Irony Inc.

James Wigderson has some fun at a former daily newspaper’s expense:

“Profit? Fiscal year? Tsk! Tsk! Tsk! Beware, my dear Zilkov. The virus of capitalism is highly infectious. Soon you’ll be lending money out at interest!” – Dr. Yen Lo, The Manchurian Candidate

The Capital Times was founded because the Wisconsin State Journal wasn’t left-leaning enough. Yes, wee know, that’s hard to picture, but that’s The Capital Times story and they’re sticking with it.

The newspaper was born in 1917 after the business manager of the Wisconsin State Journal, William T. Evjue, resigned over the paper’s increasingly strident attacks against U.S. Sen. Robert “Fighting Bob” La Follette to create The Capital Times. As governor, later a senator and the founder of Wisconsin’s progressive movement, La Follette established a reputation as a champion of the underprivileged and an opponent of powerful business interests, but he came under attack like never before for his opposition to U.S. involvement in World War I.

Of course, The Capital Times supported the war anyway, as they remind us, but they were the good progressive newspaper. Just ask, Editor Emeritus Dave Zweifel,  wrote in his “Plain Talk” column in June:

As the founder of this paper, William T. Evjue, would often lament in his column years ago, “The trend toward the concentration of financial, economic, political and military power continues. Are we headed for a dictatorship of wealth?”

If Mr. Evjue only knew what’s going on today.

As readers of The Capital Times, we often ask the same question, “If Mr. Evjue only knew…”

We had some fun recently perusing The Capital Times’ 2015 IRS 990 form for the Evjue Charitable Trust. We were shocked, shocked to find capitalism going on there.

And we mean capitalism, starting with the granddaddy of them all, JP Morgan Chase & Co., founded by the great robber baron himself, JP Morgan. Old Evjue and Fighting Bob must be spinning in their graves faster than a high-speed Dremel Rotary Tool.

That was hardly the only investment that made us chuckle. The Capital Times may have been against war profiteers during World War I, but they’re investors in Halliburton, General Electric, and Raytheon now. And they love Big Oil, investing in Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell. They’re even invested in Phillip Morris and McDonalds for some healthy cash.

And for a relaxing Cap Times, they make it Suntory time.

There are also investments in drug companies, Amazon, Facebook, AT&T, Microsoft, Johnson & Johnson, Wal-Mart Stores, and even Union Pacific Corp. You know, all those small mom & pop companies struggling to make their way in a brutal capitalist society.

Our favorite investment is in Tiffany & Co. Nothing says progressive values like being the Tiffany news company in Madison.

Associate Editor John Nichols recently wrote a column saying how socialists are free to be socialists again. The proof was the popularity of Senator Bernie Sanders 2016 campaign.

“His presidential candidacy confirmed the appeal of such a politics in a 21st century that has been characterized by rampant inequality and the corrupt excesses of crony capitalism,” Nichols wrote, in a publication fueled by wealth inequality and the corrupt excesses of crony capitalism.

The Madison Capital Times, one of the loudest voices of liberalism in the country, sounds a little different these days.

Struck by mechanical and editorial employees five weeks ago, the Capital Times stunned this liberal-oriented community by bodly advertising for reporters and editors to replace its striking employees and welcoming back into is newsroom strikers who broke from the picket lines to return to work.

This is the newspaper that in its 60 years of existence has been a colorful and aggressive foe of conservatism, governmental corruption and pettiness and individuals such as Wisconsin Sen. Joseph McCarthy.

This is the newspaper that led numerous fights for civil rights, including a wrenching battle for an open housing ordinance in Madison, that strongly advanced the progressivism of Sen. Robert M. LaFollette and that vigorously opposed U.S. involvement in Vietnam, well before that position became popular.

This, embarrassed liberals in Madison have noted, is the newspaper that has staunchly lined up with union leaders to lift workers into better living and working conditions.

“It is a great disappointment to see our own newspaper not offering protection, as it has done so often in the past, but actually collaborating in abuses against workers who built the Capital Times up to what it is,” said Ron McCrea, a striking copy reader and vice president of the Madison Newspaper Guild.

Ironically, the strike was not originally aimed at the Capital Times’ management. The strike began when, on Oct. 1, a union representing editorial employees struck the Wisconsin State Journal, the city’s morning paper, and the International Typographical Union struck Madison Newspaper, Inc., which owns the Capital Times and also owns the plant that prints both papers under a joint operating agreement.

Capital Times guild members, along with pressmen and mailers, walked out in sympathy.

However, about 60 per cent of the State Journal Association, the guild’s equivalent at that paper, have gone back to work, and the morning paper is now operating with most of its staff back on the job. And the printing plant is sufficiently automated to get along without the ITU.

But with the strike still nominally on, most of the Capital Times workers remain out.

The future of the Capital Times had been in question even before the strike.

The afternoon paper’s circulation has declined to about 39,000 from a peak of about 50,000 a generation ago. The State Journal, by contrast, circulates about 79,000 daily and 126,000 on Sunday, and management says the Sunday figure is up 4,000 from a year ago. In addition, the Capital Times has sold its radio station and entered the joint operating agreement under which its parents prints the State Journal.

Thus, to some, the Capital Times’ stance is no surprise.

“The problem is, basically simple: regardless of editorial orientation or ideology, if you get into a problem of [newspaper] economizing, the ideology is likely to make a marginal difference,” says one veteran labor economist in Madison.

In a lengthy, biting reflection on the strike printed last week, executive editor Elliott Maraniss said McCrea and his fellow strikers should stop invoking the heritage and traditions of the Times and build their own.

He speculated that the strikers had a death wish, either for the paper or the union, and used as an analogy a person who commits suicide because he or she fears murder.

At the same time the liberal Madison community does not appear overly concerned about the strike and its impact on the future of the paper. Miles Capital Times editor and publisher, expressed surprise that there has been so little mail decrying the possible fatal impact of the strike on the paper.

There is little solid evidence that circulation has dropped off substantially – spokesmen for the two papers say it is less than 1 per cent – and there is no noticeable drop in advertising.

One reason, according to some observers, is that the paper has lost some of its feistiness in recent years.

The liberal community was outraged last year, for example, at the papers tactics in helping to defeat a popular Democratic state representative who was speaker of the state assembly.

Following that, the paper switched positions on Archie Simonson, the judge who was recalled after his statements on the bench linking rape to sexual permissiveness and provocative women’s clothing. The paper first attacked him editorially, then expressed sympathetic concern for his right to make such statements.

Mayor Paul Soglin, a product of the campus radical movement, became a villain to the paper when he leaked his 1978 budget proposal to the Madison Press Connection, a weekly being produced by the strikers, and said he would not grant interviews to reporters who replaced them.The general softening of the liberal tone perhaps has been inevitable, said a University of Wisconsin professor who has watched Madison, politcal and social changes for years. he noted that the heroes and adversaries in past Capital Times news and editorial columns have gone and it is getting more difficult for the paper to identify their successors.To replace those past causes and personalities in order to hold its traditional readers, the professor said, the Capital Times apparently felt it had to appeal to the liberal and radical causes of a younger generation.Because of that, he suggested, the newspaper bean hiring from a generation of reporters arising from the campus unrest of the late 1960s. For the most part, he noted, they were hired from strongly left-leaning college newspapers and the underground press.

This also has brought, in the view of a Madison labor expert, a clash between reporters and management. He notes that union members perceive management as being ideologically akin to them and thus “soft” bargainers during labor negotiations.

Readers unfamiliar with the Madison media scene will note that The Capital Times is described as a daily newspaper in the Post story. That was then, this is, well, later then, as Isthmus reported:

“It’s been no fun dying on the vine,” says Ron McCrea, senior news editor of The Capital Times.

McCrea, 65, knows something about dying. He presided over the death of the strike paper known as the Madison Press Connection in 1980 and then went to work for the Washington Star, which abruptly shut down in 1981 after 128 years. …

Buoyant wouldn’t be the right word, but he was definitely upbeat about the paper’s announcement that it will cease publication as a daily on April 26 and shift to onilne publication and two weekly print editions (one news, one arts) to be distributed free in the Madison area.

“We took practically every step imaginable to sell the paper [to new readers] in the last few years, and it didn’t work,’ he says. The Capital Times, which approached 50,000 circulation in its heyday, has dropped to less than 17,000 and had become, in practical terms, a boutique journalistic product sustained by its very profitable half-ownership of the Capital Newspapers publishing conglomerate.

Things were getting so bad, McCrea says, that sources were becoming reluctant to give story tips to Cap Times reporters because the paper’s readership was so small and the larger papers might ignore its scoops.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had the experience of talking to people about a great story we’ve had, and nobody has a clue that we published it,” he says.

Perhaps the low point was the paper’s failed attempt to woo new subscribers in Madison’s “blue” neighborhoods on the near-west and near-east sides.

The mass home delivery of free papers produced precious few subscriptions, despite these being strongholds of John Kerry and Ralph Nader voters who presumably share The Capital Times‘ liberal philosophy.

“We thought this would be a rich target for us to fill out our circulation, but people just weren’t buying,” he says. “Some people even complained that we were littering! They asked that we take the papers away.”

McCrea’s conclusion: “You can only do so much before you finally have to face reality.”

Reality is online publishing and those two weekly editions. The move will save Capital Newspapers a ton in newsprint costs and result in perhaps 15 of the paper’s 60 newsroom positions being eliminated, in addition to other job cuts in production and delivery.

“I do feel upbeat because I’ve been there when they’ve simply folded the paper and told people to go home,” he says. “This is war by other means. Online is clearly the future of journalism.”

McCrea says the paper is being “very, very humane” in handling the job cuts by offering a buyout package that includes from ten to 52 weeks of salary, depending on longevity, some health-insurance coverage and other benefits.

With a few exceptions, all employees will have to apply for newly posted jobs by Feb. 18, McCrea says. The new staff will be announced on March 10. Those who aren’t hired will receive the same severance package as the staffers who accepted the buyout.

McCrea’s endorsement of the impending changes carries weight, given his long history at The Capital Times. He was a strike leader in 1977, when five unions at what was then called Madison Newspapers Inc. walked out when management unilaterally introduced new printing technology in a particularly brutal fashion.

“Madison Newspapers laid off half off its printers in one blow, [regardless] of seniority, with women and the disabled first,” he recalls “Those who returned to work the next day were told that their pay was being cut by a third. They were just bleeding in total despair.”

The striking unions failed to shut down the two dailies, which doomed the strike from the beginning. McCrea became editor of the strike paper, the Madison Press Connection, whichnever rose higher than 12,000 in circulation and folded in 1980 after employees went payless for five months.

The strike formally ended in 1982 when the last two unions finally gave up. All five unions were decertified, though the strikers had the satisfaction of collecting $1.5 million from MNI as part of their settlements. The two papers remain union-free to this day.

McCrea went to work as press secretary for the newly elected Gov. Tony Earl in 1982, but when Earl lost his re-election bid in 1986, McCrea found himself unemployable in Madison. He left town to work at the New York edition of Newsday (since shuttered as well) before he made his peace with the Cap Times and returned to the paper in 1995.

There was no clearer sign than McCrea’s return that the extraordinary animosity of the strike had finally passed.

But the damage had been done. The strike had put the proudly progressive Capital Times on the same side with the then bluntly anti-union Lee Enterprises, which owns the other half of the publishing company. McCrea admits the strike cost the Cap Times readers it never regained.

