Corn is King in Mt. Ayr, Iowa.
Sometimes you just have to see things for yourself – and Corn Parade is one of them. I drove to Mt. Ayr, Iowa specifically to see this crazy WPA era painting at their post office.
During the 1930’s Great Depression, President F.D.R. established the Works Progress Administration that provided employment opportunities to build our country’s infrastructure. In addition, they also created an agency called Public Works of Art Project (PWAP). The director of the PWAP in the state of Iowa was Grant Wood. He oversaw the selection of the artists that were commissioned for public murals, including the selection of Orr Fisher for creating this painting in the Mt. Ayr Post Office.
Orr was born in Delphos in Ringgold County, Iowa in 1885. He worked a variety of jobs in Iowa as well as out in the west and on the east coast. As Orr once said, “everywhere I have gone I have drawn. I have drawn almost everything imaginable . . . except a salary”.
Orr was asked to draw sketches of potential works and submit them to the PWAP and his sketch for Corn Parade was selected. A few years later, the government auctioned off the sketches and it is no longer known where the original sketch for Corn Parade resides.
Corn Parade was created in 1941, the year that the Mt Ayr Post Office opened. The painting measures 11 feet by 5 feet. Orr mounted it on the east wall of the Post Office himself, directly over the Postmasters door, which is exactly where you’ll find it today.
Corn Parade is funny and whitty. Take your time to notice the details including…
- Your attention is first drawn to the massive, oversized corn cob, but take a closer look. It’s being hauled by a tractor that is pulling a parade float. On top of the float is a wagon (with wheels that are larger than the floats wheels and they look like they would roll right off the float). The giant corn cob rests on the wagon, but we’re still not done – a three instrument band with a conductor stands at the very top of the cob. And make it even grander, the very end of the cob has a roster.
- “Corn is King” is proclaimed on a billboard. Notice that the billboard is held up by four corn stalks that seem to tower over the nearby three story building.
- Next in line in the parade, behind the cob is a man on stilts (which appears to be Uncle Sam possibly), and he is holding the reins that are tied to what appears to be a clown that is walking next to the corn cob.
- There appear to be two police officers in the scene – one on horse and the other walking the parade route – both appear to be trying to tell the crowd to stay back, away from the corn cob.
- Also notice the amazement on the face of the photographer stationed in the lower left corner.
Were some of the characters in the painting based on locals from Mt. Ayr?
When Fisher died, his belongings were given to his niece in Oregon, and when she passed, the belongings were given to Iowa State University. Within the belongings was a document from Fisher noting that the painting contained Dr. Brown and his dog, the Postmaster Howard Tedford, Mayor M.E. Bagley was on a horse, Roy Schwartz was driving the tractor, and the cameraman was William Belvel.
Is Corn Parade a mural or not?
It is not a mural. Technically, a mural is painted directly on a wall and Corn Parade is an oil painting on canvas. In fact, Fisher had to submit a sample of both his paint and canvas that he was going to use for the painting.
It seems like Corn Parade is in pretty good shape for a WPA-era work of art, why is that?
Corn Parade certainly has stood the test of time and it’s likely due to the type of paint used. Only six to eight colors were used in the painting and they were made by the Permanent Pigment Company. Many of the other post office murals did not use permanent paint.
Orr Fisher was paid $750 for the painting at the Mt Ayr Post Office and it is believed that he purchased a new car with his money.
Peggy Whitson Rock in Mt Ayr, Iowa
Did you know that the American record for most days spent in space belongs to a native of Ringgold County, Iowa?
Yes, Peggy Whitson was born and raised in Ringgold County and as of 2021, she still owns the record for the American astronaut with the most time spent in space – at an amazing 665 days.
In 2018, the city of Mt Ayr dedicated a painted rock in her honor. It’s located in the southwest corner of the town square next to the Ringgold County Courthouse and is just across the street from Skelly’s Gas Station.
A few interesting facts about Peggy Whitson
- Born in nearby Beaconsfield, Iowa on Feb 9, 1960
- Wanted to become an astronaut after watching the first moon landing in 1969
- Graduated from Mt Ayr High School in 1978
- Graduated from Iowa Wesleyan College in 1981 with a degree in chemistry and biology
- Graduated from Rice University in Texas with a doctorate in biochemistry
- After working at Rice University, worked as a research associate at Johnson Space Center in Texas.
- In 1996 she was selected as an astronaut candidate
- In 2002, she made her first space flight in the space shuttle Endeavor
- Holds record for longest single spaceflight by a female at 289 days aboard the International Space Station
- Holds record for oldest female to go into space at age 57
- Conducted a total of 10 spacewalks during her career
- She is currently listed in 9th place all-time for time spent in space. (although she is top American on the list)
The rock was painted by Ray “Bubba” Sorenson, who is famous for the Freedom Rocks that exist in all 99 Iowa counties. Visit Bubba’s page for more information on Freedom
Skelly’s Gas Station in Mt Ayr, Iowa.
It’s located on the south side of the town square in Mount Ayr, Iowa, and was originally built in 1920. Mount Ayr residents Claude and Junior Moore rebuilt the station in 1941 and sold Skelly Oil products.
Here’s the exact Google Map location for the Skelly Station.
The station closed in the early 1980s. Since that time it has been restored and it’s pretty much a photo prop – as you’ll see car show photos taken here, along with senior portraits, and even family photos. During the holiday season, it’s has a Christmas tree and holiday lights.
I wasn’t able to get into the station, so I don’t know if it’s ever open to visitors. If you visit, be sure to cross the street to visit the Peggy Whitson Rock, created by Bubba Sorenson who created the Freedom Rock in each county in Iowa. The Whitson Rock is dedicated to Peggy Whitson, the famous NASA astronaut, who grew up in Mt. Ayr.
Eighme School House in Ringgold County
As you travel along Highway 169, north of Mt Ayr in Ringgold County, you’ll pass an old abandoned one-room school house. It’s Eighme School House. It’s one of a few old-school houses that are still on their original foundation.
History of Eighme School House
I wasn’t able to find any information on exactly when Eighme school was built, but it’s assumed that it was around 1890, when many of the other rural one-room school houses were built. We do know that its last day of classes for Eighme School was on January 20, 1941. Roger Morrison of Tingley, was the only student, and Maxine Main was his teacher.
In 1951, the schoolhouse was sold at an auction for approximately $600. In most cases, the purchase was made by the neighboring family. Many times they used the property for storage. That is likely to be the case with this school, as you’ll notice that the south side of the school has a sliding barn door that was most likely added to allow easier access for storage.
Note: The school is on private property, but is easily viewable from the road. More information on the school is available at: http://iagenweb.org/ringgold/schools/misc/sch-eighme.html