The Corn Palace is One of a Kind
The Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota attracts half a million people on an annual basis and has been a fixture in the community for close to 127 years. The facility plays host to a variety of events from concerts, exhibits, and the annual Corn Palace Festival every August. However, it is also one heck of a venue to watch a basketball game.
“The environment at the Corn Palace is unlike any other, especially at the NAIA level,” said Jon Hart, Dakota Wesleyan University Director of Athletics. “It is one of the most unique basketball venues in the world and our fans fully embrace its distinction. We definitely have a home court advantage as we average around 2,800 fans per game.
A lot of that home-court advantage stems from the student section dubbed The Corn Crib Crazies who make its presence felt at each game for the DWU Tigers. The small school has an enrollment of 949 students and is the second smallest of the 12 members in the Great Plains Athletic Conference. However, traditions run deep at the school that has been playing basketball since 1917.
The average crowd size is almost 4 times the school’s population and is among the highest in the NAIA and NCAA Division II basketball. Crowds swell to 3,000 on Wednesday nights when both the men and women’s team play a double-header. Fans are also known to go through extremes to get into the building that features only general admission seating, except for courtside seating.
“Many fans will camp-out on game days to save their seat as soon as the doors open in the mornings,” added Hart. “Some folks will sit there all day long while others mark their territory by leaving coats, blankets, tape, we’ve seen it all.”
This is the third Corn Palace, the original was built in 1892 and a second building was completed in 1905, and was part of a wave of building similar structures across multiple cities across the Great Plaines to promote themselves and their products. Mitchell’s Corn Palace adopted its Russian-style onion domes and Moorish minarets in 1937 that provides its signature look.
However, it is the exterior’s crop art that features an annual theme mural constructed out of corn and other grains. According to the website, the palace is redecorated annually with naturally colored corn, other grains, and native grasses. There are currently 13 different colors or shades of corn that include red, brown, black, white, orange, yellow, calico, and even green corn.
The cost of construction of the murals costs $130,000 and this year’s theme is a “Salute to the Military” that features the U.S.S. South Dakota, a WW II battleship, and the S.S.N. 790 submarine. Previous themes have included South Dakota weather, Salute to Rodeos, Lewis and Clark, and South Dakota anniversaries. There is even a live camera that operates 24-hours a day.
The decorating process begins in late May with each ear of corn being nailed to the exterior of the building to create the desired scene. The corn murals are stripped at the end of August and the new ones are completed by the first of October.
The palace received renovations a few years ago that replaced the domes, enlargen both the outside murals and marquee, and added LED lighting inside the building.
“To me personally, I was able to play many high school games there. My sister also played some high school games and her entire college career there for DWU,” added Hart. “I’ve been able to see some amazing players, teams, and performances there in my lifetime. It’s definitely a home away from home.”