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Summer Vacation, pt. 3 | The Bleat.

 

I can’t say the name of the town without thinking of the MST3K version of the movie, which is no doubt unfair. Mitchell has done a tremendous job of marketing itself, thanks entirely to the maize-smothered structure at the end of downtown. It is difficult to underestimate the emotions you feel when you first encounter the building; you’re impressed by the artistry wrought by skilled hands stapling cobs to the wall, and there’s no doubt that this is the most corn-covered building you’ve ever seen, but . . . 

 

Corn in Palace Form

 

 

To be honest, I was more interested in the severe Moderne structure immediately adjoining it, the City Hall:

 

 

6

 

The Corn Palace may not have made Mitchell the convention destination of the central American continent, but at least it’s kept downtown from sliding into complete abandon. A few stores downtown have the old, old signs – from 1947, a Toggery. Be thou togged:

 

Be togged

 

 

A jewelry store:

 

41

 

 

 

I’m a bit mystified by that overhang, since it makes it hard to see the name of the store. No doubt provided shade from the brutal South Dakota sun, enabling people to see the items in the window without being blinded by light multiplied and refracted, but still. 

 

This may be my favorite sign from the entire trip:

 

7

 

 

 

It’s so peaceful and pretty and promising. Someone write a song that starts with “We met in May at the Moonlight Bar.” Give it to a crooner. 

 

After forcing my child to have her picture taken with Cornelius, the mascot of the Corn Palace, we watched a short film that explained the noble history of the edifice, and its role in making Mitchell famous for being a city where you can watch a video about the importance of having a Corn Palace. The boosterism was strong, as you can expect, and stirring as well:  for every twenty towns that never grew beyond a half-dozen streets and a post office, there’s a Mitchell, a town that grew big enough to think it could be much, much more. To see the early pictures of the downtown jammed with tourists and farmers and dignitaries, daintily stepping though the muck of the streets to enjoy the Wonderous And Multiple Delights of South Dakota’s Temple of Bounty, makes you pine for an early era where such civic events brought all together, and filled their hearts and minds with common purpose. On South Dakota! Hail to thee, O Dakota to the South of the North Dakota! Hail! 

 

Then you realize that this was it, this was all they had – one week per year when they weren’t fighting corn smut or chilblains or longshank fever or drought or any of the other depredations that made people grateful for a diminished life expectancy. 

 

Still: the very tone that makes the texts of early 20th century boosterism so amusing is also touching and a bit sad. They meant it. They really meant it. 

 

On the way back to the motel I found a few examples of post-war neon, and knew they’d end up right here. 

 

A chef connecting his index finger with his opposable thumb:  your guarantee of quality. 

 

 

8

 

 

 

 

Next to it, more from the 60s:

 

9

 

 

 

 

Our motel wasn’t, really. As much as I would like to find a big sprawling Holiday Inn with the Great Sign, the two-story modern design with a pool in the middle, a restaurant and a bar off the lobby, you can’t have those anymore. There was a Holiday Inn Express. Nice place. Nice room. Cold enough so I expected George Sanders in a corner reprising his role as Mr. Freeze, which would have been interesting at first, brutally sarcastic fellow that he was. But boring after a while. 

 

After an early sleep we rose to an interesting breakfast. Instead of a restaurant, they have a breakfast bar, with trays of eggs and bacon that arrive at the hotel pre-made. Everything’s warmed. That’s all they have to do: warm it. The result was satisfying, if a bit reconstituted, but I could take away a travel flagon of coffee with one of those lids specially designed to burn your mouth by concentrating the hot liquid into a tiny aperture. Thus fortified, we struck west again. 

 

Next stop: an Indian museum right by the Missouri.  If you’ve been to one of these places, you know the atmosphere: the endless meandering mournful flute, with a wise-and-wistful voiceover that speaks in sonorous terms of spiritual generalities.  Lots of sepia photos of grizzled galoots glaring at the camera with a mixture of fury and impotence. We saw a well-done movie about Plains indian culture, how the men went out to get the buffalo, and the women set up camp, made the fire, stitched the clothing, and so on. Nearly every single object that wasn’t wood or stone came from the buffalo, and they were quite ingenious in finding a use for everything. I expected the narrator to say “Father used the retina of the buffalo, hardened with the concentrated spittle of the buffalo, to concentrate a beam of light into the buffalo, piercing its heart.” At the end of the film the hunters succeeded in killing a big buffalo by sneaking up in wolf skin, and getting off one shot. You can imagine their delight: in post-apocalyptic terms, it’s like coming across a fully-stocked Wal-Mart. But there’s not much to see in these museums except for some clothing, implements of war, bone scrapers, stone tools, et cetera. The majority of art is about the Native Americans, not by the Native Americans. 

