Another day spent traversing the vast expanse of prairie that is South Dakota. Perhaps you thought that, having reached the northlands, we were through seeking memories of Elvis but not so. In the town of Murdo, there is an attraction called Pioneer Auto. The proprietors of this collection intend it to be a Pioneer Village-esque offering but they miss by quite a distance. This is more like the world's largest garage packed full of old stuff, some of it interesting, much of it mundane. There's precious little organization to the collection; in a space used to display antique cars, we also find an old pump organ.
In among the antique motorcycles, however, is a cycle that was once owned by the King of Rock 'n' Roll. Yes, even here in the northern plains, the Presley Pilgrimage continues.
About an hour this side of Sioux Falls is the town of Mitchell. They grow a lot of corn in the surrounding area, have for more than a hundred years, and the good folks of Mitchell appreciate all that the yellow grain has done for them over the years. In 1892, on the occasion of Mitchell's first annual Corn Belt Exposition, they set about to erect a sort of utilitarian monument to corn. It would serve as a sort of town hall, a place where a yearly festival celebrating the harvest could be held. That first Corn Palace was decorated with stripes, patterns, and designs, all made from naturally colored corn - purple, red, yellow, white - and other grains, and the practice continues to this day.
In 1905, a new larger Corn Palace was built (Mitchell was, at the time, hoping to become the state capital of South Dakota). It, in turn, was replaced in 1921 with the structure that remains today. This large hall is a bit like a blank slate; each year, new scenes, like corn mosaics, are designed and created on its inner and outer walls so that the Palace has a new look every fall, when Corn Palace Week rolls around. This being the centennial year for the Palace and the festival, they've decided to fill the walls with recreations of some favorites panels from previous years. There's a cowboy on a bucking bronc that dates from 1913, a patriotic flag display from 1916, a Mount Rushmore in corn first seen in 1956.
During the weeklong festival in mid-September, the Oak Ridge Boys, Tanya Tucker and even Myron Floren will appear on the stage of the Corn Palace, continuing a tradition big name entertainment begun in the late 1800s when the people of Mitchell paid the then-exorbitant sum of $7000 to bring John Philip Sousa and his military band to the festival. When Sousa arrived and saw Mitchell's unpaved Main Street, he refused to let his musicians leave the train until he had a check for the full amount in hand. Hopefully, Myron won't experience similar feelings of trepidation when he hits town.
I wish could be in Mitchell during festival week. There's a seven-block-long midway down Main Street and, no doubt, plenty of excitement in the air (not to mention Myron Floren) but the Corn Palace is worthy of a visit any time of year.
Continue on the American Odyssey.
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