Hoooooo boy has it been a long time friendos. After having the entire summer off work while recovering from a broken elbow, I've been settled back into the Monday to Friday routine for over two months now, and I've simply neglected to make time to update you all on my most recent Crapitol trip. Less than two weeks after my previous trip to Bismarck, I jetted off to Madison, Wisconsin to enjoy the last days of my summer vacation.
Now I had previously visited Madison back at the turn of the century, when I, along with my dear friends Chad and Simon, drove up from Iowa during Spring Break of our senior year in high school to see The Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Foo Fighters at Dane County Coliseum. But I had not been back in the nearly two decades that intervened, so I was eager to return. I found a cheap Frontier flight and departed Denver early on a Thursday morning.
As of late, my pre-Crapitol trip routine has consisted of eating an entire bag of La Favorita Yellow Corn Tortilla Chips with Herdez Guacamole Salsa 24 hours prior to my arrival in the target city. Thus, upon landing at MSN, I wasted no time grabbing an Uber to drop my stuff at my AirBnB, and promptly caught the bus towards the capitol downtown.
I stepped off the bus on a gorgeous day on the tiny isthmus of downtown Madison. As ever, coffee was the first objective, so I popped into Collectivo Coffee on the square for a large black coffee to go, and jaywalked over to the capitol.
To my delight, the Wisconsin Capitol was completed devoid of any security checkpoints whatsoever, and I was free to roam about as I pleased with my coffee in hand (take note North Dakota and Iowa). Upon entering the the building, I was immediately struck by the sound of singing. I made my way into the central rotunda to find a chorus of locals gathered, singing songs in the vein of Woody Guthrie and The Battle Hymn of the Republic. Their voices echoed throughout massive, cathedral-like interior as someone called out numbers from a songbook. The staff at the visitor's desk informed me that these were the Wisconsin Solidarity Singers, who have sung at the capitol every week day for over eight years. The sing-along began in March of 2011, to protest sweeping anti-union legislation backed by former Governor Scott Walker, not to be confused with the cool Scott Walker. The group sings daily from noon to 1 PM, and I highly recommend you plan your visit to catch this truly unique experience.
I was informed that a guided tour would begin in about 45 minutes, so I set out to find a restroom on the upper floors of the building. I found a cozy spot near the stairs to the dome and had no trouble accomplishing my task. Muchas gracias to La Favorita and Herdez! Always a great feeling to get the job done right off the bat.
My next stop was to ascend the dome, which was quite the treat. The Wisconsin Capitol is a true rarity among my trips thus far, as it allows visitors to both view the interior of the dome and walk out onto the exterior observation deck.
Now, the interior view is from one small balcony, completely enclosed by glass for the safety of visitors. This is not a full circumnavigation of the interior balcony like at the Iowa Captiol. The exterior observation deck, however, is spectacular. The Capitol is uniquely situated on a thin isthmus that separates Lake Mendota to the Northwest from Lake Monona to the Southeast. I stepped out onto the roof with gorgeous 360 degree views of the city. The deck is only open seasonally, yet another reason to not visit in the winter, but more on the brutal Madison winters later.
I returned to the ground floor visitor's desk to begin the guided tour. The small crowd gathered around Steve, our guide, who had a spot-on stereotypical Wisconsin accent, to my great enjoyment. We set off for the first stop, the ornate Governor's Conference room, modeled after the Doge's Palace in Venice.
Steve explained that the current building is the third capitol building in the state's history. Why the third, you ask? Would you believe me if I told you that the previous capitol was (Capitol Cliche Alert!) destroyed by a fire in 1904? Shocking, I know! Architects George B. Post & Sons were commissioned to design the new building, which constructed from 1906 and 1917 for the princely sum of $7.25 million.
DID YOU KNOW: Wisconsin is the Badger State? That's right, the state animal, UW mascot, and major decorative motif of the State Capitol, Wisconsin was into badgers waaaaay before they were popular on YouTube. Steve said it was good luck to rub this badger's nose, so I did.
Steve led us throughout the building, pointing out the interesting features, explaining the symbolism of the art, yada yada yada, and no doubt imparted many fascinating nuggets of historical trivia that I cannot remember as I have waited far too long after the fact to write this blog. I apologize for this, dear readers. I will do better in the future.
The tour concluded with stops in the Wisconsin State Assembly Chamber and then the Senate Chamber.
