Protests against a despised president and his war. A dynamic challenger offering change, bringing a new generation into politics.
A racial divide, and raging debate over police tactics and technology. The brutal and unsolved murder of a pretty co-ed. Economic dislocation and suffering.
A liberal mayor, well-liked but not always politically dominant. A powerful south-side alderman, and a promising progressive newcomer.
Rampant neighborhood activism. Controversy over planning and transit issues. Enormous pressure on the city budget.
On campus, spectacular scientific success, and politically engaged students. A new chancellor coming at a time of deep hostility by some powerful legislators.
And Fred Risser a leader in the state Senate.
Yeah, there are some surface similarities between 1968 and 2008. But we should be thankful they only go so far. Because if 1968 really had defined its generation, Madison would be a lot less livable - unless you like firebombs, funerals and firemen on strike.
In 1968, Madison was in fiscal and political disarray. There was chaos and destruction on campus. A large segment of the industrial east side was on strike, and city workers waged sick-leave job actions. The bus system teetered on the edge of failure. Crime spiked. Some Madison men died in Vietnam, while others - along with some Madison women - waged their war at home.
Even without the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy - or the My Lai massacre and the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, and Russian repression in Prague (Georgia?) - 1968 would be a year painful to remember... and impossible to forget.
The war at the UW
Much of the drama on the UW campus in 1968 stemmed from the October 1967 sit-in to block recruitment interviews by the Dow Chemical Co., maker of napalm. The left saw the police brutality as something it could use as an organizing tool; university brass and the Legislature saw a bloody riot by outside agitators that called for a crackdown.
In 1968, the empire struck back, as conservative Republicans took the top two Board of Regents spots. The Regents threatened to ban the Students for a Democratic Society, reprimanded the Daily Cardinal for "unacceptable language," and considered closing Der Rathskeller due to drug use. They criticized Chancellor William Sewell for delaying a new round of Dow interviews and ignored his proposals on student life.
The Regents also unanimously adopted a tough campus code that subjected students to discipline - up to expulsion - for "intentional conduct that obstructs or seriously impairs university-run or university-authorized activities." Among the banned activities was disruptive laughter.
But at least one student benefited from the foment. UW alum and history grad student Paul Soglin emerged from Dow as one of Madison's new radical leaders. In the same April election in which voters defeated a referendum calling for an immediate ceasefire in Vietnam and withdrawal of U.S. troops, Soglin won election to the Madison Common Council. He was soon appearing on national "student power" panels; in August, he was featured in Glamour magazine.
Soglin, along with Ald. Alicia Ashman and beloved radio personality George "Papa Hambone" Vukelich, successfully challenged - on procedural grounds - a $10,000 appropriation for police riot gear. The city ultimately bought the gear anyway, but the old boys' network was put on notice.
A generation before the successful anti-apartheid divestiture movement of the 1980s, the Student Senate and others demanded that the UW-Madison divest itself of stock in Chase Manhattan Bank, which had recently made a loan to South Africa. The Regents rejected this call on May 17, prompting a seven-hour demonstration.
The next day, firebombs hit the administrative offices of the College of Letters and Science in South Hall, damaging 15,000 undergraduate records. More protests followed, but the Regents weren't moved. UW System President Fred Harvey Harrington called the situation "grave" and asked for a $96,000 increase in the police budget.
Sewell resigned as chancellor in June, after less than a year. His successor, H. Edwin Young, was named in September; his office-warming gift from the Regents was an emergency rule barring non-students from attending classes, and a special $200,000 appropriation for increased campus security.
On Young's first full day in office, the fall demonstration season began with a spirited but peaceful march against ROTC orientation classes, still required for male freshmen. The Wisconsin State Journal reported that "One of the old radicals, Ald. Paul Soglin, Eighth Ward, indicated he was sympathetic to the freshman cause." Soglin was photographed holding his two dogs, "Che" and "Kafka," and quoted as saying, "It looks like it'll be a very good year."
A few days later, as 700 activists met to merge the Wisconsin Draft Resistance Union and campus chapter of SDS, right-wing vandals damaged the building that housed the Draft Resistance Union and Connections magazine.