The decision to cease daily publication was tightly compartmentalized within top management. The staff was kept in the dark until the announcement, and even senior news editor McCrea didn’t know it was coming. He says he had no role in drawing up the job descriptions for the new online paper and its weekly news and arts editions. …

A third-generation newsman, McCrea has the proverbial news ink in his veins. “I don’t have the warmth of feeling for Web readers that I do for newspaper readers,” he admits. “I tend to think that newspaper readers bring more worldliness and wider life experiences to their reading.”

The Cap Times has announced that the two weekly print editions, each with an expected circulation of 80,000, will be distributed free. Is the company’s goal to target Isthmus audience and advertisers?

McCrea says his bosses deny this. “We all love Isthmus,” he says. “We did focus groups a couple of years ago, when we were looking to refashion The Capital Times one more time. In the focus groups, everybody just loved Isthmus. Everything they wanted was already in Isthmus. We came away feeling a little dispirited.”

That doesn’t put such questions to rest. In the compartmentalized world of Capital Newspapers, advertising strategy wouldn’t be shared with editorial staffers like McCrea.

Yeah, well, every media outlet competes with every other media outlet for advertising and for eyeballs. That too is economic reality.

So is this: The aforementioned Madison Press Connection, according to the always-accurate (and never biased!) Wikipedia: …
… evolved from a strike paper to one of the few cooperatively organized and owned daily newspapers ever to exist in the United States. … The staff was initially made up entirely of striking employees of MNI, with the exception of cartoonist Pete Wagner, whose controversial work spurred his firing within two weeks of being hired, but who was rehired when the staff voted to keep him in spite of numerous cancellations by irate readers. Wagner left the paper after ten months and was later replaced by Mike Konopacki, who specialized in labor-related cartoons. The Press Connections cooperative structure was credited as the reason for numerous journalistic risks that corporate media avoided, including the publication in 1979 of an article purporting to provide the “secrets” of building an H-bomb.
… but, requoting from the Isthmus story …
… never rose higher than 12,000 in circulation and folded in 1980 after employees went payless for five months.
All of this, of course, is a demonstration that economic reality trumps (!) high-minded ideas about cooperative leadership, social justice, socially responsible investing, etc. The Press Connection died, and The Capital Times eliminated four of its editions, because as with any enterprise, for-profit or non-profit, if more money goes out than comes in, it’s not long for this world. As Margaret Thatcher was fond of saying, the facts of life are fundamentally conservative.
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A tour of the old neighborhood

Readers may recall “East Side, West Side,” featuring various aspects of growing up on the far East Side of Madison, much closer to the Interstate than the State Capitol.

A high school classmate found this about Madison and Monona neighborhoods, which were part of the Town of Blooming Grove before much of it was annexed into Madison and Monona. Their source was, I am told …

Blooming Grove was formed in 1850; in surveyors’ terms it is Town 7 North, Range 10 East. Many of the original settlers were from New York and Vermont as well as Germany, Norway, and Ireland. Almost all were farmers whose properties usually ranged from about 40 to 160 acres, although a few were more than 320 and several were almost 600.

By the late 1870’s, the population was about 1,000 and some recreational enterprises were appearing along the eastern shore of Lake Monona. A good-sized retail district was developing in the Schenk’s Corners/Atwood Avenue area primarily to serve farmers.

By 1900 manufacturing plants along the railroad tracks from downtown Madison were expanding beyond the Yahara River. Rapid growth led to the formation of the village of Fair Oaks in 1906. The village was incorporated into the City of Madison May 29, 1913. By 1920 the industrial workforce in Madison was about 5,000, which included 700 women. Industrial employment continued to grow especially after the Oscar Mayer family moved much of its meat packing and sausage business to Madison in 1919.

East High School opened in 1922. By the mid 1920’s, homes for “workingmen,” which meant wage earners, extended to the western bank of Starkweather Creek.

Lansing Place, Walterscheit Plat, Schenk School, Eastmorland

An ad in the Capital Times on June 23, 1928, announced an auction sale of lots in Lansing Place on Milwaukee Street, east of Fair Oaks Avenue, adjoining the city limits. The owner was George C. Rowley, an established Madison developer. He seems to have chosen the first and last names of local residents for all of the street names. The Lansing family, for example, had lived in Blooming Grove since the mid-1800’s and many of the other names appear on plat maps and tombstones over the years.

The 1930, 1940, and 1942 City of Madison maps show Starkweather Drive, Leon Street, Lansing Street, Farrell Street, Richard Street, Judd Street, Hargrove Street, and Harding Street in their present locations. They also show Wayne Street running from Leon Street to Starkweather Creek and Willow Street and Thorp Street in the area that later became O. B. Sherry Park.

In Dane County Place-Names (1947, expanded edition 1968, most recent printing Madison, 2009) Frederic G. Cassidy states that Starkweather Creek was named for John C. Starkweather who built a log bridge over the creek in 1846.

In the late 1940’s and throughout the 1950’s Madison and regional developers became interested in the Lansing Place area as a perfect site for veterans housing. This led to the construction of Walter Street parallel to Harding Street and the renaming of a portion of Harding Street that ran east to Dempsey Road as Tulane Avenue. These are shown on the 1950 City of Madison map, as is a “future school site” that became the location of Herbert C. Schenk school which opened in 1953. Schenk Street, also named for Herbert C. Schenk, runs north and south east of the school. Herbert C. Schenk (1880-1972) was owner of the Schenk Hardware Co. at Winnebago Street and Atwood Avenue, a school board member from 1922 to 1950, a state assemblyman, a Madison alderman, and president of the East Side Business Mens’ Association.

Schenk was a member of the Progressive Party, representing Dane County from 1935 to 1939.

Paus Street and Hynek Road, east of Schenk Street, are both named for neighborhood residents.

In the early 1950’s Aaron Elkind, Albert McGinnis, and Donald B. Sanford became business associates. Elkind, born about 1918, had already built a number of pre-cut houses on Harding Street. He was a Milwaukee native, 1940 graduate of the University of Wisconsin and a war hero. McGinnis (1919-2003) was from Superior, Wisconsin, had earned a law degree from the University of Wisconsin, and had started a practice in the Atwood Avenue area. He was also active in church and civic affairs.

Sanford never revealed much about his personal life to the newspapers; he and Elkind may have become acquainted about 1950 when both men worked for the Humphrey Tree Expert Co, a regional arborist firm with offices in the Security State Bank on Winnebago Street.

Said Security State Bank was my father’s first and only employer … sort of, since Security State Bank was purchased by Marine Bank, which was then purchased by Bank One, and which after his retirement was purchased by Chase. As for Sanford, he comes up later.

Beginning in 1954, these three developed the 75 acre, 314 house Eastmorland project on land surrounding the Schenk School site.

They sold houses the way automakers sold cars. A buyer had the choice of several models, could select a number of options, take possession on a set date, and arrange a fixed payment schedule at the time of purchase.

There were eight house styles to choose from in Eastmorland; about 80 per cent of the buyers decided on a simple ranch with a conventional roof line.

Elkind, McGinnis, and Sanford also feminized the product just as the car firms had feminized automobiles. Their houses featured large kitchens and often came with appliances. Buyers could choose from many interior and exterior color combinations.

The project name and the street names were chosen for market appeal. Eastmorland suggests more land to the east and a pleasant English countryside. It was an imitation of Westmorland, the name of a successful west side development begun by the McKenna’s in the 1920’s.

Because Elkind and the others had chosen to promote Eastmorland by emphasizing comfort and prestige the street names such as Sussex, Bradford, Buckingham, Wilshire, and Cumberland are all reminiscent of places in England or Virginia.

The Walterscheit plat runs south from present Tulane Avenue across the former Chicago and North Western Railway tracks to Atwood Avenue. It was begun in the late 1920’s on land that had been occupied for many years by the Walterscheit family.

The 1930 City of Madison map shows a portion of Harding Street in the area now occupied by Walter Street south of the railroad tracks. There is a Grand View Street which later became Sargent Street,and Johns Street, Margaret Street, Busse Street, and Bernard Street. These all appear to have been the first or last names of local residents. Olbrich Street was added before 1942 probably for Michael Olbrich who had donated the land for Olbrich Park.

Margaret Street extended north across the railroad tracks. Huron Street later became Ring Street, Erie Street became Gunderson Street, and Ontario Street is still Ontario Street. Anchor Drive and Coral Court first appear on the 1950 City of Madison map.

Royster Avenue was added about 1948 to honor the F. S. Royster Guano Co. factory at the intersection of Dempsey Road and Cottage Grove Road. Royster’s main office was in Norfolk, Virginia. The Madison plant formally opened on March 24, 1948 and closed in 2006. It blended many mixtures of plant food for farm use.

The neighborhood’s eastern border was fixed about 1950 when the East Beltline Highway was built east of Dempsey Road and U. S. Highway 51 was rerouted from Monona Drive. The new route was called South Stoughton Road, the East Beltline Highway and just 51.

Dempsey Road is for a local farm family, although, as with many other street names in the area, it is impossible to say when the name was chosen or if it honors the family in general or just one family member. In fact, if a street name in Blooming Grove has a German, Irish, or Norwegian name it was probably named for a local farm family or land owner.

Dempsey Road is near the house my parents owned when I was born and where St. Dennis Catholic Church and school is located; its history can be read here, with added details about the road’s namesake:

Following the Second World War, a swelling population and rapid housing development on Madison’s East Side necessitated the formation of a new Catholic parish. Miss Esther Dempsey donated eleven and one half acres of beautiful and expansive land, her family homestead, for this new parish.

Bishop William P. O’Connor established the founding of Saint Dennis Parish on June 1, 1956. The first pastor, Father Joseph Niglis, was joined by approximately five hundred families in a temporary, steel fabricated building that was dedicated on December 2nd of that year. That structure still exists at the heart of the present church complex as the chapel, sacristy, and social area just north of today’s spacious church lobby.

“Spacious” except on Sundays and holidays. About Niglis, an outstanding weekly newspaper once reported this, which amuses me no end:

In February 1956, after a deputy sheriff was fired, Sheriff Robert Seemeyer was accused of, among other things, ignoring gambling activities, including bingo games and dice played at the annual Labor Day celebration of Holy Ghost Catholic Church in Dickeyville (which is still held) and at a veterans rally.

Retired judge A.W. Kopp was selected to head an investigation of the accusations leveled against the sheriff. Kopp selected Leary Peterson of Prairie du Chien to pursue the allegations and question witnesses at an investigative hearing.

A sheriff’s deputy who directed traffic at the Dickeyville event denied seeing bingo games in progress. Peterson went so far as to call Rev. Joseph C. Niglis of Holy Ghost to testify. He freely admitted that bingo, which he called “homer,” was played, but denied being promised immunity from prosecution by the sheriff.

Failing to find specific wrongdoing, Gov. Walter Kohler dismissed the charges against Sheriff Seemeyer.

Fr. Niglis thought the most important thing about St. Dennis was Catholic education, and so …

Saint Dennis School opened September 7, 1960 under the leadership of the Dominican Sisters of Sinsinawa. …

Father Delbert Klink became the second pastor of Saint Dennis in 1981. On the feast of Saint Dennis one year later, October 9, 1982, Bishop Cletus O’Donnell broke ground for a permanent church building which had fulfilled the dreams of many parish members. The church was used for the first time on June 13, 1983 as Bishop George Wirz conferred the sacrament of Confirmation on an enthusiastic group of young adults. Then, once again, on the feast of Saint Dennis, October 9, 1983 Bishop Wirz returned to dedicate the new church.

