Author Archive

Horace Tenney’s golden vision

April 22, 2010

grandview commonsOn his way to Madison in 1845, Horace Tenney first glimpsed the Isthmus from a knoll near present-day Cottage Grove Rd., just east of the interstate (now Grandview Commons residential development). Horace, brother of Tenney Park donor Daniel Tenney, later became village president (before Madison gained city status in 1856), street superintendent, state legislator, and UW regent. Listen to Tenney’s description of his 1845 view.

Horace Tenney wrote that “game was profusely abundant” in the Four Lakes area. He “shot prairie chickens on the Capitol Square and the hunting of quail there was common.”

Note: the background music, “Late Summer Air,” was used in the wonderful 6-part National Parks documentary by Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan, in which hometown historian Bill Cronon figures prominently. DVDs of the series are at the Madison Public Library. Hear more of Horace Tenney in our Dead Lake Ridge podcast.

Audio challenge of the week (#10)

March 30, 2010

Stroll through the UW arboretum‘s Curtis prairie on an early spring evening right before darkness falls, and there’s a good chance you’ll hear the male of this bird species making these distinctive sounds as he performs his spectacular mate-attracting acrobatics. What is the name of this bird? Answers are due by next Monday (how to play the challenge).

Margaret's council ringWheeler council ring is the answer to last week’s challenge. Jens Jensen designed it to memorialize Kenneth Jensen Wheeler, his grandson, who died in 1935 just before his graduation from the UW. For Jensen, the council ring had deep meaning, symbolizing equality and democracy and having Danish and American Indian roots. Read Jensen’s statement on the plaque of another council ring near the arboretum visitor center.

Madison has more Jens Jensen connections, including Glenwood Children’s Park and a council ring on the UW campus. Not only is Jensen’s legacy of harmonious landscaping still alive, a PBS documentary is in progress.

An ancient voice

March 26, 2010

sandhill crane

The sound of sandhill cranes calling from skyward as they return to their summer nesting grounds is one of my favorite signs of spring. I usually hear sandhills well before I glimpse them high in flight, and sometimes I never see them at all. Once perilously close to extinction in the lower 48, the sandhill crane has made an impressive comeback and is now relatively common. Cranes use wetlands for nesting and agricultural land for foraging (Baraboo’s International Crane Foundation is a good place to learn more).

And there’s something about their call that stirs the imagination: haunting and ancient at the same time, it’s a southern Wisconsin version of the Northwoods call of the loon. Both species have been around for a very long time, with the sandhill representing one of the oldest surviving bird species, unchanged for at least several million years. It’s as if that ancient lineage can still be heard in their voice.

Aldo Leopold wrote powerfully of cranes in A Sand County Almanac essay called Marshland Elegy:

“When we hear his call we hear no mere bird. We hear the trumpet in the orchestra of evolution. He is the symbol of our untamable past, of that incredible sweep of millennia…”

Lake Mendota ice hike

March 19, 2010

It’s hard to imagine now that spring is in the air, but just a couple short weeks ago, Lake Mendota—and the other Madison lakes—felt like frozen arctic tundra. We can attest to this firsthand, as we took a lovely hike on the ice around Picnic Point and Frautschi Point. We were struck by the sense of vastness and solitude we encountered right in the middle of the city, and wondered how many Madisonians have had the chance to experience this wide and transitory landscape.

Sharon Barbour, winter trekker extraordinaire and friend of Unseen Madison, joined us as we stumbled upon a few of Mendota’s hidden treasures. Here Sharon talks—of her own free will, we swear—about the hike and our sterling qualities.

Unseen Madison beneath the ground

December 16, 2009

Lake Wingra spring (David Thompson photo)

Madisonian David Thompson has a great blog which he describes as “a newsletter of ideas about the Upland-Hillcrest Greenway, Sunset Village Creek, and wider issues of restoring our natural streams in Madison.” Recently the Capital Times featured Thompson and Madison’s lost streams, including what he calls Sunset Village creek (which once flowed into Willow Creek near what is now Hilldale).

Thompson’s Dec. 15 post, “Unseen, beneath our feet,” has some fascinating information and photos about another realm of Unseen Madison: the many wonderful springs that surround and flow into Lake Wingra and the groundwater beneath that feeds them. See the post at

More excerpts from Effigy Tree ceremony

October 8, 2009

Bill Barker, President of the Madison Parks Commission, talks about the sculpture’s significance to himself and to the neighborhood as a whole.

Gordon Thunder, brother of Effigy Tree sculptor Harry Whitehorse and master of ceremonies at the re-dedication event, talks about the history and cultural traditions of the Ho-Chunk nation.

Traditional drumming and singing by the Thundercloud Singers, with an introduction by Gordon Thunder.

Effigy Tree re-dedication ceremony on Sept. 26

September 29, 2009

At Saturday’s formal re-dedication ceremony in Hudson Park on the east side of Madison, where the bronzed incarnation of the Effigy Tree sculpture now resides, area residents and the artist himself tell the story of the sculpture’s creation, its significance to the community, and how the neighborhood pulled together to save it from destruction. Unseen Madison reports…