On Oct. 1, radicals set fire to the State Selective Service headquarters on Capitol Court, charring the office and damaging some records. The next month, the council adopted Mayor Otto Festge's guidelines for police use of Mace.
The real days of rage were about to begin. They would, of course, eventually fade. But 1968 had a lasting impact on Madison politics, as the young activists who flocked to support antiwar candidate Sen. Eugene McCarthy helped elect Midge Miller to the state Assembly in 1970 and make Soglin mayor in 1973.
Even without the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, race would have been at the forefront in Madison in 1968. Less than a week before King's murder, the Madison Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) reported 18 instances of overt racial conflict in the past 11 months.
The pull between confrontation and conciliation was made clear following King's murder. A campus memorial service run by black students on April 5 turned tense when one speaker told the predominantly white crowd, "I have a dream too - that one day every darn one of you is going to pay." Then, as the integrated crowd of about 15,000 marched solemnly from Bascom Hill to the Capitol, the singing of "We Shall Overcome" was interrupted by shouts of "Black Power!"
The city created a Memorial Fund in King's honor. Mayor Festge gave city workers time off to attend King memorial services. The council voted to hire an EOC executive director, and Festge tapped the Rev. James C. Wright.
But an April 26 address by former heavyweight boxing champ Muhammad Ali laid bare the fault lines between black and white. Appearing during a campus strike called by the Committee to End the War and Concerned Black People, Ali ignored the war and spoke on "The Black Muslim's Solution to Racism." Cheers turned to jeers when the defrocked champ called for racial separatism and said "race mixing should be prohibited."
In May, a job fair at the South Madison Neighborhood Center attracted 33 local employers (including the all-white Police Department) and 500 residents. But the school board, which did not close schools for King's funeral, reported in June that it had been unable to hire black teachers. It later teamed with the local NAACP chapter on a five-point program to improve racial understanding and opportunity.
On Aug. 3, an integrated group of teens gathered at Breese Stevens Field for on outdoor dance. A series of small incidents - mainly white boys getting upset because black boys were dancing with white girls - got out of hand and overwhelmed the small police presence. By the time it was over, six males were under arrest - one adult, five juveniles, all "Negroes."
The black males at this event alleged police racism and brutality. The MPD denied it. In early September, the EOC began an extensive - and inconclusive - series of hearings into race relations in Madison.
One weekend that month saw a half-dozen fights between whites and blacks. Nelson Cummings, the first head of the newly formed Madison Urban League, said he couldn't find a place for his family to live. Local black jazz musician Ted Jackson told how police harassed him for associating with a white woman. And 17 black members of the Badger football squad boycotted the team's annual banquet.
Meanwhile, just across the lake, Monona adopted a comprehensive and inclusive fair housing ordinance.
Labor dukes it out
Madison had suffered the economic dislocation of war before, in the Great Strike of 1919. 1968 brought a rerun. In a year of bitter protest against a war they largely supported, many Madison workers spent all summer on strike.
Ray-O-Vac, the city's third-largest employer, was struck on May 15, as nearly 400 workers belonging to two unions walked out, protesting hourly wages averaging $2.25 and $2.90, respectively. The strike lasted until late September, when new agreements provided for a 35-cent raise over three years, plus an increase in pensions.
There was even more at stake when the 1,170 production workers at Gisholt Machine Co., with an average hourly wage of $3.24, walked out on July 1. That strike, at the city's second-largest private employer, lasted until Sept. 28, and brought the workers a 67-cent raise over three years, plus improved pension benefits.
Meanwhile, the Madison Professional Policemen's Association negotiated a contract that raised officers' pay by $100 a month. The city's firefighters, through Local 311, sought a similar deal. On Oct. 19, suddenly and without warning, they began a 24-hour slowdown, refusing non-emergency work. New talks started but quickly collapsed.
It got worse. In October and November, the tensions led to firefighters calling in sick and the union voting unanimously to strike - an illegal act under Wisconsin law. Fire Chief Ralph McGraw declared a state of emergency, and Mayor Festge called an emergency council meeting. With Ald. Soglin in opposition, alders authorized Festge to seek an injunction preventing firemen from striking.
