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Before the rodeo pullover, a 1966 balloon drop brought a family to Mitchell

A continuing series on the 100th anniversary of the current Corn Palace in Mitchell

N.DR.CORNPALACE100_logo.jpg
The Mitchell Republic commemorates the 100th anniversary of the modern Corn Palace in 2021. (Mindy Wirtzfeld / Forum Design Center)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story is part of a series commemorating the 100th anniversary of the current Corn Palace building, which opened in 1921.

In the history of tourism tricks to get visitors to Mitchell, before there was ever a rodeo pullover, there was the balloon drop.

Of course, the Mitchell Chamber of Commerce and Corn Palace Stampede Rodeo’s annual tradition of having law enforcement pull over a family driving through the area on Interstate 90 and surprise them with tickets to the rodeo and a bunch of Mitchell perks for restaurants and a night in a hotel has become a summer staple.

But the way a handful of South Dakota communities got an Illinois family of four to embark on a “Dakota Vacation” is worthy of the history books.

READ: More from the Corn Palace 100 series by Marcus Traxler.

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The story starts with the dedication of the Platte-Winner Bridge on Sept. 27, 1966. When balloons were being released to celebrate the construction of the bridge, at least one of the balloons included an offer for whomever found it when it returned to the ground: turn in this note for a vacation to South Dakota full of perks. It was sponsored by the chambers of commerce in the communities of Mitchell, Bonesteel, Gregory and Pierre.

So when the Riseman family of Springfield, Illinois found the balloon’s note — where they found the balloon isn’t clear — they responded by taking up the offer about a year later to come to South Dakota, where they were showered with local gifts.

The Mitchell portion of the package included accommodations at the Hotel Lawler (at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Lawler Street), use of a car with air conditioning while in Mitchell, complimentary meals at a number of Mitchell businesses, including the Lawler, Town House Cafe, Truck Haven (at the corner of Burr Street and Havens Avenue), the Village Chalet (currently the Village Bowl complex) and the A&W Drive-In (at the corner of South Langdon Street and Havens Avenue). Also included was an appearance on Mitchell’s television station, KORN-TV, and a boat ride on Lake Mitchell. It was billed to be “a day to remember” in Mitchell.

Their first Mitchell stop on Aug. 16 and 17, 1967 was the Corn Palace, where the Riseman family got the opportunity to see how the decorations were prepared for the exterior of the building and a tour of the inside.

Move ahead 55 years and the Platte-Winner Bridge is expected to be replaced later this decade with a new structure right next to the old one.

Perhaps the local chambers of commerce and tourism advocates will replicate history for a lucky family who finds a balloon to bring them to South Dakota.

This story was published with the research assistance of the Carnegie Resource Center in Mitchell, located at 119 W. Third Ave.

Related Topics: HISTORYCORN PALACE 100TOURISM
Traxler is the assistant editor and sports editor for the Mitchell Republic. He's worked for the newspaper since 2014 and has covered a wide variety of topics. He can be reached at mtraxler@mitchellrepublic.com.
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