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Olivia's Ear of Corn is both a monument to pioneers in the community's seed industry who were killed in a 1978 plane crash and a symbol of the community's pride in what continues to be a thriving industry for the area. Amy Elliott and Elizabeth Donius co-directed and co-produced "World's Largest" after setting out to see roadside attractions across the country. The independent film is being shown at the Twin Cities Film Fest and features the Ear of Corn. Tribune file photo

Olivia's Ear of Corn hits big screen

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Olivia's Ear of Corn hits big screen
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OLIVIA -- There is no telling how many motorists have spotted Olivia's Ear of Corn alongside U.S. Highway 212 in Olivia, and snapped pictures to stick in their scrapbooks.


Two independent filmmakers have done them all one better and are putting the Ear of Corn on the big screen.

Olivia's giant Ear of Corn is among 61 roadside attractions across the country featured in an independent film titled "World's Largest."

The documentary premiered in March at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas. It is making its Minnesota debut at the Twin Cities Film Fest with showings today and Oct. 2.

"Minnesota is ground zero when it comes to roadside attractions,'' said Amy Elliott, when reached by phone at her home in New York City. One-third of the attractions featured in the film are located in Minnesota.

Elliott is a still photographer who co-directed and produced the film with fellow New Yorker Elizabeth Donius.

Initially, the two longtime friends saw the film as an opportunity to travel the country and have a great time.

They did, but it also turned into something much different, Elliott said. It took six years to produce the film and in the process the women discovered a poignant story behind the roadside attractions.

Elliott said many of the roadside attractions were ostensibly created in the name of tourism, with civic boosters promoting the idea that they would stop motorists.

In reality, it was civic pride that led most towns to erect the attractions. In many of the locations they heard from townsfolk who are fearful of the economic futures for their small towns. There has been a seismic change occurring in the economy for many rural towns, Elliott noted.

Olivia's Ear of Corn was erected in 1973. The Ear of Corn is 25 feet long but stands atop a monument making it 50 feet tall.

The idea for the Ear of Corn came from Bob R. Rauenhorst, a leader in the community's seed industry. Olivia was fast becoming a major seed producing center in North America at the time, and Rauenhorst wanted to make it known, according to Dick Hagen of Olivia. Hagen is interviewed and featured in the movie.

In a sad twist, the Ear of Corn and park where it stands also became a monument to Rauenhorst and five others after they were killed in a July 12, 1978, plane crash.

It proved a major blow to the town's emerging seed industry at the time, and only years later did the seed industry in the community regain its vigor and growth.

Today, Olivia's role as the "seed corn capital of North America'' is undisputed: The Legislature has even made it official, Hagen noted.

Elliott and Donius met Hagen and Sara Mauer, the daughter of Bob Rauenhorst, on a bitter cold day in February a few years ago. They ventured about the countryside filming as Hagen and Mauer told Olivia's story.

Mauer's comments made the film, although she is not shown, according to Elliott.

The filmmakers also included Madison's giant cod known as Lou T. Fisk in a montage of fish-oriented attractions across the country as part of the film. Belgrade's giant Crow is noted as among the "World's Largest'' as well.

Along with telling the stories of various roadside attractions, the movie profiles the ongoing debate to build the World's Largest Lava Lamp in Soap Lake, Wash.

Roadside attractions featured in the move range from a "Killer Bee'' in Hidalgo, Texas, to a large dairy cow named "Salem Sue" overlooking New Salem, N.D.

As for tourism, Elliott said there is one thing she learned from her travels: The roadside attractions may stop motorists long enough to click a shutter, but unless they are founded as part of a larger, tourism economy, they just don't work.

Elliott said the documentary film will likely be issued as a DVD in the future, and she is also hoping that it will be able to enjoy a run at theaters in areas featured in the film. For more information, visit http://www.worldslargest or http://www.twin largest/.