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Armchair Field Trip: The Corn Palace

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At this time, we'd like to introduce you to the other new member of this ensemble, InternStacy Conradt, who's currently a graduate student at Iowa State University. Please give her a warm welcome. "“ Mangesh & Jason

I was driving to Sioux Falls, S.D. the other day and let me tell you, the drive from Des Moines to Sioux Falls is not particularly thrilling. It's so dull, in fact, that I found myself consulting the atlas just for fun (disclaimer: I do not endorse the act of map reading while driving). I discovered one of those "places of interest" printed in red, fairly close to my destination: The Corn Palace. The Corn Palace?! How could I stay within an hour of a place called The Corn Palace and not check it out?

walldrug1.jpgOnce I had finished in Sioux Falls for the day, I hopped in my car and headed to Mitchell, S.D. The drive wasn't nearly as boring as I expected, because peppered along the highway every few miles were signs extolling the virtues of Wall Drug. Alas, Wall Drug is located on the west end of the state, far out of my driving range. It's a shame, because after reading for 60 miles about its gemstone mines, life-size dinosaurs, free ice water and genuine oil paintings for sale, I was pretty intrigued.

I also passed signs for the birthplace of Laura Ingalls Wilder, and was a bit mystified when I saw this from afar:

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Turns out it was a sculpture garden"¦one that was closed for the season.

Anyway, on to the Corn Palace. Mitchell had only been in existence for 12 years when the first Palace was built in 1892. If a building decorated with corn cobs sounds a little strange to you, then Mitchell's founding fathers accomplished their goal "“ they wanted to build something out of the ordinary to put the town on the map. A second Palace was built in 1905 to replace the original when it was deemed too small. Finally, in 1919, something called "building codes" were invented. In 1921, the Corn Palace's wooden structure (with dirt floor) had to make way for the steel and brick building that still stands today.

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The decorating method is pretty simple: varying shades of corn cobs, grown by one local farmer, are sliced in half lengthwise and nailed to the building. The corn in accented by bundles of milo, rye, oat heads and sour dock.

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The exterior décor is removed every summer and a new design is put in its place. You can see from the picture that the 2007 "Salute to Rodeo" theme is currently being replaced by 2008's "Everyday Heroes." It takes about 550,000 half ears of corn to cover the entire exterior.

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The building isn't just pretty, it's also functional "“ local schools (high school and colleges) play basketball games there. I know you're curious, and yes, the high school team is called the Mitchell Kernels.

If you visit Mitchell and you're not totally satisfied by your Corn Palace visit, there's more fun to be had across the street at the Enchanted World Doll Museum.

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Because I don't want to have nightmares for the rest of my life, I declined.

So what about you guys? What strange local landmarks have you visited?

Previous Armchair Field Trips:

Portugal
The International Spy Museum
Utah
Intercourse, Pennsylvania
Ogunquit, Maine
Aquinnah, Massachusetts

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©noisytoy.net via Wikimedia Commons // CC-BY-SA-4.0
The People of Texel Island are Professional Beachcombers
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©noisytoy.net via Wikimedia Commons // CC-BY-SA-4.0

If you’ve ever tossed a message in a bottle into the ocean from anywhere in Northern Europe, it’s likely it ended up on Texel Island. Located off the North Coast of the Netherlands, Texel is at the intersection of several major currents, and close to several shipping routes. For the last 400 years, Texel residents have survived, in part, by scavenging items that have been lost at sea.

According to documentarian Sam Walkerdine in a piece for The Mirror, the practice has faded as other economic opportunities have opened up, but many residents still scour the beaches for lost items. One professional beachcomber, Cor Ellen, claims to have found over 500 bottles with letters inside—and has even answered some of them.

Ellen is one of the subjects of Flotsam and Jetsam (2012), Walkerdine’s 13-minute documentary on the Texel Island beachcombers (you can watch it above). In the film, a handful of Texel Islanders show off their best finds, and share their stories and strange observations. Ellen, for example, brags about scavenging crates of food, fur coats, powdered milk (“I didn’t have to go to the milkman for one year”), and even umbrella handles from passing cargo ships. Another beachcomber reminisces about finding something more personal: the collected photos and memorabilia of an English couple who had broken up and tossed their memories into the sea.

One of the weirder observations comes from Piet Van Leerson, whose family has been beachcombing for at least five generations: he claims that only left shoes wash up on Texel’s shores. The right shoes, meanwhile, end up in England and Scotland. (The shapes cause them to go in different directions.)

Beachcombing is such a big part of life on Texel, they’ve even opened several museums to show off their weirdest, funniest, and most interesting finds.

If you do decide to try and get a bottle with a letter in it to Texel, the residents have a few suggestions for you: drop the bottle somewhere off the coast of England, weigh it down with pebbles so it doesn’t get caught by the wind, and of course, remember to include a return address.

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YouTube / British Movietone / AP
A Film Tour of London in 1981
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YouTube / British Movietone / AP

Earlier this month, the Associated Press began releasing loads of archival video on YouTube. A large part of that collection comes from British Movietone, which has uploaded thousands of videos of all kinds, including many newsreels.

I have scrolled through countless pages of such videos—most without sound and/or extremely esoteric—and I finally discovered a 1981 gem, This is London. It's a sort of video time capsule for London as it was in the late 1970s and early 1980s, comprising plenty of stock footage of all the sights, royals, and ceremonies you can imagine.

If you've been to London, this is a great glimpse of what it once looked like. If you've never been, why not check out London circa 1981?

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