 

 

We crossed the Missouri, and were off on the next leg. Look for the next update around 1 PM or so. 

Oh, one last thing: the town with the museum had a true museum relic, but they didn’t call it that. Belongs in one, anyway. 

 

 

 

rexall

 

72 Responses to Summer Vacation, pt. 3

  1. Baby M says:

    Lars and Jersey Amy, the two of you have made my week! Those comments are brilliant, and I look forward to having Lars’ “Ballad of the Moonlight Bar” on my iPod.

  2. John Robinson :
    Maybe I’m just looking at it wrong, but that daggone building seems to be made completely of corn! *G*

    Some call it….. Maize

  3. Larry says:

    Paul :Did the Rexall Drug store have a vaccuum tube tester? Ours did.

    Ah yes for those TV tubes

  4. Dora Standpipe says:

    Why am I thinking there is still a Rexall Drug in North Branch? I know there is still a splendid Coke ad painted on some wall there.

  5. juanito – John Davey :

    John Robinson :Maybe I’m just looking at it wrong, but that daggone building seems to be made completely of corn! *G*

    Some call it….. Maize

    Oh yeah, the Land O’ Lakes babe. Remember that trick you could do with her picture on the box? Ah, youth…

  6. Nixmom says:

    Lars Walker :We met in May at the Moonlight CafeThe look in her eyes told me, “Try me.”I said, “Be my wife, and we’ll have a sweet life“In the house Minneapolis will buy me.”
    She lit up a Kent and said, “Sam, you’re a gent,“And thank you so much for proposing.“I’m still in my prime, but I’ve too much free time,“Since I heard the Oak Cinema’s closing.”
    We took a short walk, and we had a long talk.And we ended up down by the water.I said, “Tell the truth Marge,” (as we looked at a barge),“What’s the deal with your dog-faced daughter?”

    That. was. awesome.

  7. Nancy says:

    MaryIndiana :
    That was an amazingly good and succinct description of an Indian museum!

    Oh my gosh! I was just in one recently and it is true!

  8. Mikey NTH says:

    I bet that city hall is WPA.

  9. Mikey NTH says:

    juanito – John Davey:

    Ma-a-azo-o-o-la
    Corn Go-o-dness!

    *deep voice – sort of a chant*

  10. shesnailie says:

    _@_v – oh for a corn palace-sized microwave oven with a ‘popcorn’ setting…

  11. browniejr says:

    Aleta :
    Oh, thank you so much for this trip. About every four or five, until I left home for college, my parents and I took this trip. We drove up from St. Louis MO into Iowa and then headed west. I remember my first glimpse of the Corn Palace, back in 1956 or so. In my memory it stands stark and alone on the prairie, in a dark dawn, all that corn glowing in the rising sun.
    Then it was on to the Bad Lands, Mr. Rushmore, and all the wonderful pre-Interstate Highway “Cars” landscapes and townscapes.
    Thanks for blowing the dust off some very fond memories. The photo books are long lost, all I have are mental snapshots, colored in golden Kodachrome.

    Wow!!! Your parents and mine must have read the same travel magazine recommending this trip. For me, my parents made the same trip starting in Iowa (Grinnell), for 3 consecutive summers in the late ’60′s. The Corn Palace was on the itinerary for at least one of those trips. I was 5 or so, and it struck me as a really interesting/ out of place building. Also on the itinerary was Wall Drug… my dad wanted to see what all the fuss was about. One photo my mother still has is of us kids with an Indian who is the spitting image of “Iron Eyes Cody” at Mount Rushmore. (“Iron Eyes” was the infamous star of the Littering commercial in the early 70′s with a tear in his eye. Only he was really an Italian-American….)

  12. Greg says:

    When I was a kid, about 1968, we did the Yellowstone trip via South Dakota. Stopped at the Corn Palace, Wall Drug, etc. Also have an old pic of my brother and I with an ancient Indian at someplace out there, maybe Wall or some small town. He would pose for pictures in full native american garb and is eating a popsicle with two skinny kids on each side. I wonder what my dad paid him for the picture, maybe just bought him the popsicle. I still remember it was hot and we had no AC in the ’64 Dodge.

