundle and tied off with the same kind of metal ties that are used to link rebar. In the field, dock looks bright green with a pinkish hue on the leaves of its seeds. It has to be picked in June, before farmers cut it with their hay or kill it it with herbicide.

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