Century-old Homecoming tradition enjoys comeback

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Monday, October 13, 2014

Homecoming 2014 is now history, and so is this year’s corn monument, an impressive display that graced the west side of the Pentacrest for the week leading up to the Oct. 11 game.

2014 corn monument on the pentacrest

Check out the 2014 corn monument.

We all know about the Homecoming tradition. "But corn monument?" you ask of Old Gold. Yes, indeed. And it’s only fitting that the revival of this long-running—but on-again-off-again—tradition should occur on its centennial.

Believed to have started in 1919, the Iowa corn monument was the brainchild of a group of enterprising students in the University of Iowa College of Engineering. It was intended as a fall season complement to MECCA, the college’s annual spring festival so named for its original departments. For decades, engineering students created designs utilizing a variety of construction materials, electrical lighting, and, of course, corn. In some years, the monument was torched in a bonfire ceremony at week’s end.

1940 corn monument
1940 corn monument.
1961 corn monument.">

Over time, the monuments have reflected their respective times in terms of architecture, technology, and current events. A case could even be made for the corn monument as an indicator of the social normative of an era. Maybe. In any case, Old Gold is no art critic, but he knows what he likes.

Take 1934, for example. The obelisk design was perhaps inspired by the Washington Monument, which was observing its 50-year anniversary that year. The space race that erupted in the late 1950s and culminated in 1969 with the lunar landing inspired the 1961 monument, featuring a giant satellite dish. And, of course, for at least one year—1940—a large ear of corn took center stage.

Old Gold invites you to check out images of corn monuments in the Iowa Digital Library. Go to digital.lib.uiowa.edu/ictcs and search “corn monument.” You will see photos of over 60 creative, practical, aesthetically pleasing, corn-filled designs dating back to 1919.

Over the years, the corn monument has been discontinued occasionally due to lackluster support, particularly during the late 1960s and 1970s. But it has also enjoyed revivals, returning to the Pentacrest as if surfacing again at a class reunion, a friend long lost but never forgotten.

Welcome back, C.M., and we hope to see you again soon.

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