“On November 7, 1960, an aerial photograph was taken of Saint Dennis. The view, looking to the north-east, shows the connection between the school gym and the church is yet to be built, Stoughton Road is still a 2-lane highway, and the original Farm & Fleet is across from Saint Dennis, on Stoughton Road. Additionally, the Dempsey homestead is clearly visible in the foreground (thanks to Bob Spoerl for sharing this).”
The original church building, which apparently replaced a Quonset hut.
The school, which opened in 1960; most Sunday Masses were held in the gym at least in my day, thus making me think all churches had wood floors, basketball hoops and scoreboards. The church was on the south end, and the “new” church is also on the south end.

Now, back to the old neighborhood(s):

Leon Park, also known as Lansing Park, was renamed O. B. Sherry Park in 1974 in honor of Orven B. Sherry, a Madison real estate dealer, who donated land for the park’s expansion that eliminated Willow Streetand the eastern portion of Thorp Street.Wayne Street was reduced to a remnant that is now so short there is only room for one house on one side of the street.

In 1993, the Madison School Board renamed the middle school portion of Schenk School for Annie Greencrow Whitehorse (1906-1990), a respected member of the Madison area American Indian community.

Lake Edge Park, Morningside Heights, Allis Heights, Quaker Heights

The area south of Cottage Grove Road, east of Monona Drive, west of U. S. 51, and north of Pflaum Road changed from farm to suburban use in stages from about 1910 to 1960. The first suburban development was Lake Edge Park near the intersection of Cottage Grove Roadand Monona Drive at the site of an earlier Lake Edge dairy.

In a series of newspaper ads from 1912 to 1915 the Lake Edge Park Co. promoted the subdivision as “The Model Suburb.” Lots were 75 x 150 feet complete with trees and shrubs, all owners were guaranteed lake access via a company-owned park, and commercial use was forbidden.

An ad in the Wisconsin State Journal on April 1, 1915 compared Lake Edge Park with three Madison subdivisions.

According to the ad:

A 75 x 150 lot in Lake Edge Park was $500

A 60 x 120 lot in Wingra Park was $1,600

A 50 x 120 lot in West Lawn was $1.400

A 40 x 120 lot in Fair Oaks was $600

The most unusual feature of the streets is that the more or less north-south streets are at a right angle to a southeastern oriented portion of Buckeye Road, which the developers called Main Avenue.

Buckeye Road (Co. Hwy AB) was for many years the main route to Madison from the southeast, especially the Stoughton-McFarland areas. The name may refer to a grove of buckeye trees (horse chestnuts) or may be connected to a person or business related to Ohio, the Buckeye State.

For some reason, the developers ignored the fact that there was already a Main Street in Madison. Their Wisconsin Avenue, Lincoln Avenue, and Park Boulevardwere also similar to Madison street names.

By 1942 the Lake Edge Main Avenue had reverted to Buckeye Road, Wisconsin Avenuebecame Davis Street, Lincoln Avenue became Drexel Avenue, Lawrence Avenue became Hegg Avenue, and Park Boulevard became Lake Edge Boulevard.

The Morningside Heights subdivision, first advertised in 1923, is just east of Lake Edge Park and was promoted as a site for workingman’s homes; most of the streets are extensions of those in Lake Edge Park and share their skewed alignment. Morningside Avenue is named for the subdivision. Maher Avenue and Major Avenue are for local residents.

Morningside Heights was a project of Laurence M. Rowley. In 1924 Rowley announced Allis Heights, a 108 acre subdivision that is essentially a continuation of Morningside Heights. Most of the streets such as Spaanem Avenue are also named for local residents.

Allis Heights, Allis Avenue, and the nearby Frank Allis School that opened in 1917 are named for Frank W. Allis (1865-1915) who was the son of Edward P. Allis (1824-1899), a Milwaukee industrialist whose foundries and machinery factories were among the largest in the United States. The City of West Allis is named for the Allis family. In 1901 the Allis company and several others merged to become Allis-Chalmers.

Frank chose agriculture over manufacturing and moved to the Madison area about 1893 where he concentrated on pure-bred Holstein-Friesian dairy cattle raised on his “Monona Farm.” The farm covered 600 acres in parts of Blooming Grove, sections 9, 16, and 17. His lake shore home still stands at 4123 Monona Drive and is called San Damiano Friary.

Sometime after 1917 parts of the Allis property including several houses and barns were purchased by the Quaker Oats Company for use as an experimental farm to test dairy cattle rations.

The 200 acre Quaker Oats farm closed about 1940 and the land was purchased by Jerome Jones. In 1944, John C. McKenna Jr. bought the Jones land for post-war development and named the area Quaker Heights. Jerome Street honors Jerome Jones. Quaker Circle and Quaker Park are for the experimental farm.

Some of the Allis land became the location of the Monona Golf Course begun in the 1920’s as a private venture. The City of Madison took over the course in the mid-1930’s. It was an 18-hole course until the early 1960’s when some land was lost to school construction. It is now nine holes.

The Village of Monona was created in 1938; the first elections for the City of Monona took place in April 1969.

Three streets in the golf course area share names with those in the City of Monona.

Winnequah, as in East Winnequah Drive, was coined from “Winnebago squaw” by Frank Barnes in 1870 in honor of his Indian wife.

Cold Spring Avenue is probably named for a spring in Monona.

East Dean Avenue is for Nathaniel Dean (1817-1880) whose 500 acre farm was located in the area. Dean House, at 4718 Monona Drive, which was the Dean family’s part-time residence, is now a house museum operated by the Historic Blooming Grove Historical Society.

The Monona Grove High School, 4400 Monona Drive, built on land donated by the Blooming Grove volunteer fire department, opened in 1955 to serve students from the Village of Monona, the Town of Blooming Grove, and the Town and Village of Cottage Grove.

The Robert M. La Follette High School on Pflaum Road was built in 1963. It is named for Robert M. La Follette (1855-1925) who was a member of Congress from Wisconsin from 1885-1891, governor of Wisconsin from 1901-1906, and U. S. Senator from Wisconsin 1906-1925. He ran for U. S. President in 1924 for the Progressive Party, which he founded, and received 17 per cent of the national popular vote.

That would be the same Progressive Party of which the aforementioned Rep. Schenk was a member. As I’ve written here before, I cannot explain why the La Follette teams are the Lancers and not the Fighting Bobs.

In 1970, the junior high school/middle school portion of the La Follette High School was renamed Ray F. Sennett Middle School in honor of Ray F. Sennett (1904-1970) who served on the Madison School Board from 1948 to 1969. He was a graduate of the Madison Central High School and the University of Wisconsin, an outstanding athlete, and vice-president of the Randall and Security State Banks. After his death the Wisconsin State Journal (April 10, 1970) wrote that he was “a quiet, stalwart, dignified man with a ready smile that revealed his innate gentleness.”

Glendale, Edna Taylor Conservation Park

The Glendale neighborhood has two parts. The first area is east of the Monona Golf Course to Camden Roadand south to Pflaum Road. The second area extends from Monona Drive to Camden Road and from Pflaum Road to the southern border of the Edna Taylor Conservation Park.

In 1954 several developers including Harry Vogts, Pete Beehner, the Herro brothers, and Oscar Seiferth began to build hundreds of single family homes in Glendale. These projects were mostly complete by 1956 or 1957; the apartments on Camden Road were built in 1961 and a number of houses were built near the northern edge of the Edna Taylor Park from 1971 to about 1979.

A booklet published by the Glendale Neighborhood Assocation, “Glendale, a Neighborhood, a School, and their Park” (Madison, 2005) gives the origins of many street names.

The name Glendale comes from the Glendale Development Corporation owned by Phil and Norm Herro and Oscar Seiferth. Glendale has been a popular place name in the United States since at least the 1850’s, as in Glendale, Ohio. The Glendale Elementary School opened in 1957.

Many of the street names are those of local residents such as Pflaum, Tompkins, Kvamme, and Bjelde. Jeanette Pugh Johnson chose the name Crestview for a subdivision and Crestview Drive. She named Bryn Trem Road for the Welsh phrase “view from a hill” and also named Maldwyn Lane; Maldwyn is the Welsh version of Baldwin.

The developer Pete Beehner named a subdivision and Linda Vista Avenuefor his daughter Linda.

Harry Vogts named the Aceview subdivision for his Ace Builders, Inc.: “Ace sets the pace.”

Norm and Phil Herro named Herro Lanefor the family; Dixie Lane is from their brother Burt’s nickname. Oscar Seiferth named Joylynne Drive for his wife Joyce and daughter Lynne.

Indian Trace, which runs south from Crestview Drive was originally an extension of Groveland Terrace. Mary Schatz, a neighborhood resident, suggested renaming this section Indian Trace because Jeanette Pugh Johnson said that an old Indian had lived in the area for many years. The Madison City Council approved the new name in 1972.

Kay Street and Ruth Street are first names. Spaanem Avenue and Maher Avenue are extensions of streets in Morningside Heights and Allis Heights. Acacia Lane and Alder Lane are named for trees. Hob Street is for a developer. Admiral Drive in Aceview may reflect Harry Vogts’ love of everything nautical.

Perhaps ironically, I went to high school with a Sponem who was not a Spaanem.

Crestview Drive, Woodland Drive, and Parkview Driveoverlook the northern border of the Edna Taylor Conservation Park.Camden Road, Douglas Trail, Louden Lane, and Lamont Lane may be named for local residents.

The Edna Taylor Conservation Park, established in 1972, consists of 56 acres of land behind the Glendale Elementary School south to Femrite Pond. Thirty-five acres of the park were purchased by the Madison Parks Division from the estate of Edna Giles Norden Taylor.

Edna Taylor (about 1903-1972) arrived in Madison about 1929 where her husband Harry Giles was on the University of Wisconsin faculty. She was born and raised in New York City where she played minor roles in Broadway productions. In Madison she was active in community theater as an actor and director. She was also affiliated with the U. W. English department as a graduate student and writing instructor. A second husband was named Thomas Norden.

At some point Mrs. Taylor acquired 111 acres of land in the present U. S. 51 and Femrite Road area and used some of it as a Guernsey farm that she named “Heartenland.” Part of this land went into the Edna Taylor Park.

Now to the neighborhood we moved to after my younger brother was born:

Elvehjem Neighborhood, Mira Loma Park Area

The first subdivision in the area south of Cottage Grove Road east of U. S. 51 was Harry Vogts’ Acewood from 1959. By 1962 many small, medium, and large builders and developers were active in the area; two of the larger were Towne Realty of Milwaukee that used Findorff, a Madison company, to build its houses, and the Lucey Realty Service owned by Patrick J. Lucey who was governor of Wisconsin from 1971 to 1977.

Lucey is probably the last Democratic governor of Wisconsin who cared very much about business, perhaps due to his business background. He was a native of Ferryville and attended the former Campion High School in Prairie du Chien. But I digress. Again.

