Grainy, black and white photographs and tales of the 1940 National Cornhusking Contest are helping bring forgotten memories back into focus for many Scott County residents.
An NSP Country Connection cover story published Oct. 28 on the 80th anniversary of the event sparked a flood of memories from area residents who were just children when the competition took over the Henry Keppy Sr.’s farm for four fall days in 1940.
Eighty-nine-year-old Dorla Schroder was just 9 years old when the national cornhusking event landed in rural Scott County. But when she read the Country Connections’ cover story and saw an aerial photograph of the event grounds, she realized, “I was there.”
The oldest daughter of Eugene and Sarah Dannatt, Schroder recalled riding in a car across primitive, country roads to reach the competition. Her mother helped work one of the numerous food tents that fed the daily crowds.
“Dayton Domer worked as a hired hand for my father, and he was in the contest,” Schroder said in an interview earlier this month for the Scott County History Project. “That was one of the reasons we were there.”
Although Domer did not emerge as one of the day’s big winners, she said, “He got a full wagon of corn.”
She also remembers the crowds, which some estimated at more than 125,000 people all crammed onto the Keppy’s cornfields to see the cornhuskers in what was known as the “Battle of the Bangboards.”
“That was really something to see that big blimp,” she said of the Goodyear blimp, which provided bird’s-eye views and photography of the cornhusking derby. “I’d never saw one before.”
Schroder, who grew up on a farm near Princeton working alongside her father, said picking corn was a way of life for all ages back then. The hired hands her family employed would pick a load in the morning and then unload it in the corncribs. After breaking for a big lunch made by her mother, they would return to the fields in the afternoon and work until evening and unload the wagons again.
“Back when my mother was in school, one day the girls would stay home from school and pick corn, and another day the boys stayed home and picked corn,” she said.
Schroder, who now lives near McCausland on the farm she and her late husband farmed, cannot be sure but thinks they went to the final day of the cornhusking competition. While the crowds were thick, she remembers seeing Domer compete. “But you had to leave those men alone; you couldn’t hinder them,” she said, adding how the competition fields had been fenced off to spectators.
She admits memories of the contest are fading, but remembers, “It was a beautiful day.”