Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Home of the Corn Palace -- For Real

The girls and I went to the Sioux City Public Museum yesterday (hope they didn't pay anyone for their time coming up with that name). It's located in The Peirce Mansion, a huge beautiful house built by a rich real estate developer in 1893. I was pleased to hear that they are in the process of moving the actual museum to a new building downtown and refurbishing the mansion to its turn-of-the-century glory. This place was really gorgeous.

Anyway, there's some interesting stuff in the museum: a Native American exhibit, a Pioneer "house" for kids to play in, scads of dinosaur bones (mostly, apparently, found in the area around here). But I most enjoyed the stuff about Sioux City history. I haven't been terribly curious about the local history before, but then I saw the pictures of the Corn Palaces.

In the mid-1880s, Sioux City was kind of struggling along as a Western city and hoping to attract new businesses and new folks. But then a local minister known for his crusades against liquor was murdered, supposedly by some local saloon owners (although the crime was never really solved). That news went national and gave Sioux City a terrible reputation, it seems. Everyone thought this must be a violent place that allowed all sorts of questionable immoral behavior to flourish.

So the city fathers decided it was time to get proactive and give the town a new image. There happened to be a great harvest in 1887, so they decided to celebrate that with a big corn festival. The crowning event -- they built an 18,000 square foot Corn Palace, a wooden structure covered with corn and grain (think the Rose Bowl Parade with less color . . and bigger . . and stationary). They advertised all over the country for people to come visit the Sioux City Corn Festival and see this monstrosity.

Apparently, the whole thing was a huge success. They built a new Corn Palace every year for five years, each one bigger and more incredible than the last. Click here to see some photos:

http://www.siouxcityhistory.org/cornpalace/index.html

They're really pretty amazing. But the popularity of the event started to wane, and a big flood in 1892 kept the Festival from happening at all that year. That started a big economic decline in the area . . and I didn't read the rest yet.

But seriously. A Corn Palace. Where else but in Iowa? Do look at the pictures though. And as you enjoy their spendor, you can sing the "Corn Palace Hymn", from 1890:

Arise! Proud palace of the western plain.
Clad in thy gilded garbs of golden grain.
A fairer temple than the king of old,
Arrayed in precious pearls and gems of gold.

1 comment:

Carla said...

Mitchell, South Dakota still has a corn palace. Brian remembers visiting it on a road trip with his grandparents when he was a kid. Their first one was built in 1892, and another was built in 1905. The current Corn Palace was built in 1921. The exterior murals are replaced with new ones each year.

Carla