I'm on vacation. But no worries; I've planned ahead, and am leaving you with visits to a dozen disparate places, their only commonality being they're in America and I visited them and took photos. Yesterday we hit the Spam Museum and today we visit another popular tourist spot, continuing to use as a guide my unpublished and probably unpublishable travel memoir, "The Quest for Pie."
The Mitchell Corn Palace is not a palace made of corn — they tend to fudge on that fact, so I want to be clear, since the three of us were all deceived by the name, gulled into expecting a structure made of corncobs.
“Why’s it called the ‘Corn Palace?’’ Ross asked, as we sat on metal chairs, waiting for the introductory film to begin.
“Because it’s made of corn,” I said. He looked around the room.
“The walls aren’t.”
“Well, I hope the load-bearing walls aren’t, but outside…”
It isn’t much of a palace either, more of a grange hall with delusions of grandeur. Outside, an elaborate square brick building, festooned with Moorish onion domes and minarets and columns, yellow and green pennants snapping from the roof and murals installed on its façade — a new crop every year — made of 275,000 ears of dried corn. The murals are keyed to local attractions and dramatic national events such as the Bicentennial and the Moon Landing. This year’s theme was “America’s Destinations” with the Statue of Liberty and the Seattle Space Needle and Mount Rushmore dutifully highlighted. The overall effect is of a flattened Rose Bowl Parade float, in wall form and well executed in light beige to dark brown Indian corn hues.
The introductory movie was professional, history-based, with a subtle undertone of good old-fashioned prairie Calvinism. The Corn Palace, “a majestic, unique American folk art icon” also “lifts the mind above the humdrum duties of life” and is “a celebration of who we are and what we do and how we spend what little time we have in this world.”
After the movie, we were taken into an upper balcony, where we received a brief talk on the place by a young volunteer, who pointed out the corn tributes to the Native-Americans who once called this area their home, as if that changes anything, then shunted us into another enormous gift shop, even bigger than the Spam Museum’s. We gazed limply at a staggering expanse of Corn Palace crap—the place had not worked its magic on us, so the idea of memorializing our visit with a Corn Palace commemorative spoon or snow globe or shot glass repulsed us, and we bolted out of there, into a large concession area. Here Kent’s interest was piqued. He demanded a snack — maybe a hot dog? Some kettle corn?
“It’s 10:30 in the morning,” I said, “Why don’t I get your picture with the giant ear of corn?” Some poor schleb in a corn cob suit was posing with small children — a deal breaker for the boys. Too sophisticated and mature to associate with the giant ear of corn crowd. They turned the tables — why didn’t I pose with Mr. Corn? Yeah dad, you pose with him! I was about to call their bluff — having explored the sub-cellars of public shame, the small potatoes stuff doesn’t embarrass me anymore — but kids were gathered around, waiting their turn, and while I could easily hug a guy in a corn suit, on a dare, I couldn’t push ahead of toddlers to do so.