Tall, fit, lean, with the body of a runner and the icy blue eyes of a wolf, the elderly Marine (there is no such thing as an “ex-Marine,” as any jarhead will tell you) furiously upbraided me, as the Corn Palace tour guide and representative of the city of Mitchell, for the lack of an American flag on the building.
In clipped tones trembling with rage he told me about his service at the Siege of Khe Sanh, of the death of his buddies in combat and his pride in wearing the uniform of his country and of defending our flag. He snarled, “How dare you ‘honor’ the military without flying the flag we all fought for and my friends died for!”
It’s cruel irony that the theme of the Corn Palace was honoring the military during the one summer that the flagpole was broken. The city is finally addressing the flagpole situation, better late than never. I heard about that several times a day, as well as some other things that would enhance the Corn Palace experience for those who visit Mitchell.
Tourists really love looking up what the Corn Palace looked like the year they were born. Many can’t do that, for two reasons: the lighting in the upstairs south corridor is reminiscent of cave illumination, and therefore, lots of folks can’t make out the designs on their year’s building; other tourists can’t find their year because none of the last approximately two decades is displayed. Better lighting and more pictures make for better social media reviews leading to potentially even more traffic.
Believe it or not, the Corn Palace gets a ton of return visitors. They notice changes, for good or ill. The renovation of the Corn Palace, with the bigger panels and lobby changes, was positively received. However, people noticed the child activity center that was located in the Armory gym is gone and they miss it. They miss the combine that used to be on display.
Vacationers want more to see and do in the Corn Palace in the form of interactive exhibits and kiosks with videos showing things like a farm operation, the Corn Palace decorating process and the like.
The plaza with the Corn Palace sign and the metal corncob statue is wildly popular with tourists. A good addition would be a statue of Oscar Howe placed somewhere in the plaza, with a plaque explaining his significance and contribution to the Corn Palace.
Tourists also complained mightily about the number and size of the mosquitoes in Mitchell. It’s important to remember that every facet of a visitor’s experience matters.
The decorating process needs to change. If you’re going to replace the wallpaper in your home, you don’t strip the wallpaper and then wait four months to put the new wallpaper on. The murals should be stripped only when the new materials are immediately available and refurbished one at a time, so the building always looks complete. It makes no sense to have a half naked building, with no redecorating going on, for nearly two-thirds of the tourist season. A “full” building leads to better pictures posted on Facebook and more future interest in spending tourist dollars in Mitchell.
The Chamber of Commerce and the city share the operation of the Corn Palace in the summer. That can lead to some tension, but to tourists the Corn Palace is one unified entity. Whatever needs to happen to make that an operational reality needs to occur.
As the elderly Marine continued to vehemently criticize our failure to fly the American flag, I interrupted to explain the pole was broken by high winds earlier in the summer. He paused, glared at me balefully and then said, “Fix it.” Good advice, and for more than just the flagpole. The Corn Palace is the diadem of Mitchell, but it is missing a few crown jewels.