In the end, a strike was averted when the city agreed to a $70 monthly pay raise - with reclassifications, about the same as the police settlement.
Around this same time, city workers, both blue and white collar, began calling in sick in a bid for more pay. The council overwhelmingly voted to give Festge and the city authority "to take all necessary and appropriate legal action" against workers. It docked the pay for workers who took unauthorized sick leave, and the unions eventually accepted the city's offer of $20 more per week, a pension boost and double time for holiday work.
Crime and disorder
1968 was a time of crime.
Major crime rose 35%, with numbers in some categories almost doubling. There were five rapes in June, pushing the total for the year to 12, twice the number from the first six months of 1967. There were 55 assaults in April and May alone, including 12 on long-haired students and 28 on police officers. Two Monona men forced two students at gunpoint to shave their mustaches.
Vandalism was up 20% from 1967's record-setting pace. During Christmas week, someone with a BB gun shot out about $1,000 in plate glass windows from businesses in the Schenk's Corners area.
On the Fourth of July, a melee at Westmoreland Park left five in custody and an officer injured.
A police crackdown on drugs in February snared 17 teens, including two UW dropouts who sold a nickel bag and gave a couple of joints to an undercover cop. And while the Legislature thundered about drugs on campus, boys as young as 8 years old were having glue-sniffing parties in the woods off North Sherman Avenue.
On May 26, UW student Christine Rothschild, 18, was stabbed 14 times and left in the bushes in front of Sterling Hall. Her killer has never been caught.
And 1968 ended in unfathomable tragedy, when former Madisonian Mrs. Elwood Bodeman, 40, strangled her five young children, then killed herself with a knife on her father-in-law's farm in the town of Deerfield, two days after Christmas.
The malling of Madison
In 1968, Madison got malled - literally. It was the year East Towne, West Towne and a pedestrian-friendly State Street all got their start.
On Sept. 23, city planners presented the Plan Commission with a novel concept - turning "unsightly" State Street into a pedestrian mall. They even had informal design guidelines, and support from the chamber of commerce.
The very next day, Cleveland developer Jacobs, Visconti and Jacobs Co. announced plans for two multimillion-dollar shopping centers on the outskirts of town. West Towne was set to open in late 1970, East Towne the following fall.
This was also the year Hilldale became Madison's first enclosed mall, and the Lake Park Corp. designed a shopping center with an interior courtyard for the 700 block of University Avenue, part of an ambitious four-block project by the Madison Redevelopment Authority.
The Madison Common Council was so pell-mell pro-mall it ran roughshod over its own technical and policy advisers, along with any neighbors who got in the way. The Plan Department, Plan Commission and neighbors all strenuously objected to the rezoning of a parcel at Mendota Street and East Washington Avenue for a Kmart, but the council approved it anyway, 17-4.
Getting on the bus
As Madison entered 1968, its private mass-transit system was on the verge of collapse. By year's end, the system was saved, expanded and on the verge of becoming publicly owned.
At the time, Madison Bus Company ridership was still reeling from a crippling strike by Teamster bus drivers in the fall of 1967. Company finances were dismal, even with a special $40,000 fund to supplement driver wages, mostly from private donations.
On Feb. 1, Mayor Festge threatened to stop payments from the fund until the company provided more information about its operations. When the company refused, the council put two referenda on the April ballot - one to acquire the company, the other to pay for it.
In March the Madison Bus Company, claiming "heavy and repeated losses," petitioned the state Public Service Commission to allow it to shut down.
Then the people spoke. On April 2, they voted three-to-one to approve the referenda to acquire, own and operate the bus company. A few weeks later, the city agreed to pay $910,000 to acquire the company's 91 buses and most of its real estate. On June 13, the council formally approved the arrangement, and created a seven-member Bus Utility Commission to oversee the system.
In early September, Madison experienced something it hadn't known in years - an increase in bus service, thanks to new express routes from the east and west sides. And public ownership of the means of transportation was just around the corner. It would happen in 1969.