    My family and I go out there most years for a week in the badlands and Black Hills, at Wall Drug there’s the same saloon gal picture taking prop my dad sat with forty years ago (it’s in another kitschy picture, as well as one of me with the same gal in 2008, she hasn’t aged in 40 years), as well as the bucking bronco and other stuff out back. The Corn palace (aka world’s biggest bird feeder) looks the same now except for the change of the outside panels as it did in 1968. I didn’t notice all the neon, but I can vouch for the steaks at Chef Louie’s.

    A new addition to the SD tourist stuff is a sculpture garden on I-90 between Mitchell and Sioux falls, the Portner sculpture garden, I think. It’s pretty interesting and fun, and the center piece is a 60 foot head of an antelope visible for miles on the highway.

    Looking forward to more updates.

  13. Bob W. says:

    RebeccaH: “It’s interesting that the Corn Palace and the Corn Palace Motel have onion-shaped dome-like objects on them.”

    Which raised the obvious question, is there an Onion Palace? So I cranked up the search engine…yes, it’s a restaurant in Columbus, Kansas. But alas, I can find no photos.

    Great to see the Rexall’s, and be reminded about the tube testers. I always liked to test the tubes.

    Oh, and JerseyAmy and Lars Walker, thanks for the laughs for the day!

  14. Rich says:

    Why no picture of the oversize cow at the foot of the Chef Louie sign?

    http://www.agilitynut.com/06/9/louie.jpg

    Oh, and there -is- a two story classic 60s Holiday Inn in Mitchell with an intact Holidome including a mini golf course:

    http://www.ramada.com/Ramada/Booking/branded/RA/images/23397_g1.jpg
    http://www.ramada.com/Ramada/Booking/branded/RA/images/23397_g4.jpg

    Even if the rest of the place has been ‘modernized’ (which is to say that it has been fitted out with reproduction furnishings from the time before highways and Holiday Inns.

    http://www.ramada.com/

  15. shesnailie says:

    _@_v – actually the ‘public works administration’ provided the financing for such civic projects as that city hall – i has a big book of ‘em. the ‘works progress administration’ provided the labor force.

    it was often noted that a wpa worker was like king solomon in that he took his pick and went to bed…

  16. “They meant it. They really meant it.”

    What’s both touching and a welcome change from the zeitgeist is that you mean this as an aspersion on our time, not their time. It’s a shame that we of the future haven’t lived up to their World of Tomorrow.

    On the other hand we have an internet to be nostalgic on, and that’s no small thing!

  17. Deana says:

    Ah, one of my favorite MST3Ks.

    “Ladies and gentlemen, Our Hero”

    and

    “They merged successfully!”
    “My heart was in my throat!”

    Great photos. I was recently driving through the Mid-West and was really thrilled by how many of these old signs were left. We on the East Coast are deprived.

  18. jamcool says:

    Stores named “The Toggery” seemed to be everywhere…were they an actual chain?

    Rexall lives on – as a vitamin producer

  19. dean martin says:

    We met in May at the Moonlight Bar
    She was tall and big and stern.
    You are a good friend
    And I’ll miss you no end
    But couldn’t you wait your turn?

  20. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    I can’t say the name of the town without thinking of the MST3K version of the movie, which is no doubt unfair.

    Muh Muh Muh Muh Muh Mitchell…

  21. Matt says:

    Isn’t “Troggery” still illegal on some arcane lawbooks?

  22. Goob says:

    I would like to see J.L. write something about amusement parks closing for the winter. my daughter worked at Paul Bunyan/this old farm near Brainerd. I would pick her up from work and usually had some time to kill. There was a chicken in a glass cage that would play tick tac toe with you for a quarter. of course he always got to go first, after pulling the right strings with his beak and beating me he was rewarded a shot glass of cornmeal and theres something about being beat by a chicken! there was a crack in the glass that must have been from someone slugging it after losing their paycheck to the chicken! Iam sure he relied on my pocket change everyday when it was rainy and the park was slow. which leads me to the question, what did this chicken do all winter? or for that matter did the tame fish park people chop holes in the ice and feed the tame fish all winter or what about deerland? I lay awake and wonder about the chicken though. he was a worthy opponent, in fact undefeated! is he craning his neck, stomach growling, waiting to see my red jeep pull up?

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