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Your Link to the Past

Your Link to the Past

1887 Corn Palace

cp_1887_1The Corn Place committee hired architect W.E. Loft to create the plans for the first corn palace structure. His original plan called for a building 58 feet by 58 feet to be built at the northwest corner of Fifth and Jackson Streets. However, planners soon decided to enlarge the building to 100 feet by 100 feet. It was again enlarged to include the Goldie Roller Rink. The final size of the corn palace encompassed more than 18,000 square feet of floor space.

The budget increased, too. Originally, the budget was just $5,000. However, it was soon clear that this would not be enough, and a finance committee was appointed to raise a total of $25,000. The work on the palace could then begin.

Workers built a wooden structure and soon every inch of wood was covered with corn and grain. Ears of brightly colored Indian corn were sliced and nailed into fancy patterns, and above each arched doorway a farming scene was created from corn and grain. Even sorghum and cattails were used in the various designs. The windows were framed with ears of corn strung on wires and the roof was thatched with stalks of grain.


The Sioux City and Pacific Railroad showed their support by hauling grains and vegetables into Sioux City free of charge. Farmers in the area were glad to help, and they sent donations of produce. Sioux City was soon flooded with plenty of corn and grain.

Then, with not a lot of time left, attention was turned to the interior of the palace. Everyone agreed that the inside should be even more beautiful than the exterior, but there was not a lot of time left to do the job. The Corn Palace officials solved the problem by inviting the women of Sioux City to come in and complete the work. The ladies responded with enthusiasm and soon the "Ladies Decorative Association" was formed. The women were divided into twelve work groups and the palace was divided into twelve sections. The ladies went to work!

They created a map of the United States that was made entirely out of grains and seeds. Each state was a different color. They fashioned a wax figure of Ceres, the goddess of grain and dressed her in a robe of cornhusks. She carried a corn stalk scepter and she stood at the top of a golden stairway made of corn. The ladies hung a spider made of carrots in a web of corn silk. They covered the walls with murals showing meadows, rivers, canoes, buffalo, and Indian symbols. In the end, the inside was even more beautiful than the outside.

The whole corn palace idea started snowballing! The people were, indeed, a little "corn crazy". They decorated the streets with all the pizzazz they could muster. They built great arches at the major intersections in town, some measuring 50 feet high. Each of these arches was lit with gaslights covered with different colored glass globes. (Workers laid two miles of pipe in order to light the more than 7,000 gaslights.)

The stores and businesses decorated their storefronts, too, and almost all of the windows were filled with harvest displays of corn and produce. The Journal noted, "Half the business houses have corn signs which are more beautiful than any painter can make".

As the palace went up, the citizens really got into the "corn mood". Ladies of society held corn parties and wore corn "bead" necklaces. The men sported cornhusk hats and smoked corncob pipes. The Red Oak paper stated that in Sioux City during the festival, "there will be no higher rank recognized than Kernels".

A Sioux City music dealer, J.G. Smith, was moved to write a poem in honor of the event. His poem, "Corn is King", was published in the September 23 issue of the Journal.

Not long before the palace opened to the public, the Corn Palace Board of Control saw the tremendous response to the Corn Palace Jubilee. They knew the festival had a bright future, so they filed articles of incorporation and formed the "Sioux City Corn Palace Exposition Company". They felt strongly that this event would forever make Sioux City the Corn Palace City of the World.

Then, on October 3, 1887, the Corn Palace Festival officially opened. There was good weather and lots of excitement. Every day there were parades, speeches, dances, fireworks and concerts. Each day brought a new parade. One day, 200 Omaha, Sioux and Winnebago Indians paraded through the streets.

Nearly 140,000 people attended the festivities, more than anyone had expected. Local railroads even added extra passenger cars to their daily runs from surrounding communities. Many prominent people came to see this amazing palace, including Cornelius Vanderbilt and other eastern capitalists. President Grover Cleveland came by special train to see the Corn Palace the day after it closed. His visit brought news coverage from the New York Times and London Times. The New York Times called it "really something new under the sun". Corn Palace promoters were delighted. Everyone agreed that it should be done again next year!

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