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Tuesday, September 30, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 44.0° F  Overcast
The Daily
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Scores of zombies invade Madison and lurch down State Street
Brains and the zombie status of Jesus central issues in the mock protest
Wisconsin football fans returning from Camp Randall are greeted by the undead on the 200 block of State Street.
Credit:Kristian Knutsen

"My friends and I got together and had a good time." This was the verdict delivered by one of the undead following the zombie lurch down State Street on Saturday afternoon. Scores of ghouls gathered at the Capitol for a rally, subsequently marching in support of zombie rights down the busy mall to Memorial Union on the UW campus. Armed with moans, groans, face paint, and signs, the latter mostly imploring one way or another on the subject of brains, the lurch elicited plenty of attention as it progressed for eight blocks through the heart of the city.

State Street was hopping, the warm weather ensuring plenty of pedestrians and the full summertime array of sidewalk cafes. These outdoor seats, as well as nearly every bus stop and public bench were filled with folks turning their heads as the undead horde shambled their way past. A couple of dozen photos of these scenes can be viewed in the photo gallery at right.

The zombies didn't say much, primarily groaning loudly through the entire affair, though they did break into a few chants. "What do we want? Brains!" they moaned in unison. "When do we want them? Brains...."

The reactions from the pedestrians were much more varied, most clearly understanding the satirical bent to the "protest," though seemingly not. "That's so weird," said one man clad in Wisconsin Badgers apparel. "This is really creepy," said another. In fact, the timing of the lurch couldn't have been better, as fans departing the Badger football blowout of Northern Illinois at Camp Randall were arriving on State Street just as undead started their fun. So too, were shuttle buses from the stadium, headed to park-and-ride ramps downtown as their occupants gawked out the windows at the passing zombies.

"We definitely got some attention, especially with the football game," said Becki Thiesen, one of the lurch's organizers. The lurch looked to be an enjoyable distraction for most folks buzzing about State Street, an event that confirmed its reputation as a location for organized spectacle as remarked upon by so many visitors. "The more people see us the more they will come to understand that our rights are important and we will not be silenced," she quipped.

The lurch was a propitious event for a group of local filmmakers. Brendan Hartmann is making a film to be titled Zombie in '08, a story about one ghoul running as a candidate in the 2008 U.S. presidential election. As participants were gathering in front of the Capitol, Hartmann passed out campaign posters and buttons to the undead, the former declaring support for "Zombie in '08" and the latter stating "Zombie in '08 for a new America." They ran circles around the lurch as it progressed down State Street, shooting as much footage of particularly funny scenes and b-roll for use in the film.

What was likely the most cinematic moment came near the end of the lurch as the zombies entered the UW Library Mall. As was the case at the zombie lurch two years ago, there was a group of evangelists witnessing in front of Memorial Library. All but one of these half-dozen proselytizers stood silent with signs quoting Bible verses; this evangelist was rather vocal, meanwhile, shouting his message at the passing zombies while gesticulating with a Bible in his left hand.

Rather expectedly, some of the undead were delighted by the encounter, staggering and moaning in front of the evangelists, the leader responding with louder and louder shots. The zombies responded with a gleeful chant -- "Jesus was a zombie!" -- a droll observation that elicited a faster pace of pronouncements from the lead evangelist, who eventually did concede the point: "Jesus did rise from the dead," he shouted. Cheers erupted.

Leaving their new friends behind, the lurch made its way through Library Mall for a final rally on the steps of a busy Memorial Union. They were greeted there by a nervous Wisconsin Union employee, who expressed concern over a scene inside the building that was already crammed with football fines in line to buy Babcock ice cream. There were no worries, though, as the undead subsequently parted ways for the afternoon following an announcement from the organizers, who asked participants to mark their calendars for a lurch in 2008.

"I really want to do this again," said Thiesen. "I would probably say that people should look for the Zombie Lurch again next year around this same time. Hopefully we can continue to make this bigger and better every year, with the same goal in mind... dressing up as zombies and having a fun time."

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