One tidbit I do recall is the story of Old Abe, the stuffed American Bald Eagle who stands watch over the Senate Chamber. The current Old Abe is actually a replica of the original Old Abe, who was a live eagle that served as the mascot of the 8th Infantry Regiment from Eau Claire during the Civil War. After surviving the war, Old Abe lived out his remaining days in the second (and ill-fated) Wisconsin capitol building, where he tragically died of smoke inhalation from a small fire, but not the BIG fire that destroyed the second capital. There were many fires back then. No, Old Abe was then stuffed and mounted in the capitol, and then his stuffed and mounted corpse was destroyed in the aforementioned big fire. So the current bird, is a replica, or a tribute I guess, to the original.
Steve then concluded the tour and released us to further explore the capitol or continue with our day however we saw fit. I thanked him and wandered about a few more minutes to grab some more photos. The Wisconsin State Capitol is truly stunning, and the Solidarity Singers along with its other unique features, it is easily among the best of the capitols I've visited thus far.
I bought a postcard at the visitors desk and dropped a quick note to my dear grandmother in neighboring Iowa before heading back out into the beautiful Midwestern summer afternoon.
A final note about the capitol: the dome is topped with a gilded bronze statue of a woman named Wisconsin, which has to be among the least popular stripper names. The statue is by none other than the legendary Daniel Chester French, most famous for the Lincoln Memorial, and whose work I've seen previously at the Nebraska Capitol and the Minnesota Capitol.
My next stop was the terrace overlooking the tranquil, gray-green Lake Monona to find a very special spot - a plaque dedicated to the memory of the King of the Soul Singers. For it was near this spot in December of 1967, that the legendary Otis Redding, along with four members of his band, the Bar-Kays, plunged into the icy waters of Lake Monona to their deaths. Otis and his band had to make it to a gig in Madison, and despite warnings of poor weather conditions, they departed Cleveland in their Beechcraft H18 on December 9th to meet their frigid, watery ends, at the bottom of the lake. As I said, the winters here are brutal. The singer was 26 years old.
That evening I was fortunate to meet up with my beardo buddy Ryan, who lives in Madison. His band was playing at a local craft beer-craft market-food truck-thing, you know, whatever those are called where you live. I sampled the sweets of various vendors, which included an adorable cookie shaped like the state of Wisconsin, but decorated like cheese, which paired perfectly with a White Claw (the summer of 2019 will forever be the Summer of White Claw). Also, I met a Whooping Crane!
The following day I spent exploring the trails of the massive University of Wisconsin Arboretum (highly recommend), wandering up and down state street, eating the world's best gyros at Parthenon (highly recommend), and watching the sunset over Lake Mendota.
By the dock of the bay.
OH YEAH!!! And I met another Whooping Crane!
Literally every other moment of my trip was occupied with one thing and one thing only: cuddling with Gypsy, a sweet little three-legged sphyx-like cat who greeted me immediately upon my arrival at my Airbnb, and endlessly begged for attention for two straight days.
This was the sweetest and most adorable kitty I've ever met. The kind of cat that people explain like, "Oh no my cat is great, she's friendly and affectionate, like a dog," which always baffles me, as I myself am a dog person. But this cat, ugh, was just too cute. There were actually two cats, but the other one was pretty cold and aloof. He looked cool, kind of like a mountain lion. I don't even remember his name because I was so enamored with Gypsy. Le sigh.
My apologies for the excessive cat content. I took at least 200 pictures of Gypsy over the course of two days, and probably a few dozen videos (oh, the purrrrrring). It's been seriously difficult to narrow it down to just the few I've included here.
Alas, I had to bid her a bittersweet farewell on the morning of the second day. I had several hours to kill before my flight, so I set off for downtown one last time. It was Saturday morning and the Madison farmers market was bustling. The entire capitol square was lined with vendors selling fresh produce, honey, crafts, pasture-raised meats, and most prominently, cheese. I couldn't leave town without having some famed Wisconsin cheese curds. Greasy, rubbery, bright yellow, asteroid-shaped cheese curds on the steps of the capitol building - the quintessential Wisconsin experience.
On my way out of town I came across another memorial to the late great Otis Redding. A beautiful mural on the side of a building quoting Otis' best song (yes, better than Dock of the Bay).
And then I flew home and returned to work the next week and now my life is boring again. Ah well, such is life.
So, dear readers, that brings us to a total of 17 Crapitols completed, which means I am now over a third of the way through with my quest. I wish to thank you for joining me on this absurd journey. Again I apologize for the long delay in writing this update. I will do better in the future.
I maaaay have one final Crapitol trip in store before the close of 2019. Stay tuned.