15 Things You Might Not Know About South Dakota
1. Since 1991, Clark, South Dakota has hosted an annual celebration of the potato. Regular festivities in the late August tradition include recipe competitions, potato decorating contests, potato car races, and (the main attraction) mashed potato wrestling matches.
2. Beneath the grounds of Custer County, South Dakota, lies the second largest cave system in the United States, and third largest in the world. The Jewel Cave was discovered in 1900 and earned status as a national monument in 1908, though the lion’s share of its exploration didn’t take place until the beginning of the 1960s. The crystal-rich caverns span 1,273 acres and consist of over 166 miles of charted passageways.
3. South Dakota might well be the hosting capital of America. Hailing from the Mount Rushmore State are small screen fixtures Bob Barker (host of The Price Is Right from 1972 - 2007), Mary Hart (host of Entertainment Tonight from 1982 - 2011), Pat O’Brien (sportscaster for CBS Sports from 1981 - 1997, and host of Access Hollywood from 1997 - 2004), and Tom Brokaw (anchor of NBC Nightly News from 1982 - 2004).
4. Back in 1931, a memorial honoring Crazy Horse, famed chief of the Oglala Lakota Native American tribe, was planned for South Dakota’s Black Hills mountain range … and the project is still nowhere near complete. The perpetually “in progress” endeavor was first conceived by Oglala Lakota chief and statesman Henry Standing Bear, who spent more than two decades convincing Polish-American sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski to undertake the project. Ziolkowski worked on the sculpture from 1947 through ’82, when he died on site of pancreatitis. Although there is no foreseeable end date for Crazy Horse’s memorial, it promises the superlative of world’s largest sculpture with a planned height of 564 feet. The tallest sculpture standing today is the Spring Temple Buddha, which reaches 420 feet.
5. Way out in the tiny town of Wall, South Dakota (where only 766 people reside), you’ll find one colossal shopping center: Wall Drug Store—known to the locals as “Wall Drug”—has been called the largest drug store in the world, though it is hardly just that. Operating under the Wall name (and within the Wall walls) are gift shops, clothing stores, and restaurants … not to mention active animatronics and a free-of-charge ice water well out back.
6. The Holy Terror, a now defunct gold mine in Keystone, didn’t get its name due to particularly hazardous terrain. Lore has it that when William B. Franklin discovered the mine in 1891, it was suggested that he uphold the common practice of naming it after his wife. Though versions of the story vary, the general theme carries that Franklin—a notorious drinker—would often find himself dragged home from the saloons by his angry wife Jen, dubbing her for his friends’ amusement a “holy terror.” As such, when the time came to brand his find with her namesake, Franklin chose this charming little moniker.
7. The world’s only Corn Palace lives in Mitchell, South Dakota, where it serves as a concert venue, sports arena, and general community center. Living up to its name, the exterior of the 68-foot-tall building is covered almost entirely with works of art made from corn and other grains. Every year, the building is stripped and replaced with a fresh batch of corn-based pieces.
8. The largest and best-preserved Tyrannosaurus Rex fossil in the world might never have been discovered if not for some well-timed car troubles just outside of Hill City, South Dakota. Following a summer spent excavating the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation, a team of scientists suffered a flat tire on their drive out from the dig site. All but one headed into town to get help, the outlier being paleontologist Sue Hendrickson, who instead took to nearby unexplored hills for a quick peek. There, she found the first pieces of what would ultimately become the only discovered T-Rex skeleton to breach 80 percent completion. The fossil, which lives today in the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, is named Sue in Hendrickson’s honor.
9. Here’s one for trivia night: South Dakota is the only state whose name does not share a single letter with that of its capital: Pierre.
10. And there’s a good chance you’ve been pronouncing that wrong. Though we’re inclined to pronounce “Pierre” in the French tradition (“Pee-YARE”), the South Dakota capital actually prefers the simpler “Peer.”
11. South Dakota is one of 13 states that sit in two different time zones. This proves particularly troublesome for the small town of Fort Pierre (a Mountain Time city), which sends many a resident to work in its much larger neighbor, Pierre (a Central Time city).
12. The largest known concentration of an extremely rare mineral formation called boxwork can be found in South Dakota’s Wind Cave. As a result of erosion, the cave’s calcite walls adopt patterns resembling honeycombs or spider webs. Wind Cave claims about 82 miles worth of boxwork, accounting for 95 percent of the world’s known formations.
13. If you drive down South Dakota’s I-229 Bridge at nighttime toward Sioux Falls’ 26th Street, you might catch glimpse of a particularly unsettling scene: a pair of “ghost joggers” that allegedly run the road every evening. No official explanations have ever been placed on record.
14. On the morning of January 22, 1943, Spearfish, South Dakota, experienced the fastest temperature change in recorded history. In just two minutes, local temperatures jumped 49º on the Fahrenheit scale from the glacial -4º to 45º, practically sweater weather by comparison. (Measured on the Celsius scale, that’s -20º to 7º, a 27º spike.)
15. As far as South Dakota is concerned, April has showers, May has flowers, and July has colossal chunks of ice raining down from the heavens. On July 23, 2010, the largest hailstone in U.S. history hit the town of Vivian, weighing in at 9 pounds 15 ounces and measuring 8 inches in diameter. The ice ball in question retains the record for the aforementioned calculations, but Aurora, Nebraska’s 2003 frozen pellet, still boasts the record for circumference (18.75 inches to Vivian’s 18.625).