Archive for the ‘cool stuff’ Category

Another take of Park Street

May 15, 2012

Zane Williams’s Double Take: A Rephotographic Survey of Madison, Wisconsin (2002) not only looks great on a coffee table, it shows how Madison buildings and street scenes changed over half a century. On each left-facing page we see large-format views by Angus McVicar, a commercial photographer, photographed between the mid-1920s and mid-1950s. On right-facing pages, Williams meticulously reproduces the same views in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

McVicar shot “Park St. from Viaduct” in 1934 for a Capital Times story on the Greenbush neighborhood’s newly paved Park and Regent streets. Williams rephotographed McVicar’s view in 1998, and returned in 2000 after construction of a new underpass and viaduct. The camera location is now on the southwest bike path. The main difference from 2000 is UW’s 21 N. Park building, which houses the welcome center.

Old Abe leads a regiment

April 27, 2010

Photo challenge #13 was about Old Abe, eagle mascot of the 8th Wisconsin Infantry, who led a 20-year life that could be considered rich and accomplished for a human. She’s on a short list of birds famous enough to be named (like Martha, the last passenger pigeon, who died in a zoo).

Old Abe’s life is well-documented, starting with her sex: “She though a female bird is named after our president,” wrote Sgt. Ambrose Armitage in his journal. She was captured on northern Wisconsin’s Flambeau River by Ahgamahwegezhig (Chief Sky), a Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe. Ahgamahwegezhig traded the bird to Daniel McCann, who sold the eagle to an Eau Claire militia. Called up for Civil War service, the Eau Claire “Eagles” joined the 8th Wisconsin regiment at Camp Randall.

Old Abe was present at 37 battles in the western theater, including Vicksburg. She was so charismatic that Confederate Gen. Sterling Price supposedly said “I would rather get that eagle than capture a whole brigade or a dozen battle flags.” After the war, Old Abe returned to Madison and lived in the capitol, drawing countless visitors. She attended events around the country and even inspired souvenirs.

In 1881 Old Abe died from smoke inhalation during a fire. Her taxidermied body was then displayed in the capitol rotunda for two more decades, until the capitol burned down in 1904. She now stands at the top of Camp Randall arch, dedicated in 1912.

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.

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.

Was Madison Landscape imaginary or real?

February 28, 2010

John Steuart Curry, The Tragic Prelude John Steuart Curry was the University of Wisconsin’s artist in residence when he finished this controversial mural of John Brown for the Kansas state capitol. The same year (1941), Curry painted Madison Landscape, now on view at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art‘s Apple Pie exhibition.

Amazingly, Curry’s perspective in Madison Landscape is almost exactly as if he set his easel on Dead Lake Ridge, the 80-foot moraine above Monona Bay that appears in our blog banner. The ridge (covered with effigy mounds) was quarried for sand and gravel and disappeared by about 1915.

Though Curry arrived in Madison 20 years later, he might have heard about Dead Lake Ridge and tried to recreate it in Madison Landscape. Then I found his artist’s statement: “… a view of Madison and Lake Mendota seen from a hypothetical hill.” So it’s just coincidence: to show off Madison’s isthmus, Curry invented a high point at the same location as the old dividing ridge.

Governor’s trout pond

February 6, 2010

We continue our Lake Wingra tour at Deep Hole spring, just up the Edgewood boardwalk from New Millennium spring. The name fits: in the 1870s, Wisconsin governor Cadwallader Washburn walled in Deep Hole to raise trout, a coldwater fish. In our century the spring has been reclaimed from thick brush that obscured it. Unseen Madison hero Charles Brown described Deep Hole spring in 1927:

“This large spring was on the very edge of and partly in the lake itself. It was surrounded by rushes and was at times a retreat for large fish. Governor Washburn when he lived at Edgewood caused it to be stoned in and stocked with trout, and it was commonly spoken of as Governor Washburn’s trout pond.”

To say Cadwallader Washburn led a full life is an understatement. He donated the Edgewood villa to the Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters, who formed an academy that became Edgewood.

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

Where exactly was Dead Lake Ridge?

October 22, 2009

See two stunning 1870 stereoscopic photos of Dead Lake Ridge, plus maps of today’s streets superimposed on 1901 Madison. Dead Lake Ridge was still a high and formidable feature in 1901, though quarrying was well underway.

Note the wetlands on both sides of the ridge — lakes Wingra and Monona did not have distinct shorelines. Park St., West Shore Drive, and N. Wingra Drive are built on fill.