Peter Pan in the nude
The theater highlight of 1968 led indirectly to Madison's most enduring avant garde theater company. Without the local nude version of Peter Pan, Broom Street Theater might have never been born.
It was standing-room-only in the Memorial Union Play Circle for the Sept. 23 premiere of Stuart Gordon's politically charged adaptation of the children's classic. Screw Theater's updated allegory included an eight-minute segment in which six co-eds, representing innocence, danced nude under psychedelic lights.
The opening was a smash, but the next day the cast - fearing arrest on obscenity charges - voted to indefinitely postpone further performances.
This concern was well-warranted. On Oct. 1, following an invitation-only performance, Dane County District Attorney James Boll deemed the performance obscene under Wisconsin law, with potential penalties of five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
Despite their earlier concerns, the cast now chose to defy Boll, giving two performances that night in the UW Commerce Building before about 1,000 people in all. Boll bit back, issuing arrest warrants for two unnamed dancing co-eds. Ald. Soglin angrily accused Boll, on the cusp of an election, of political pandering. Boll responded by issuing an arrest warrant for director/producer Gordon, of Chicago, and removing UW Police Chief Ralph Hanson from the case for his lack of zeal in tracking down the offending dancers.
A week later, Carol Ann Purdy, of Janesville, was arraigned, pleading not guilty to the charge of taking part in a lewd, obscene and indecent performance.
But once Boll was safely elected, he began to question whether the performance was indeed obscene, or actually art. He also began to worry that he had no complaining witnesses. And so on Dec. 3, he withdrew the charges against Purdy and Gordon, who by now were engaged to be married.
Gordon, unhappy about new university control of his productions, soon founded Broom Street Theater. He went on to a successful career as a screenwriter and award-winning film director, often casting Purdy, fully clothed.
Stu Levitan is a Madison historian, radio talk-show host and chair of the Community Development Authority. He is the author of Madison: An Illustrated Sesquicentennial History, Volume I, 18561931 (UW Press, 2006).
Planning highlights and lowlights
In 1968, the city of Madison continued its aggressive annexation policy, annexing 49 acres from the town of Burke, 19 acres from the town of Middleton, 4.5 acres on Portage Road and eight acres in Cherokee Park. And in September, the city successfully beat back a challenge of its annexation of 46 acres from the town of Madison.
At year's end, Madison occupied about 47 square miles. (It's now 77.24.) Still, preliminary census figures showed suburban population growth outpacing Madison's. Compounding the problem, Mayor Otto Festge told a state task force, was the "selfishness" of suburban governments.
But the city did have one person looking out for its economic base downtown. From his post on the Joint City-State Planning Committee, state Sen. Fred Risser stymied every effort to move state offices out of the central city. He even backed an unsuccessful proposal for a massive state office complex covering the area bounded by East Wilson, Blair, Webster and East Johnson streets.
The near east side still shows the effects of 1968.
A developer wanted to replace two houses in the 1000 block of Jenifer Street, both built in 1884, and sought a rezoning that would allow an 87-unit, four-story apartment building. Neighbors, the Plan Department and Plan Commission were all opposed, but newly elected Ald. Andrew Sommers supported the rezoning, and the council went along.
The panicked neighborhood petitioned Mayor Otto Festge, who promptly -- and successfully -- vetoed the measure, saving the neighborhood from the onslaught of large apartments.
But even Festge couldn't save the neighborhood from the Zoning Board of Appeals, which refused to grant a 10-foot zoning variance for a new neighborhood center in the Assembly of God Church, 1103 Jenifer St. That's why the Wil-Mar Center ended up at 953 Jenifer St. instead.
One planning fight from 1968 is still in play today -- the city's acquisition of lakefront property to expand James Madison Park.
For decades, the city had been buying and demolishing the old houses on East Gorham Street, but only when owners wanted to sell. Then federal funds became available -- with a June 1969 deadline -- and the city suddenly switched its policy to one of adverse condemnation.
At stake were 16 parcels between Franklin and North Blount streets. The homeowners organized, and the city ultimately got its hands on only six properties.
