Visiting South Dakota’s Quirky Corn Palace

The first time I saw South Dakota’s Corn Palace, I was 12. It was our first big family vacation that took us from southern Illinois to California and 14 states along the way. The Griswolds have nothing on the Lambdins that summer.

The Corn Palace in Mitchell South Dakota was one of the first honest-to-goodness tourist attractions we saw. As farm kids, we thought it was brilliant. Each year, more than 400,000 people come take a look at the darned thing. It is, after all, the world’s ONLY corn palace.

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A Palace Made of Corn

The front of the Corn Palace in Mitchell South Dakota.Kind of a cross between the Taj Mahal and a barn, the Corn Palace serves as a civic arena and gathering space for activities big and small in eastern South Dakota. Unless you’re the starting guard for the Mitchell Kernels – the high school basketball team – no one really gets too excited about the inside.

A detailed look at a liberty bell made of corn on the exterior of the Corn Palace in Mitchel South Dakota.The outside is the attraction. Each year since 1892, the exterior of the building has been covered with 12 exquisite murals made from corn, a huge cash crop in this part of the world.

Each fall, the murals are dismantled and new corn murals are installed with a new theme. Pictured here is American Pride and a few images from Salute to Youth Activities. It really is kind of interesting to see the intricate detail that can be created from 275,000 corn cobs. Some of the detail comes from a bit of straw and grains like wheat, sorghum and oats.

Seriously, think about how you might approach such a task.

A detailed look at images created with corn cobs on the exterior of the Corn Palace in Mitchell South Dakota.

Cherie Ramsdell created these two themes and we watched her on a ladder supervising the installation during the Corn Palace Festival, an event that takes place each August as the new designs are installed. But you’ll also hear the name Oscar Howe spoken with admiration in these parts. He created the murals for 42 years.

So if you’re on your way to South Dakota’s Black Hills or otherwise find yourself on I-80 near Mitchell or I-29 near Sioux Falls South Dakota, you gotta stop in, no matter what the season.