Many streets are named for local residents: Steinhauer Trail, Starker Avenue, Vinje Court, and Droster Road. Several are for builders; Montgomery Drive is for William C. Montgomery. First names are common as in Bonnie Lane, Ellen Avenue, Wendy Lane,and Melinda Drive. Female names greatly outnumber male names. Painted Post Roadis from Lucey’s Painted Post Subdivision. Bird streets are Meadowlark Drive, Sandpiper Lane, Pelican Circle, and Tern Court.

In the Mira Loma area south of Buckeye Road are several mini-themes such as Ranch House Lane, Oxbow Road, Blacksmith Lane, Bellows Circle, Wagon Trail, Forge Drive, and Anvil Lane.

Spanish phrases appear in La Crescenta Circle, La Sierra Way, Paso Roble Way, and Mira Loma, which means “view of the hillside.”

Along with Eldorado Lane, where said house was.

Mira Loma Park was established in 1981 and renamed Orlando Bell Park in 1997. Orlando Bell (1950-1994) came from Tuscaloosa, Alabama to study at the University of Wisconsin. He was an artist and art instructor, director of the South Madison Neighborhood Center, a Boy Scout leader, and president of the Madison NAACP chapter from 1990 to 1993.

The Elvehjem neighborhood name comes from the Elvehjem Elementary School that was dedicated on December 12, 1962 in honor of Conrad Arnold Elvehjem (1901-1962). “Connie” Elvehjem was raised on a farm near McFarland within three miles of the school. He attended Stoughton High School before entering the University of Wisconsin where he soon became a biochemist best known for discovering the vitamin niacin and the cure for pellagra. He became president of the University of Wisconsin in 1958 and died of a heart attack on July 27, 1962.

Now to the neighborhood where my parents built their first house:

Kingston-Onyx, Rolling Meadows, Heritage Heights

By 1958 when large scale suburban development began in the area east of U. S. 51, south of Milwaukee Street, and north of Cottage Grove Road, developers such as Aaron Elkind, Donald Sanford, and Albert McGinnis knew a lot about selling houses to middle income clients.

They made certain that subdivisions named Kingston-Onyx, Rolling Meadows, and Heritage Heights promised pleasant surroundings. Streets with names such as Diamond, Turquoise, and Crystal sparkled with the promise of a high-quality product in a landscape filled with singing birds on streets named Chickadee Court, Bob-o-link Lane, and Meadowlark Drive.

Heritage Heights suggested merry England with Kingsbridge Road, Queensbridge Road, and Knightsbridge Road.

Not to mention Vicar Lane, which comes up momentarily. What of Spicebush Lane?

Aaron Elkind wrote ads that said the houses in Kingston were “fit for a queen and built for a king.” Residents could talk about a gem of a neighborhood.

The jewel box consists of Diamond Drive, Pearl Lane, Garnet Lane, Jade Lane, Turquoise Lane, Onyx Lane, Topaz Lane, Cameo Lane, Crystal Lane, Flint Lane, and Agate Lane.

The bird streets are Chickadee Court, Goldfinch Drive, Bob-o-link Lane, Shearwater Street, Hummingbird Lane, and Meadowlark Drive.

Heritage Heights offers Sudbury Way, Cavendish Court, Severn Way, Brookshire Lane, Westminster Court, Windsor Court, St. Albans Avenue, Portsmouth Way, and Merryturn Road.

As was common in the 1950’s and 1960’s several streets are named for builders and their wives and children, which was an expression of pride in workmanship and family; in some cases it was a statement of joy in having survived years of deprivation and war long enough to have a family. Charleen Lane, Lois Lane, Ralph Circle and Beehner Circle are examples. Pete J. Beehner (about 1919-2004) was a well-known Madison builder and developer whose “Beehner built” houses were said to be among the best.

There are several mini-themes such as Lamplighter Way, Stagecoach Trail, and Hackney Way.

In the peaceful sector there are Quiet Lane, Harmony Hill Drive, and a number of “wood” streets—Shady Wood Lane, Inwood Way, Open Wood Way and Twin Oaks Drive. Some of these contain two words which was still fairly uncommon in the 1960’s.

One major street, Acewood Boulevard, began about 1959 in Harry Vogts’ Acewood subdivision. Vogts (1908-1994) owned Ace Builders, Inc., and had already named one subdivision in Glendale Aceview.

Vogts had been an outstanding musician at the East Side High School and the University of Wisconsin. He was a frequent national champion motor boat racer and a well-known Madison area golfer and bowler. He was an officer in the Madison Brass Works, a non-ferrous metals foundry established by his father Henry Vogts in 1907. His wife Betty was also a champion motor boat racer.

Kennedy Elementary School and Kennedy Park are named for President John F. Kennedy. McGinnis Park is named for Albert McGinnis; it is surrounded by his developments.

Tom George Greenway is for Thomas T. George (1924-1999), a Madison lawyer, alderman from 1971 to 1975, and a Heritage Heights resident who lived at 905 Inwood Way.

Most of the Kingston-Onyx, Rolling Meadows, and Heritage Heights area was filled by 1970.

That depends on your definition of “most.” Our house, sold by Sanford Homes (a ranch, one of approximately five available house plans in the neighborhood), was built when Spicebush Lane wasn’t paved yet. (The basement was poured on my sixth birthday.) Vicar Lane, the street to the west, was the last street in the neighborhood until streets were built to the north up to Milwaukee Street. Until then, everything north of Vicar Lane was a cornfield.

So that’s where I grew up — started near St. Dennis, then in the Acewood neighborhood, then in Heritage Heights. The houses in the neighborhood are going on 50 years old, but, I’m told, still in very good shape. (And if you’re interested in one of them — including a house across the street — click here.)

I have never lived in a suburb of a major city, but that’s what living where we lived felt, as if there should have been a city limits sign at the intersection of Acewood Boulevard and Cottage Grove Road or something. As I wrote before, everything except Kennedy School and the Boy Scout troop meetings three blocks from our house was a car drive away. Things that happened in downtown Madison or on the UW–Madison campus seemed a world away.

Gov. Soglin (now stop laughing)

The Wisconsin State Journal’s Chris Rickert takes the possible gubernatorial run of People’s Republic of Madison premier Paul Soglin seriously:

The last person the state Democratic Party sacrificed to one of Gov. Scott Walker’s finely tuned, soulless campaigns was a fresh face with a solid business background, deep pockets and good ideas who nevertheless couldn’t inspire passion among voters who needed to feel passionate for her to win.

Say what you want about Madison “mayor for life” and potential Walker challenger Paul Soglin — he ain’t Mary Burke.

Soglin’s thinking on why he might have a shot next year is understandable in an age when a pleasant fly-over state like ours gives a major-party primary win to an irascible 74-year-old Democratic Socialist from Vermont, and its 10 electoral votes to a darling of the alt-right who brags on tape about sexually assaulting women.

If Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders mean anything, it’s that conventional is out. The louder, less scripted and more fringe, the better.

Soglin in this calculus is obviously Sanders. Both are in their 70s and unapologetically leftist. Like Soglin, Sanders was once the mayor of a liberal city in a rural state.

The usual knock against Democrats from Madison is that they can’t win statewide election. The rest of the state, say the experts, is apparently not as enamored of Madison as Madisonians are.

But Sanders’ Wisconsin success could mean Soglin’s connection to Madison isn’t as much of a knock as it was — or maybe it’s not as big a knock as the experts think.

As UW-Milwaukee professor and former Democratic lawmaker Mordecai Lee pointed out, former governors Gaylord Nelson and Jim Doyle were from Madison, and so is U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin.

“So it’s not insurmountable,” he said.

Soglin is also not as easily stereotyped as the typical touchy-feely, identity-politics-obsessed Madison elitist. He’s recently been something of a city budget hawk — at least by Madison standards — and he’s been less interested in coddling trouble-making homeless people, excusing crime or dismissing personal responsibility in crafting social policy.

Plus, “he’s a strong guy” and “can take on Walker and not be the least bit intimidated,” said former Democratic state Sen. Tim Cullen, who considered a run against Walker himself but said it’s too early to start handicapping challengers.

Like Sanders, Soglin is kind of a grump — a “get off my lawn liberal” in a state that just voted for a “get out of my country” president.

He also elicits strong emotions. Just ask any number of City Council members who can’t stand him. This is an era when people relish emotion in their politics. Just listen to cable news, read Twitter or watch a City Council meeting.

“There’s an enthusiasm that’s absent” among Democrats, said Madison lobbyist Brandon Scholz, although he doesn’t think Soglin brings a Sanders-like enthusiasm to the governor’s race.

Cullen’s right that it’s early, but it’s not too early to predict that if the Democratic establishment opts for a candidate who merely checks off a lot of boxes on a list of what voters are supposed to want, the candidate will lose — and bigly.

If they go with someone who can throw a little spit and vinegar at Walker’s well-oiled machine, they have a chance.

Well, anyone who runs for office theoretically has a chance. This analysis misses on several points.

Rickert’s analysis is written from the perspective of Madison, which has endured Soglin as its mayor for 20 years, due largely to knee-jerk robotic thinking and voting. How do you suppose Soglin’s act will go over up North, where they like their Second Amendment rights, or the Fox River Valley, where people work for a living without government as their employer? (Consider how many members of the Madison Common Council cannot stand Soglin, despite the fact they all vote the same in November elections.)

I have taken on Soglin not for office (who would vote for me in Madison?), but in TV debate on the late Wisconsin Public Television “WeekEnd” show. The second time before my comment was finished I heard him yelling in my ear (from Green Bay) “That’s not true! That’s just not true!” The third time, when we were in the same WHA-TV studio together, after my statement (that the way to clean up campaigns was to reduce the stakes in elections by reducing the size and scope of government), he literally sputtered a non-rejoinder that closed the show. I take this as my effort of revenge on behalf of my parents for the thousands of dollars they paid in property taxes to Soglin for my hometown’s downward-spiralling quality of life.

The comparisons of Trump to the GOP and Sanders to the Democratic Party make sense, but neither Sanders nor Trump won in Wisconsin because they were such great candidates. Sanders won the Democratic nomination, and Trump the state’s electoral votes, because Hillary Clinton was such a godawful candidate so arrogant as to think she didn’t need to visit a bunch of swing states, most of which went for Trump. Walker has taken on everything Democrats could throw at him in three statewide elections and won each.

Soglin is 0-for-1 in running for office beyond Madison, having lost to U.S. Rep. Scott Klug (R–Madison) in 1996, while Bill Clinton was being reelected president. And as much as Rickert thinks Soglin might be able to “throw a little spit and vinegar” at Walker, Walker (and his well financed supporters) can fire much more back at Soglin. I can see TV ads with …

… people a lot of Wisconsinites don’t care for, along with reports about Madison’s high taxes and increasing crime and violent crime rate. Someone also might report how Soglin got elected mayor, then made money as an attorney representing business clients in the morass that is City of Madison government that Soglin helped create. Walker has already correctly pointed out that all of Madison‘s economic growth under Soglin is completely attributable to being the state capital and hosting a world class university (run by the state, not the city) and nothing to do with anything Comrade Soglin has done.

Lee’s statement about Madison Democrats sometimes winning statewide races encompasses, in order, (1) someone who last won an election in 1974, (2) someone who ran against an acting governor and weak candidate (as the candidate, Scott McCallum, himself admitted on election night), and (3) someone who won a statewide race the same night Barack Obama was reelected against a weak candidate following a divided GOP primary. To think that people who voted for Trump last year will vote for Soglin next year is a triumph of liberal hope over experience.

