Mankind has been celebrating harvest time for centuries, but in the last few decades it has waned quite a lot in America.
In 1600, a visitor to England could possibly meet country folk celebrating their harvest.
Their last load from the corn fields was covered with freshly picked flowers from the fields and perched beside the load was a figure symbolizing Ceres – mythical goddess of earth, patroness of agriculture.
Of all the festivals, the harvest season is as close to an ancient festivity as any of them.
Unless natural calamities occur, there is a plentiful harvest, which sets a mood for celebration. The best of the harvest, and often the largest, are specimens to exhibit at festivals and fairs.
Many even adorn their yards and porches with natural symbols of the harvest season. Halloween is a time for the scarecrow figures, originally set in fields of crops decades ago.
In Mitchell, S.D., the corn harvest is honored, and has been for over 100 years, by the local folks decorating what has been known as the Corn Palace. Its theme originated in Iowa.
A drought affected most of the United States except Sioux City, Iowa, where plenty of rain led to a record corn harvest.
The ample crops of corn created great pride within the city’s business folks, who wondered how to celebrate such good fortune.
The answer was to create a large palace of corn and to get to it right away. Their sense of urgency was quite typical of the hard-working farmers, and everyone else in Sioux City.
“Corn is King” became the slogan, as corn became the chief subject for the area’s folks. Stories abounded, poems were created and all were in a festive mood.
The corn palace had an area of 18,500 feet and was a wood building of Moorish Revival character; some state it was Neo-Byzantine style.
There was a tower 100 feet tall topped by a cupola, smaller towers at its corners, smaller slender lofty towers, called “minarets”, and Moorish shaped windows.
All this was thatched with corn stalks, and a complete exterior covering of corn and other grains in diverse colors, hues and patterns.
The interior was handled by the Ladies Decorative Association of Sioux City.
There was an abundance of natural materials and custom-made murals, a U.S. map with all states, a different grain color and an image of Ceres standing at the top of a stairway made of bright yellow corn.
Decorations were throughout the city – the 250 gas lights were changed to diverse colored globes, and windows fronting shops were alive with harvest themes.
Six weeks from its inception, Oct. 3, the city was transformed into a gala celebration of harvest.
Visitors from all sectors of high society and crowds from near and far, attended the harvest gala.
The next year, the palace was larger, and better designed inside and out.
The third year was even more successful. A corn palace train, also decorated with corn, made a tour of the East.
These yearly events lasted for five years, and in the sixth year, it was postponed due to a flood. This was the demise of the Sioux City Corn Palace.
In 1893, a country-wide money panic and the dream of better tomorrows turned the corn palace into a lost dream.
In 1892, the year of the Sioux City tragedy, Mitchell business men seized the opportunity and constructed the first Mitchell Corn Palace, which emulated the Sioux City methods.
An all-out venture was not augmented until 1902. The original palace was remodeled, enlarged and the promise of a permanent building was realized.
Every year, this palace is redecorated with new themes, ideas and designs. As in the Sioux City palace, all interior materials are natural products, some specially cultivated for the purpose.
Since nature’s creatures tend to devour grain, repellents and preservatives were used to prevent the creatures from carrying off the decor.
In our modern times the harvest is rarely celebrated, except at fairs in the fall season. The grain harvest of families, helping one another with threshing and the meals that accompanied it, is gone.
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