By Michelle Railey
The distance between Cornwall, United Kingdom and Indianapolis, Indiana is 3,835 miles.
Australia, Jamaica, and Canada all have places named Cornwall. The states of New York and Vermont both have cities named Cornwall. So do California, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania. But not Indiana. You’d have to think that if any state would have a Cornwall, it would be us. Or Iowa and Illinois. Maybe early Hoosier farmers had no sense of humor. Or disliked the Cornish. Heck if I know.
But at least we have this stone grace note on a building in downtown Indianapolis: our very own Corn Wall, a piece of nineteenth century facade that was saved and incorporated into the walls of the Circle Centre. Indianapolis has plenty of architectural easter eggs like this, hidden on building fronts across the city. There are Art Deco ziggurats recalling Babylon and Sumer; there are buildings with Egyptian motifs in black marble and gold leaf. One can find plaster putti, in white, gleaming on the upper stories of the Murphy Building, and Art Nouveau lilies and iris on the face of the Fountain Square theatre building. The Indianapolis Repertory Theatre is housed in a building based on the Escorial: Spanish Baroque in all its intricate, curving, dynamic scroll-iness right here in the Heartland. And there’s always the Old Trails Building, with its handsome, monumental, and stereotyped Native American faces. The carvings are beautiful, the faces noble, dating to the turn of the twentieth century. The ick factor here can be high though; the history is shameful and subjugation can never be attractive.
The corn carries no obvious moral weight, however. The corn is pleasing, simply carved, a humble decoration that isn’t trying too hard. It’s just right. It’s just in place. As is.
Indiana is fifth in the country for corn production (at least, according to the USDA, for 2014), which seems impossible to believe if you live here. You can’t drive too far without seeing walls of corn, high as the sky, mirrored only (depending on the road) by fields filled with soybeans, low and green. But Indiana is, to Hoosiers, partially synonymous with corn, not soy and not mint, no matter how plentiful (and both are very plentiful).
So, even in the big city, just look up. Corn.