Soglin may well rev up Wisconsin Democrats, who have had little to get excited about this decade. Nothing says fresh new face quite like a 72-year-old ex-hippie first elected to office 50 years ago as of next year. Of course, the Democrats may get revved up because they still haven’t gotten past losing three elections, including Recallarama, to Walker. Every time some Democrat shoots his or her mouth off about Walker, Walker’s voters take that as a direct personal insult. And three consecutive Walker wins proves that’s not working as a campaign strategy.

The likelihood of Soglin getting non-Democrat votes is about as likely as the Brewers winning the World Series this year.

 

East Side, West Side

Readers know I grew up on the far east side of Madison, a mile south of where Interstate 90 splits off for Chicago, Interstate 94 heads to Milwaukee, and I–90/94 goes north to the Wisconsin Dells, La Crosse and the Twin Cities.

This was (well, still is) the old neighborhood, Heritage Heights, which years earlier had been part of a large farm. (More on that presently.) My parents built their first house, a green and yellow ranch with a two-car garage on the left side behind a rather steep driveway, in 1971, the year our street and the street behind (to the north) our house was paved. (The basement for our house was poured on my sixth birthday, and the street wasn’t paved yet.) There were basically three house designs on the entire block, with a couple of exceptions — a one-story ranch (with garage to left or right), a two-story house (on either side of our house), and a split-level house.

We had moved there from another house my parents had purchased upon having two sons in the house, 1.5 miles to the south. My future second-grade teacher lived two houses down, and across the street was a childless couple, older than my parents, who would have us over on numerous occasions.

Neither of those neighborhoods was a suburb of Madison, since they were in the city, but they felt like they were, given the distance around either Lake Mendota or Lake Monona to downtown or the UW campus, seven miles (if you drive through downtown) and a world away. When late 1960s Vietnam War protests hit national TV, we had relatives who were concerned that marauding rioters would endanger us. They didn’t realize how far it was to campus and the reality that any UW student who got that far east was lost.

It took until I (permanently) left Madison for me to realize what an unusual neighborhood it was. The nearest gas station and grocery store were one mile away. Want to have a drink at the neighborhood bar? There wasn’t one; the closest bar was two miles away. (Farther away yet was a combination bar and barber shop building where the males of the house got haircuts.) Want to go out to dinner? The nearest nice restaurant (which I never went to) was The Pig’s Ear, 1.4 miles away. (There were both bars and bars with non-bar food a couple of miles away, but at the time those were in what could be called “rural Madison,” the towns of Blooming Grove and Burke.)  Unless you mowed grass or babysat, any part-time jobs required a commute.

There was one church in the neighborhood, for what then was called the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. (Not the Mormons, and now called the Community of Christ, though I think the building itself, which became our Boy Scout home base, isn’t a church anymore.) The neighborhood had houses and one park, and that was it. Our neighborhood was impossible to live in if you didn’t have a car. (Madison Metro’s J route went through, but try bringing home groceries on a bus.)

Public-school kids in my neighborhood went to John F. Kennedy Elementary School (though I went to Elvehjem Elementary School for kindergarten until we moved), which was a one-mile walk through Heritage Heights Park and its culvert that filled with fast-rushing water from spring snowmelt (and the future home of legendary 1980s Heritage Bowl touch football games, but that’s another story). until the completion of a road behind our house reduced the distance considerably, just in time for me to leave Kennedy for (the hellhole that was) Schenk (now Whitehorse) Middle School. And then surviving Schenk, off we went to Robert M. La Follette High School (sports teams known as the Lancers, not the Fighting Bobs), 3.7 miles and 15 minutes away from our house down Cottage Grove Road and U.S. 51 (Stoughton Road). (No wonder my mother was so annoyed when her sons stayed late after school and asked separately for rides. Two round trips constituted a gallon of gas in our 1975 Chevrolet Caprice, EPA-rated at 13 city and 18 highway miles per gallon. At $1 a gallon, that adds up.)

For comparison purposes: The local high school is 15 minutes from our house. By foot. The only reason it takes 10 minutes to get there by car is if you’re stuck trying to get across two state highways at non-stoplight intersections. (There is a roundabout, but four years after it opened most locals don’t seem to be able to figure out how to drive in it.) I can get to a neighboring community’s high school in 10 minutes, and two others’ high schools in 15 minutes. Those of us who grew up in my neighborhood were as far away from our own high school as those who grow up in rural school districts if measured by time. (I figured out after I moved from Madison that a 15-mile drive at 60 mph seems shorter than a 15-minute drive at 25 mph, though the former obviously is farther in distance. The driver feels like he’s getting somewhere at highway speeds, as opposed to the Far East formula of drive to the end of the street, stop, drive a few blocks, stop, drive one block, stop, etc.)

This long preamble has now reached the point of this blog: It could have been different. Stu Levitan takes us back to 1967, four years after La Follette opened its doors:

The new high school—or not

In 1966, voters had approved by a margin of 2-1 to a $26.5 bond issue which included funds to open a new east side high school in 1969. Things didn’t quite work out as planned—especially for a powerful board member and the lame-duck superintendent.

Atty. Albert J. Mc Ginnis, former chair of the Madison Redevelopment Authority, who lost to mayor Henry Reynolds in 1963, chaired the board’s site selection committee for the new school. He picked a site on the Sprecher farm on Milwaukee St., adjacent to Kennedy elementary school—which just happened to be within the Heritage Heights plat that he had developed before his election to the board in 1965, and still owned. North side Alds. Kopp and Smith, who want the school in Warner Park, howl, accusing McGinnis of an obvious conflict of interest. Later that month, more than 350 people pack a school board public hearing, calling for a Warner Park site.

On April 28, his last day before resigning to assume his duties in Denver, [school] superintendent [Robert] Gilberts recommends to the board that it buy the parcel McGinnis has identified on Milwaukee St. But three days later, in a stunning and costly rebuke of its administration, the board votes 4-3 against building any new far East Side high school at all, endorsing instead a new junior high at La Follette High School, and a similar one at Kennedy “as needed.” Among the likely repercussions: when Central HS closes in 1969, all south side students now at Central will go to West—which cannot accommodate them.

Levitan adds the numbers for the four public high schools’ Classes of 1967:

West: 677
East: 512
La Follette: 339
Central: 271

There was a high school about half the distance to La Follette in a different direction. That was Queen of Apostles High School, just on the opposite side of I–90, across Cottage Grove Road from a branch of my father’s bank. (Where I met former Packer Ray Nitschke, but that’s a different story.) QAS, as it was locally known, apparently started as a seminary back in 1948, 20 years before the Interstate bypassed Madison. QAS was the first home of my Boy Scout troop, which moved to the RLDS church after QAS closed. (QAS’ last graduation was on my 14th birthday.) QAS was on the way to closing by the time I neared high school age, and I never considered going there or to Edgewood, the remaining Catholic high school in Madison.

(The area between the Interstate and Cottage Grove is unrecognizable now compared to when I lived there. When I was driving from Madison to Cottage Grove to cover government meetings in my first journalism job, there was only one place you had to slow down on those seven miles, at Vilas, about halfway there. Now, it is wall to wall houses and businesses, and the speed limit is 35 mph.)

Another high school is even closer to La Follette, but that’s in a different school district — Monona Grove, on the opposite side of the Monona Golf Course. Monona Grove, for non-Madisonians, is the school district that combines Monona (which is on Lake Monona and surrounded by Madison) and Cottage Grove, which is about eight miles east. (MGHS students who live in Cottage Grove have to go through Madison to get to school. When the school district built a new high school in 1999, it was built in Monona, which has shrunk a quarter in population over the past 40 or so years, and not Cottage Grove, which is now only slightly smaller than Monona in population.)

Levitan’s piece, part of a larger work chronicling a rather turbulent year in Madison to say the least (including, one assumes though I don’t remember, my own Terrible Twos), is the first time I knew there was a proposal to build an east-side high school farther east than the Far East Side high school, La Follette. Or a middle school. Really Far East Side High School (perhaps it would have had some sort of Asiatic nickname in those pre-politically correct days) would have been no more than a mile away from Kennedy. Kennedy and Don’t-Call-It-Schenk-Anymore (which had an attached elementary school) were just two miles apart by car, and Really Far East Side Middle School would have been even closer than that. (As it was despite being just two miles away, going from Kennedy to Schenk was like entering a different world; the Schenks were in an older neighborhood, and, well, it was a middle school, a toxic combination of burgeoning hormones and tween Social Darwinism.)

To say the least this would have changed things. I’m not sure where the high school attendance boundaries were in the pre-open enrollment says, but one oddity was that students who lived in Maple Bluff, the richest part of greater Madison, went to East, the most blue collar high school. That probably would have changed with RFESHS; indeed all the high schools’ attendance boundaries would have shifted eastward. (Students who lived downtown, who went to Central before it closed and, I believe, went to West thereafter, probably would have gone to East.)

In those days (and probably now) the four high schools were easy to stereotype. La Follette had white-collar families — bankers, insurance agents, small business owners, salespeople, etc. East had blue-collar families. West was where UW-employed families lived. Memorial families had money, though we didn’t know from where. Then as now, the biggest high school rivalry in Madison was East vs. West, followed by West vs. Memorial and East vs. La Follette. (The latter rivalry introduced police to hockey games after East fans threw rocks at our band bus.) James Madison Memorial (which could have been the name of RFESHS) was built instead of RFESHS (or the sought-after Warner Park-area high school) and given the anticipated growth of the Far West Side (three words: “West Towne Mall”) a high school was likely to be built there anyway. (La Follette Junior High became Sennett Middle School, connected to La Follette by a concrete supposed-to-be-no-man’s-land under the La Follette library known as The Pit, a favorite stop of those who related to the Brownsville Station song and Poison cover “Smokin’ in the Boys Room.”)

Then there’s this:

I went to grade school with two players on the varsity roster and another player who wasn’t on the varsity  roster for state. Two other players went, I think, to the local Catholic school instead of Kennedy or Schenk Middle. I do not intend to denigrate their athletic abilities by pointing out that none of them were named “Rick Olson,” who went on to play at Wisconsin, or “Steve Amundson,” who went on to play at Western Michigan. La Follette may have still won the 1982 state championship, but none of us at RFESHS would have been part of that.

There has always been a rivalry between Madison’s East and West sides, and those of us who lived on the East Side (however you define that) felt some sense that we were getting ripped off. Madison’s two newest high schools were an example — Memorial got a football field and track (which hosted the state track meet until 1990), but La Follette did not. (Of course, neither did Central, East or West; they shared Breese Stevens Field until East and West shared Warner Park, while West plays home games at Memorial’s stadium. La Follette did not play at Monona Grove’s stadium even though it would have been more convenient and nicer than Warner Park, which was worse than some smallest-division fields. La Follette now does have a football field and track, and East plays there too.) Memorial got a planetarium, as a reader reminded me.

East Towne was bigger than West Towne (an important point), but while there were several Catholic churches on the West Side, there was one near-side Catholic church (St. Bernard’s, on Atwood Avenue not far from my father’s bank), and one closer to us, St. Dennis, two miles away. St. Dennis held church services in its school gym from the beginning of my memory, and we parishioners helped out at Friday fish fries in the same gym to raise money for the new church, which was finally completed my senior year in high school. (The new church was immediately packed nearly every Sunday, which suggests the diocese should have located more churches closer to the Far East Side than Monona and Cottage Grove.) As far as I can remember, the annual Madison Parade of Homes were always on the West Side. (Including the house with the two-level garage.)

