Getting a close-up on Madison's past

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Posted by .. on December 15, 2008 at 13:59:57:

From the Cap Times:

Plain Talk: Getting a close-up on Madison's past
Dave Zweifel 12/15/2008 5:20 am

The Evjue Foundation last month made a modest grant to Historic Madison Inc., the local group of volunteers who are fascinated with the history of our great city and are determined to preserve it for the generations ahead.

The Evjue grant will help pay expenses to gather oral histories from graduates of old Madison Central High School, which closed in 1969 as the student population dwindled downtown. HMI hopes to find some of the oldest graduates and, since many of them live out of state, it will travel to them to collect their stories. Hence, the need for the money.

The history of Central from 1854 to 1969 is but the latest of HMI's projects to chronicle the history of the city. The organization, which is always looking for new members, regularly produces quality periodicals about Madison and area history that are available at local bookstores and the Wisconsin Historical Museum downtown.

HMI calls its most regular publication The Journal of the Four Lake Region. The latest journal, volume 21, includes stories about Madisonian Stephen Vaughn Shipman's extensive and informative letters home during the Civil War, a major piece about Madison's early concert venues, another on the city's long-ago lunch wagons and diners, and a question and answer with Paul Soglin on his first go-round as mayor of Madison.

The four stories are a treasure trove of good reading. Where else can you discover just how often the famous John Philip Sousa played at the Fuller Opera House on Capitol Square, or that the first lunch wagon was opened at 2 E. Main St. back in 1902 and included a regular buffet?

The journal is supplemented with occasional glossy magazines dedicated to a specific topic. The "cemetery series" documented the historic graves at Forest Hill, focusing on the "ordinary and famous men and women" who shaped Madison and the world.

Currently, the local historians are producing a series called "Madison Memories." The latest is an intriguing story authored by Betty Smith, the longtime former City Council member and activist in not only the Dane County Republican Party but the early women's movement as well.

Smith takes the readers through some of this city's most interesting and tumultuous times in a publication called simply, "My Life in Politics."

You learn just how different the local GOP was in those days and how it got behind the likes of Head Start and the National Organization for Women, in which Smith played a key role with Madisonian and NOW founder Kathryn Clarenbach.

Mark Gajewski of the Wisconsin Historical Society is president of Historic Madison Inc. Board members include Lyle Anderson, Thom Boykoff, Carol Crossan, Rich Eggleston, Peggy Ellerkamp, Barb Essock, Nancy Finley, Bruce Gregg, Beth Holden, Ron Porter, Patty Putnam and Jerre Ziebelman.

Membership is as low as $15 a year and even includes a copy of HMI's annual publications.

The group, unfortunately, doesn't have an office, but you can write to HMI at Box 2721, Madison 53701. Information on where you can purchase its publications is on its Web site at

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