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Iwo Jima float in 1991 parade
Tableau of the Iwo Jima flag-raising - parade float commemorating 50th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, 1991. Photo courtesy of the Mendota Reporter

Mendota Annual Sweet Corn Festival

Plentiful free servings of hot, buttered sweet corn highlight this annual Mendota celebration of the harvest and the spirit of Illinois on the second full weekend in August. Mendota, "the crossing of the trails" in the language of the Native Americans who once lived in the area, is within a 75-mile radius of Chicago, Peoria, and Rockford. As its highlight, the festival features a beauty pageant in which local high-school girls compete for the coveted title of "Miss Sweet Corn Queen." Also offered are a parade, a carnival, musical entertainment, craft and flea markets, ethnic cuisine, and such local attractions such as corn throwing, husband calling, and contests for the oldest and youngest farm couple, largest farm family and tallest stalk of corn.

One of the largest harvest festivals in the Midwest, the volunteer-run event was started in 1948, though roots of an Mendota event with the same central theme and activities date back to 1910. In 1949, Harry Schaller brought his antique steam engine and put it to use cooking the corn in a tank of water heated by steam from the engine, a tradition that continues to this day. Over the years, corn servings have grown from eight tons to over 60 tons of corn served. Beginning with the 1949 completion of a corn and pea plant, taking advantage of its bountiful local crops, Mendota has been home to a large Calpak (later Del Monte) operation.

The project is documented with Silver anniversary (1972) and 50th anniversary (1998) booklets on the Sweet Corn Festival, twelve 8 x 10 black-and-white photographs, a "Sweet Corn Festival Scrapbook," published by the Mendota Reporter in tabloid newspaper format for the 1999 Festival, and promotional brochures from various years of the event.

Originally submitted by: J. Dennis Hastert, Representative (14th District).

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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