We also felt we were getting ripped off in such city services as police response time, though there was little reason for the police to show up in our neighborhood. (Other than a rock-throwing incident next door, we may literally have gone years without having a police car on our street.) The nearest fire station was across the street from my first employer, Bridgeman’s Ice Cream Restaurant and Parlour, about 2.5 miles away. The nearest fire station now is on the other side of the Interstate. Our streets were always the absolute last in Madison to get plowed after snowfalls (assuming they were, and often they weren’t), always timed for when we had just finished shoveling. The Far West Side (where four of my cousins grew up and, sad to say, attended Memorial) seemed to have nicer houses and therefore more money, though young minds don’t necessarily know much about how much it costs to buy 4,000-square-foot houses with two-level garages.

One thing that’s changed in Madison is high school enrollments. The Madison high schools when I was growing up had around 2,000 students each, I believe. East and La Follette are 75 to 80 percent of their former size, while Memorial and West are still around 2,000. However, Sun Prairie, one of the smallest schools in the Big Eight in the ’80s, is now bigger than any Madison high school (Sun Prairie just built a new high school but is considering another), as is Middleton, which was too small to be in the Big Eight. Verona, which was Monona Grove’s size, now is La Follette’s size. Part of that is that nearly every Madison-area school district has alternative high schools, but part of that is smaller families, though that has hit rural school districts harder than Madison-area schools.

I’ve written before that I had a pretty drama-free childhood. I don’t know what went on in other houses, but Heritage Heights felt so far away from downtown Madison that we might as well have been living out in the ‘burbs. (There were people who lived in the school district, with Madison addresses, but didn’t live in the city; they were east of the Interstate. I assume most of those houses were annexed into the city.) It certainly would have been different not having many of my classmates be classmates, although with 500 classmates no one could know where everyone lived.

 

“Let out that yell now for our great team …”

A Facebook Friend posted a snippet of this, and since this blog didn’t exist when published in 2010 this seems a good time to re-reveal the Wisconsin State Journal’s list of best Madison La Follette boys athletes.

The State Journal’s Tom Oates supervised the votes of the best at-least-two-sport athletes of all time from Madison’s eight high schools, six of which still exist today. (The other two were the University of Wisconsin High School, open from 1914 to 1964, and Central,  which closed in 1969. Malcolm Shabazz City School has no sports, so they weren’t included. The top 60, up to 2010m included …

5. Gary Anderson, Class of 1969

Sports: Football, basketball, baseball

Honors:

• All-city, all-Big Eight and second-team all-state quarterback as a senior; also named city and Big Eight player of the year

• Two-time all-city, all-Big Eight and all-state pick in basketball (first-team all-state in 1970, fourth-team in 1969); also two-time city player of the year and two-time Big Eight scoring leader

• Two-time all-city outfielder in baseball

• Three-year starter in basketball at UW, earning team MVP and all-Big Ten second-team honors as a senior

• Drafted by NBA’s Washington Bullets and ABA’s San Antonio Spurs

Quotable: Former La Follette coach Pete Olson: “Mr. Smooth. He made everything look easy.”

Gary and his younger brother Ross, who played on La Follette’s first state champion team in 1977 and then played football at UW, and brothers Dean and Steve had a younger brother, Craig, who was a senior when I was a freshman. Everyone looked up to Craig because (1) he was 6-foot-6 and (2) a great athlete who (3) didn’t let it go to his head; he was really the kind of high school athlete, including in demeanor, you want to have. Craig was a reserve on Ross’ 1977 state champion team when freshmen were never on the varsity, and then he got to state in 1980, along with three state boys volleyball trips. Craig played basketball at Iowa, but nobody’s perfect.

17. Jonte Flowers, Class of 2003

Sports: Football, basketball, track

Honors

• Two-time all-city and all-Big Eight as an end and defensive back in football

• City back of the year and Big Eight receiver of the year as a senior

• All-state first-team in football as a senior

• Three-time all-city and two-time all-Big Eight pick in basketball

• City and Big Eight basketball player of the year as a senior

• All-state first-team in basketball as a senior

• Played on WIAA Division 1 state basketball champion as a junior

• Third in high jump as La Follette won title at the WIAA state track meet in 2002

• Played football at UW as a freshman

• Transferred to Winona State and played four years of basketball; starred on team that won NCAA Division II titles in 2006 and 2008 and lost in the final in 2007

• Division II second-team all-American and voted most outstanding player in NCAA tournament in 2008, scoring 30 points in the final

Quotable: Capital Times sportswriter Adam Mertz: “His resume reads like something from the ‘50s. No one was as dominant in three sports over the previous three decades. Didn’t figure out his best sport until college.”

18. Nathan Brown, Class of 2002

Sports: Football, basketball, track

Honors

• Two-time all-city and all-Big Eight halfback and linebacker

• City back of the year as a senior

• All-state first-team linebacker in 2001, second team in 2000

• All-city honorable mention in basketball as a senior

• Won both hurdles events and the 1,600 relay in leading La Follette to the Division 1 WIAA state track title in 2002

• Also won intermediate hurdles and was second in high hurdles in 2001

• Recruited by UW for football but had to drop the sport for medical reasons

• Lettered five years in track at UW

• Won the heptathlon at the Big Ten Indoor meet and the decathlon at the Big Ten Outdoor meet in 2006

Quotable: State Journal sportswriter Rob Hernandez: “This kid might have been the smartest all-around athlete on this list. He used his brains to complement his natural ability.”

23. Rick Olson, Class of 1982

Sports: Basketball, baseball

Honors

• Two-time all-city and all-Big Eight in basketball

• First-team all-state as senior, when he set city single-season scoring record (694 points) and was the city, Big Eight and state player of the year

• Leading scorer on WIAA state basketball champion in 1982

• All-city and all-Big Eight outfielder in baseball as a senior

• Four-year starter in basketball at UW

• Still fifth in career points at UW with 1,736

• Scored 39 points in one game in 1984 and averaged 20.4 points in 1986

• Team MVP in 1986 and all-Big Ten honorable mention in 1984 and 1986

• Drafted by NBA’s Houston Rockets

There is no quote, so I will provide one. On La Follette’s 25th anniversary year, I did a story about 25 years of La Follette boys basketball and asked Olson’s coach, Pete Olson (not related to Rick, nor to a future sportswriter at the same newspaper named, yes, Pete Olson) for his top list of players of all time. He simply took his top five scorers list, which included the aforementioned Anderson and Olson, who at the time was the school’s career and single-season scoring leader. I couldn’t find his career total, but he scored 697 points in the 25-game 1981–82 season. That’s 27.8 points per game, without the three-point shot, by a 6–1 guard. But don’t believe me, read the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Badgers basketball coach Bo Ryan was asked to comment on the long-range shooting ability of guard Ben Brust, who had 17 points in Wisconsin’s 68-41 victory over Colgate on Wednesday night.

“He’s got Ricky-Olson type range,” Ryan said of the former Wisconsin and Madison La Follette guard, who played for the Badgers from 1983-’86.

Ryan pointed out that Olson did not have the benefit of the three-point line when he played. But Olson still ranks fifth in career points at UW with 1,736 and as a senior averaged 20.4 points.

“The young people are looking at me … they’re Googling Rick Olson right now,” Ryan said. “He was a pretty good outside shooter for the Badgers, back in the ’80s.”

By the way: Olson was a three-sport athlete. He was a setter for La Follette’s boys volleyball team, which went to state in 1979 and 1980.

24. Tim Jordan, Class of 1982

Jordan, in gray, is about to jump center against future classmate Jay Laszewski, who is about to lose his first senior-year high school basketball game.

Sports: Football, basketball, track

Honors

• Two-time all-city and one-time all-Big Eight defensive end in football

• Started at center on WIAA state basketball champion in 1982

• Set records in 100 and 200 at Big Eight track meet and was fifth in 100 at WIAA state meet as a senior

• Lettered four years in football at UW at outside linebacker

• Drafted by NFL’s New England Patriots in 1987

• Played three NFL seasons

I was a year behind both Olson and Jordan, two of the starters on the 1982 state Class A boys basketball champions. I didn’t know Jordan was the Big Eight 100 and 200 record holder. That’s impressive because he was 6–3 and 200 or so, which is a little large for hig school sprinters. It’s kind of too bad that La Follette didn’t have better football players in those days (as you know my first three years at La Follette the Lancers had three, one and one wins), because just based on size and speed he would have made a world-beater tight end. At UW Jordan and Memorial graduate Rick Graf were the “Thunder and Lightning” outside linebacker duo; Graf went on to the Dolphins.

25. John Krugman, Class of 1968

Sports: Football, basketball, baseball

Honors

• Two-time all-city and one-time all-Big Eight halfback

• Conference player of year and all-state in 1967 after breaking Alan Ameche’s 17-year-old Big Eight record with 115 points and 19 touchdowns in eight games

• Three-time all-city in basketball and all-state honorable mention in 1968

• Two-time all-city in baseball

• Lettered two seasons in football at UW as a punter and fullback

31. Michael Flowers, Class of 2004 

UW Flowers, not La Follette Flowers.

Sports: Football, basketball

Honors

• All-city, all-Big Eight and all-state honorable mention at quarterback as a junior; didn’t play as a senior

• Three-time all-city and all-Big Eight pick in basketball

• All-state first-team basketball as a junior, honorable mention as a sophomore and senior

• Played on WIAA Division 1 state basketball champion in 2002

• Lettered four years in basketball at UW

• All-Big Ten second-team pick as a senior, honorable mention as a junior

• Twice named to Big Ten all-defensive team

Note the mention of his not playing football as a senior. As a football player, Flowers was compared to Michael Vick. Imagine him playing football instead of basketball for the Badgers.

 

The vassal decided to vacillate on deciding when to put up the trellis, which the bailiff in official raiment found to be a bagatelle, but was sheer drudgery

A high school classmate of mine who works in history found this this week:

This is from the Wisconsin State Journal 40 years ago Wednesday. (Pause while I wipe the tears from my eyes and loudly blow my nose over The March Of Time!)

The previous Saturday, April 30, 1977, I won the Madison City Spelling Bee in my third attempt. In those days, at least in Madison, if you won your elementary- or middle-school spelling bee you advanced to the city spelling bee. I won my spelling bees at Kennedy Elementary School in fourth and fifth grade, but obviously failed to win at the city level until I won my first Schenk (now Whitehorse) Middle School spelling bee in 1977.

Spelling bees were the first kind of competition in which I did reasonably well. Spelling bees are analogous to competing in a non-relay track event or swimming race, in that your success is based on what you do in comparison to what others do. Since I sucked (and still do) at athletics, and never was a very good musician, this was my thing for five years growing up.

Spelling today is, if not a dying art, then a seriously ill art, given creative spellings in the business world (“Kwik Trip”), spellcheck in word processing applications (though spellcheck doesn’t pick up homophones, a correctly spelled incorrect word), and abbreviations in social media. (IMHO. SMH. BTT.)