The year's worst planning idea goes to the UW Board of Regents, which on May 17 called for replacing the Old Red Gym/Armory with a multi-purpose campus community center, razing the University Club and using the area between the Memorial Library and the Historical Society for parking.
This idea, fortunately, was never implemented.
Roads not taken (thank goodness)
In 1968, the UW-Madison came close to destroying its most cherished neighborhood. Thankfully, city officials knew University Heights couldn't coexist with an elevated highway or an underground tunnel, and blocked both plans -- instead building the road we now know as Campus Drive.
By the late 1960s, campus expansion south of University Avenue had created dangerous conflicts between pedestrians and vehicles. Plans were drawn for a series of skywalks, but the state Building Commission stopped their construction.
That's when UW planners got creative -- even considering a $12 million causeway across Lake Mendota. Maybe the causeway concept was a tactic to make their other ideas look less extreme. If so, it didn't work.
In June, UW consultants proposed a $29 million "south corridor" bypass, a four-lane below-grade highway from University Avenue east to Breese Terrace that would cut behind the engineering campus and rise to a fully elevated road by Camp Randall Stadium, continuing eastward above the railroad tracks and Dayton Street before descending to meet Johnson Street and Gorham Street at ground level.
As a more modest alternative, campus planners proposed an $18 million, mile-long underground tunnel, from three blocks west of the First Congregational Church to the corner of East Johnson and North Frances streets.
The city had a simpler plan -- relocate the railroad tracks that crossed Randall Street a bit to the north, and build a highway that didn't destroy University Heights. And with the support of GOP Gov. Warren Knowles, that's what was done.
Wright or wrong?
1968 was the year Madison finally approved the long-delayed Frank Lloyd Wright auditorium on Lake Monona, part of the wildly ambitious Monona Basin Plan stretching from Turville Point to Law Park.
Or so we thought.
The year began with good news, the surrender by longtime Wright foe Carroll Metzner, the former state rep whose 1957 "height restrictions" bill put the whammy on Wright's earlier Monona Terrace design. A decade later, Metzner sued to block a new contract between the city and the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. Circuit Judge Edwin Wilkie dismissed Metzner's lawsuit in late 1967, and on Jan. 10, 1968, Metzner announced he wouldn't appeal.
On Feb. 22, the Common Council voted 15-4 to designate Law Park as the final site of the civic auditorium, and to approve the concept design for the entire Monona Basin Plan, a $25 million development expected to take 35-40 years to build. In mid-July, Wright Foundation senior architect William Wesley Peters unveiled his plan, a great circular drum of an auditorium meant to hold 2,300, with parking for 750 cars. The council approved the plan and authorized Peters to prepare drawings.
That was the last good news. When Peters delivered his drawings in January 1969, budgetary constraints forced unacceptable design changes -- including cutting parking capacity in half, and eliminating elevators (in a building 80 feet high).
Mayor Otto Festge, who announced in early January 1969 that he was stepping down after two difficult terms, tried desperately to break ground before he left office, but failed. The bidding process was delayed, and the few bids that came in were too high. When the new mayor -- conservative Bill Dyke -- and a like-minded council took office in April 1969, a Frank Lloyd Wright auditorium on Lake Monona was not high on their agenda.
It wasn't on their agenda at all.
Four who fell in Vietnam
Central High graduate and former Gisholt Machine Co. employee Bruce Knox, 1852 Fisher St., is killed while aiding a fallen comrade near Hue in February. The Army presents the Silver Star, Purple Heart and five other medals to his parents on Sept. 17.
Army Spec. James Leahy, 25, only son of Madison Draft Board member and Oscar Mayer safety specialist Maurice Leahy, is killed in combat Aug. 8.
West High and UW grad Harry B. Hambleton III dies of combat injuries on Sept. 14. A graduate of campus ROTC, Hambleton was the recipient of three Purple Hearts, the Bronze Star for valor, and numerous other medals.
Navy medical corpsman Daniel Bennett Jr., 21, is killed on Dec. 20 while aiding injured Marines. The 1965 East High graduate left a wife and 18-month-old son, residing in Truax Field housing.