The 1977 bee was, for me, somewhat of a white-knuckle experience toward the end, even though I was a grizzled veteran of spelling bees by then. Similar to team sports, winning a spelling bee requires some luck in getting words you can spell (or at least correctly guess) and your competitors getting words they could not spell. My first city spelling bee in fourth grade was a two-and-done; the second word I got was “trellis” (a frame or structure of latticework used as a support for growing trees or plants), which I had never heard of, and that ended that. One year later, I got up near the top 10, but lost on “raiment” (clothing). In my fourth city spelling bee, in seventh grade, I finished 13th on “vacillate” (to waver in mind or opinion), another word I had never heard of. (I studied, but I guess I didn’t get down toward the end of the dictionary. As it was, I think I learned more words by reading them than being told to spell words in a dictionary.)

The word “thespian” probably doesn’t show up often in a sixth-grader’s vocabulary, so when I heard it it sounded to me like, well, a gay actress, but I figured out it ended with “=pian” and not “-bian” and got it right. Shortly thereafter the runner-up missed her word, I spelled it correctly, and then I got “vassal” (according to Dictionary.coma person granted the use of land, in return for rendering homage, fealty, and usually military service or its equivalent to a lord or other superior”), another word not found in a sixth-grade vocabulary. (In those days, again with only one person advancing to the next level, if speller A missed his or her word, speller B had to spell that word correctly and then another word.) The first four letters were easy enough, but not the last two — “-al,” “-il” or “le”?

To quote the ancient knight in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” I chose … wisely. I got to bring home a traveling trophy that was half as tall as I was, and got on the front page of the Wisconsin State Journal, along with a story in the Monona Community Herald (which I would end up working for, but you knew that).

A week later, I departed the state spelling bee after spelling “bagatelle” (something of little value or importance), again not a word in a sixth-grader’s vocabulary, correctly. The first eight letters seemed obvious, but was there a silent E at the end? I got to the last L, stopped, heard no reaction, and added the E. A woman sitting in the front row protested, and the judges decided that I meant “bagatell” instead of “bagatelle.”

Two years later, as longtime readers know

… I returned to state as the city bee winner.

(Note, by the way, how fashions changed between 1977 and 1979. Plaid pants gave way to polyester disco shirts and pants, and though I hadn’t ditched the glasses yet, there was a lot more hair, though not as much as in the previous year.)

The story quotes me as saying that “declaration” and “drudgery” were two words I had a little difficulty with spelling. Truth be told, I really didn’t, other than to make sure I had the letters in the correct order. Winning the previous school bee made me 5-for-5 in winning school spelling bees, and apparently I was the first person to win two Madison spelling bees. (A girl in that 1979 bee became the first to win two consecutive city spelling bees. Interestingly, she was hearing-impaired.)

The state spelling bee the week afterward at my future high school went sort of like my first city spelling bee, a two-and-done, though on a word that, had I thought about it for a couple of seconds, I would have spelled correctly — “bailiff.” The night before I attended my middle school’s eighth-grade dessert dance, and sl0w-danced with five girls, three of whom I’d had crushes on at some point (along with perhaps half of the other girls in what would become the Class of 1983). So on Saturday afternoon my head was still back in Friday night. And that ended that, because there are no spelling bees in high school.

The bee format appears to have changed to where more than just the winner moves on. Wisconsin’s top three state-bee spellers advanced to the national bee. Advancing to the national bee appears to be now based on some sort of population formula, or perhaps number of organizations willing to sponsor a regional bee, given that Wisconsin had three national contestants, Iowa had two, and Illinois had 18. It’s kind of become like expanding the baseball playoffs from including only division winners to adding wild-cards, where, like the 1997 and 2003 Marlins, 2002 Angels, 2004 Red Sox, 2011 Cardinals and 2014 Giants, teams can win the World Series without winning their division. (Or the 2010 Packers, winners of Super Bowl XLV as the last NFC playoff team.) The state bee also had a rule, since rescinded, that if you won the state bee you couldn’t compete anymore. (From what I’ve read most national bee winners are not first-time national competitors, which makes sense.)

For those who haven’t moved on to something else by this point, you might be asking (other than why the hell did I write this) what I got out of the whole experience. (Other than embarrassment every time I misspell a word, though mistyping a word isn’t exactly the same thing as spelling it wrong.) It was the first experience in my life of being sort of locally famous, which as those who have achieved some fame know is a mixed blessing. With the exception of friends of mine (and you know who you are, Ruste), few of my classmates appeared to care much, though adults in my two schools did. (On my last day at Schenk, a teacher — not one I’d had for a class — actually thanked me for bringing positive recognition to the school. I didn’t know what to say.) Something similar happens now because my photo has been in publications I work for (and my face has shown up on TV), and it’s one of those strange experiences where more people know me than I know them.

Was it fun? Well … it was not like my UW Band experience or a successful athletic accomplishment (the latter certainly not based on personal experience, of course) in which your first thrill is the accomplishment and then you realize what a great experience you had along the way to that accomplishment. I certainly didn’t hate it (some people can spell well but don’t do well in bees because they get excessively nervous in competition), but I can’t say I have fond memories of, say, school spelling bees or traveling somewhere with my mother giving me words out of the dictionary to spell. The experience for me was just what it looked like: (1) walk up to microphone, (2) spell the word, (3) go back to your seat, (4) watch others spell correctly or not; lather, rinse, repeat. I remember the spelling bees where I won fondly (not that I think about them often), and the ones I didn’t win I don’t remember fondly. (Athletic competition is sald to provide more lessons in losses than in wins, in the sense that failures can teach more than successes. I’m not sure that translates to spelling bees — if you don’t know a word, you don’t know it — except that if you lose that could mean you needed to study more, or, in the case of the 1979 state bee, try focusing on what you’re supposed to be doing instead of something else.) Spelling wasn’t fun; winning was fun, and when I won, I was the only winner.

The experience also taught me that being smart (or, as the British put it, “clever”) isn’t really valued in our society. (Anyone who thinks this is a recent phenomenon due to the current president has not been paying attention well before now.) Part of it probably is that there are a lot of people who are threatened by someone who can do something better than that person can. Americans like to think of ourselves as a society striving for equality, but we also like to think of ourselves as a meritocracy, and the two concepts are somewhat at cross-purposes to each other. Part of it as well probably is because some smart people unintentionally make people feel inferior, or (particularly if they’re young) haven’t figured out interpersonal skills to not do that. (Some people, such as myself, like to claim that they don’t care what people think about them, but that’s not likely to be true.) Harry Truman famously said the world is run by C students, so intelligence does not necessarily translate to leadership skills; nor does it necessarily lead to sense or wisdom, as, well, whatever political debate you choose to cite proves.

Last year for the Scripps National Spelling Bee, Time magazine did an online where-are-they-now feature. One spelling bee champion became a spelling bee coach. None profiled did what I did, go into journalism, one of the few lines of work that actually appreciates spelling ability. (Or where you get nailed for lack of spelling ability. However, the standard in print journalism is to write at an eighth-grade level, and words in more advanced spelling bees are well past eighth grade.)

Not in the Time story was Joanne Lagatta of Clintonville, the first and only Wisconsinite to win the national bee. (On “inappetence,” lack of appetite, and “antipyretic,” a drug used to combat fever.) She is now a pediatric physician, certainly a better profession for the world than journalism, though I wonder if she can use both of those words in the same sentence, such as “She gave her patient an antipyretic in part because the fever had caused her patient inappetence for several days.” Of course, given the rare use of those words, most people probably wouldn’t know what she was talking about, similar to the sentence in the title of this blog.

Milwaukee and Madison writ large

Ross Douthat writes about big American cities, not including Milwaukee and Madison, though they are to this state what New York City is to New York:

The age of Trump has inspired soul-searching within our overclass — long nights reading “Hillbilly Elegy,” mostly — but also a wave of cosmopolitan pride. During the presidential campaign, when Trump talked about making America great again, Hillary Clinton countered that “America is already great” — meaning, of course, dynamic and diverse and tolerant and future-oriented, all the things that Trump seems to dismiss and his voters seem to fear.

This great-already sentiment has been reproduced in many elite quarters, and last week the Niskanen Center’s Will Wilkinson, writing in The Washington Post, brought it to a particularly sharp point: What’s really great about America is its big, booming, liberal cities.

Trump loves to talk down America’s great metropolises, Wilkinson points out, portraying them as nightmares out of “Death Wish” or “Dog Day Afternoon.” Wilkinson says that’s because our president needs “to spread the notion that the polyglot metropolis is a dangerous failure” to advance his nativist agenda. But in reality our cities are, yes, already great — safer-than-ever, culturally-rich, rife with policy innovation, and driving our economic future. They’re places where immigrants flock and college graduates increasingly cluster, compounding their talents through cooperation and exchange, generating new ideas and innovations while the Trumpish hinterland languishes in resentment and nostalgia.

I respectfully dissent. Yes, for many of their inhabitants, particularly the young and the wealthy, our liberal cities are pleasant places in which to work and play. But if they are diverse in certain ways they are segregated in others, from “whiteopias” like Portland to balkanized cities like D.C. or Chicago. If they are dynamic, they are also so rich — and so rigidly zoned — that the middle class can’t afford to live there and fewer and fewer kids are born inside their gates. If they are fast-growing it’s often a growth intertwined with subsidies and “too big to fail” protection; if they are innovation capitals it’s a form of innovation that generates fewer jobs than past technological advance. If they produce some intellectual ferment they have also cloistered our liberal intelligentsia and actually weakened liberalism politically by concentrating its votes.

So has the heyday of these meritocratic agglomerations actually made America greater? I think not. In the age of the liberal city — dating, one might argue, to the urban recovery of the 1990s — economic growth has been slack, political dysfunction worse, and technological progress slow outside the online sector. Liberalism has become more smug and out-of-touch; conservatism more anti-intellectual and buffoonish. The hive-mind genius supposedly generated by concentrating all the best and the brightest has given us great apps and some fun TV shows to binge-watch, but the 2000s and 2010s haven’t exactly been the Florentine Renaissance.

On the air only on YouTube

A figure of Madison media history died last week:

Richard E. “Dick” Flanigan, age 81, passed away on Thursday, Jan. 5, 2017, following a short illness. …

His first job after college was working for WTVO in Rockford, Ill. This is where he met his future wife, Valerie Vinet. They were married a year later, in 1968. The newlyweds made Madison their home and Dick began working at WMTV where he served as the art director. During his career, he hosted Lenny’s Inferno as Mr. Mephisto from 1969-1982.

If you are old enough and you grew up in Madison, you may have watched …

Isthmus interviewed Flanigan several years ago:

Mr. Mephisto. If you are at least 30 years old and lived in Madison between 1966 and 1982, this name is familiar to you — especially if you were a horror-movie buff, insomniac or impressionable boy during those years. Mephisto was the host of Ferdie’s Inferno and, later, Lenny’s Inferno, during its run late Fridays on WMTV.

The Inferno,” Flanigan says, “and he said in light of what this is all about, it made sense to have Mephisto there.”

Indeed. The festival’s focus on frightening independent films synchs well with the inventive low-budget approach taken by the Inferno and the entire phenomenon of late-night horror shows on television. “The whole idea behind doing the Inferno the way we did it was, it was fun,” Flanigan explains. “If it wasn’t fun I don’t think we would have lasted as long as we did.”

Born and raised in Rockford, Illinois, Flanigan came to Madison in 1967 when WMTV hired him as its art director. This was, he says, “like dying and going to heaven.” Ferdie’s Inferno had already been on the air for a couple of years by then, with program manager Jack Crowley as Mephisto. Sponsored by American TV, the show broadcast classic horror movies, vintage episodes of The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits and other frightening fare. Mephisto presided over commercial breaks. Flanigan remembers Crowley as “crazy” but also “a good man.” When he left the station, promotions manager Carl Ames succeeded him in the role of Mephisto. “One of the best on-air talents I ever saw,” Flanigan says of Ames, “and one of the best writers.” When Ames left WMTV circa 1969, Flanigan inherited Mephisto duties. It was, he recalls, “the path of least resistance.”

By then, Ferd Mattioli’s health was in decline, and his brother, Lenny, had come up from Chicago to run American TV. The company sponsored the show through 1982, at which point it went of the air here.

“It was almost all improv,” Flanigan says of the format. “We didn’t have any budget. Which was OK, fine, I understand the business end of it. So I tried to create the format where we had the most flexibility and I could surround myself with people who were more talented than I was. People who were very good at what they do, and they’re crazy.”

A glimpse of this can be seen in a montage of still photos from the show.

Among the most significant of these characters was John Sveum, who filled the role of the voice in the box that sat on Mephisto’s desk. …

“I brought John Sveum in from the beginning and created this idea of just a voice in the box,” Flanigan recalls. “What that did was there’s nothing you can’t do with a box that has a voice, and there’s always the mystery of just exactly is in there.” The interplay between Mephisto and the voice in the box was among the Inferno‘s most memorable dynamics. The voice in the box also freed Sveum up to fill other roles. “Things just happened,” remembers Flanigan, who calls Sveum “really gifted” in his ability to take on different characters who appeared on the show. …

Over the years, Flanigan has learned there are countless people in his sons’ generation who grew up with the show, who stayed up past their bedtimes to watch, and are now adults.

It was a great ride, he allows. “When you have to supply content for 12 years, you go through the gamut,” he observes. “We had serials, we had half-hour shows, hour shows, we had Twilight Zone, we had Outer Limits. I turned thumbs down on Doctor Who. That was the biggest mistake I ever made.”

Maybe so, but this was offset by all the good decisions he made. None were better than lobbying the station and his sponsor for the Universal horror package that included the original Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Wolf Man, Dracula and other vintage classics. These were the movies Flanigan himself had grown up on.

“I remember being in a movie theater and seeing the coming attraction for Frankenstein,” he says. “It was being re-run. I was born in ’35, and this thing was being brought back. In those days, they used to do that, wait seven, eight years and bring it back. And I’d never heard of it. And I’m sitting in the theater and I’m looking at this and it scared the hell out of me. It really did.”

The original King Kong was another classic that scared him. But one of the most effective horror movies of all, he says, was the original Thing from Another World. “I took a stopwatch,” he remembers, “and in an 87-minute movie, that Thing was onscreen for less than three minutes, and yet they created this atmosphere and this tense buildup to confrontation using one of the oldest ploys in the world, a small group of people banded together where they can’t get help, menaced by an overpowering force.

“I remember the first time I saw The Thing,” he continues. “I was a freshman or sophomore in high school, and I went alone in the middle of winter. And I had to walk from a bus stop on an unlit street to get home, and it was edgy, it really was. That movie really got to me. But then you see it again and you like it just as much the second time.”

Growing up on the old classics impressed upon him that the best movies start with good writing. A good director and good cast are also essential to a good movie, in his view. All the CGI in the world can’t make up for any one of those three factors, he contends.

Describing himself as a cinephile with eclectic tastes, he says he is impatient with most contemporary slasher flicks that substitute gore and other fright-for-fright’s-sake conventions instead of a compelling narrative arc. “You can’t kill Mike Myers,” he observes, “so why try? It’s boring. Put the costume on ’em and the story is lousy and there’s no direction, the movie isn’t gonna go anywhere. It’s inept.”

He also tends to dismiss spinoffs, sequels and remakes as inadvisable, with little chance of equaling or surpassing the original movie, though he cites the latest Indiana Jones release as an exception to this rule. He is an admirer of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, as well as Hitchcock. …

He pauses, calling to mind an anecdote from his Inferno days. “Boy, I sure wish I had this Inferno. We did an Inferno with Kentucky Fried Theater when they were just starting out. They came out and they just wanted to be on the show. There were a couple things they did that were hilarious. One of them, he was real thin and he took his shirt off and we had a turntable in the studio big enough for a car, because they used to do car commercials and they’d rotate them on this turntable. Well he went out on that turntable and he did a mime of a piece of bacon frying. And it was hilarious to watch the convolutions he went through, but I said we can add to that, because we had a kitchen set there, so I told our studio manager to start one of the stovetops and put a metal frying pan on that and as he’s doing this pour some water on it and hang a mic over it and it sounded just like bacon frying when that water hit that hot pan. And he could hear it and he’d react to that and it was hilarious.”

That was one of the shows that went unrecorded for the archives. “Who knew?” Flanigan asks. Every week was like that. You never knew what might happen. “We’d get ahold of something that Lenny would give us to destroy because Lenny loved that stuff and we enjoyed doing it. He loved watching pickaxes go through TV sets.” Characters on the show would tear apart various stereo components, set fire to a turntable and cook eggs on them, brandish a big hocking knife, throw things at Mephisto.

Mephisto was an easy target. His face was white. Everything else was black: hair, soul patch, hat, cape. And there was that Mephisto snarl. “The thing about Mephisto that I always thought made people like him was that he treated everybody as if I am god, this is my domain, what I say goes, which was exactly wrong, because he wasn’t,” Flanigan observes. “There are people who throw pies and people that get hit. Mephisto never threw a pie. But he never once thought he wasn’t the boss. And of course he was a doormat. You can’t help but kind of like him. He’s the biggest idiot you ever met in your life and they just abuse him, but he just kind of swings with it.”

“The Inferno” was one of the last late-night shows that TV stations used to carry, in the days before late-night network TV after “The Tonight Show.” That lasted longer than the related trend of TV stations producing their own kids’ shows, such as WISC-TV’s “Circus 3,” or TV stations’ carrying old movies on weekend afternoons and weeknights. All have been replaced by more news programming, more network programming (sports on weekends), syndicated programming and infomercials.

Milwaukee and Green Bay TV stations had their own versions.

Welcome to the name-brand fray

David Blaska formerly wrote for Isthmus before Isthmus decided it didn’t want him anymore.

Blaska then wrote for InBusiness before InBusiness (for which I used to write) decided it didn’t want a couple of his columns anymore.

So Blaska decided to do it himself:

Welcome to Stately Blaska Manor. Over the Thanksgiving week and in the dead of night, likely Trump supporters and other insurgents moved the Stately Manor, its Policy Werkes (and Tanning Salon) and the indentured servants (fast asleep) from InBusiness to higher ground. Easier to defend. Free to be and say what needs to be said. In other words, No More Mr. Nice Guy!

Please tell your friends to bookmark me! Now, on with the show!

Blaska started with

What happens when a campus organization invites a speaker to the University of Wisconsin-Madison to talk about free speech?

Young totalitarians who disagree with the speech — making the usual claims of victimhood — try to shut it down, of course! It happened November 16 when Young Americans for Freedom invited Ben Shapiro, editor of the DailyWire, to speak on the infantilization of our great universities.

As if to prove his point, 20 Black Lives Matter vigilantes disrupted his talk. At one point, the young brownshirts marched to the stage while police permitted the heckler’s veto. Demonstrators interrupted Shapiro several times, barely allowing him to utter a few sentences at a time, WKOW-TV reports.

“So you get to interrupt lectures if you’re the right gender, or the right sexual orientation. You get to do these things without punishment because after all, that’s in the nature of social justice, group justice,” Shapiro said as he looked towards the protesters.

In the lobby of the Social Studies Building, WIBA-AM’s Vicki McKenna was trying to report the story when several of the protestors seemed to menace her. White man with ring in his lips tells her the disruption “needed to happen” because the mere “presence of this event is violence.” The future of America, right there!

University police pushed the diminutive woman away as the protestors sprayed the MF word at her. (That video here.)

Police made no attempt to protect her right to be present in a university building or the invited speaker’s right to be heard.

“If we have any police officers here, this is now absolutely a disruption,” Shapiro pleaded, to no avail. (Source here.)

But remember, there’s no such thing as reverse discrimination. (There’s no such thing, there’s no such thing, there’s no such thing.)

The Policy Werkes demands — a statement from Chancellor Rebecca Blank affirming the right of free speech at the University of Wisconsin’s flagship campus. That includes the right to be heard over the heckler’s veto. The Board of Regents should investigate. Expel students who deprive the rights of free speech — a civil rights issue if ever there was. The State Legislature should convene hearings of top administrators to determine if they have not created a climate of fear and repression on campus by labeling as “hate speech” all political speech. And how about course work on the Constitution of the U.S. be required for graduation for all students — especially sociology majors.

To no one’s surprise, UW–Madison is not the only Madison institution that stifles free speech:

Not to be outdone by UW-Madison, the Sturm und Drang stirred up by the hateful election of Donald Trump has reached the formerly placid shores of bucolic little Lake Wingra here in Madison.

Someone left a hateful Post-it® sticky note on a hallway office window at Edgewood College — surely “an act of cowardly hatred,” as officials there are describing it. And the damn thing is bright fuschia, to boot!

Students at the small liberal arts college were traumatized by the results of November 8 (a date that will live … in INFAMY!). The private Catholic school set up a table in the food commons for students to express their hurt feelings via heartfelt little sticky notes.

“In an act of intimidation and cowardice,” explains Edgewood’s vice president for student development, someone posted a sticky note inside the window of the Office of Student Diversity and Inclusion. (Scholars, take note: consider a career in Inclusion.)

“A great deal of fear, sadness, and anger among students, faculty and staff resulted,” relates college veep Tony Chambers. “The message was hateful and harmful toward members of our community.”

The term “micro-agression” does not begin to describe this assault on all that is decent and holy. Edgewood College responded by convening an emergency meeting. At the table: campus security, the dean of students, human resources, Title IX enforcement, and the diversity and inclusion crowd.

(One pictures the White House situation room as the Navy Seals took down Osama bin Laden.)

“The group determined that the message constituted a hate crime.”

The incident of the hateful sticky note has been reported to Madison police (Mike Koval, chief head cracker). No doubt, the sticky note, a particularly offensive shade of pink, will be introduced as States’ Evidence No. #1. Hand writing analysts will be sworn to tell the whole truth and nothing but. Various victims, selected according to race, creed, and gender identification, will commit their personal suffering to the court transcript.

The college is asking anyone with knowledge of the perp contact Campus Security at 608-663-3285. As the proud parent of an Edgewood alumnus, The Squire takes this merde seriously. (I can vouch for Number #1 Son; we were instilling fear and hate on another campus that day.)

Vice president Chambers vows an Old Testament smiting of the pink sticky noter. (Or is it the stinky pink noter?) “Any attempt to discriminate, instill fear in or intimidate our students, faculty or staff will result in serious and stiff consequences!”

Serious is bad enough, but need we go “stiff”?

Did the note bear a swastika? No, it did not. A burning cross? Negativo!

This should be fun reading as Madison college students continue to cowardly burrow into their safe spaces. Wait until these delicate little flowers enter the real world.

 

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