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Wednesday, January 1, 2014

New Year's Eve at the Madison Capitol Building

If I wanted to see the Christmas tree before they took it down I had to make a quick decision on whether to make the drive to Madison on New Year's Eve.  When I checked their website and found out they had a Festivus Pole on display in addition to the tree I was sold!  Five degrees outside with late afternoon snow in the forecast, so what?  I called my girlfriend Jeanna and didn't even have to try to convince her and her boyfriend to tag along for the ride.  Dave is visiting from New Jersey via Afghanistan, so some Wisconsin touring was in order no matter what the weather.

Since Wisconsin was granted statehood in 1848 it has seen three Capitol buildings.  After a devastating fire left the second Madison Capitol badly damaged, George B. Post & Sons designed the current Capitol, which was built between 1906 and 1917 at a cost of $7.25 million. The Madison Capitol is distinguished as being the only State Capitol ever built on an isthmus.  It's dome is the fourth largest in the WORLD.  Yes, the world, not the country.  Maybe you recognize the building from all the protests against Governor Walker during the big Union-Busting Brewhaha a few years back.

Reaching to a height of about 265 feet, the Capitol dome is topped by Daniel Chester French's gilded bronze statue, "Wisconsin." Her left hand holds a globe with an eagle on it and her right hand is extended outward to signify "forward" which is Wisconsin's state motto.  Our guide told us her arm is extended toward the nation's capital.

The exterior stone is Bethel White granite from Vermont, and I thought it looked very nice against the bit of winter snow.  The exterior stairs were closed as an access point to the Capitol so we entered underneath them.  Dave and Jeanna were nice enough to point out to me the cool door handle which depicted the state's coat of arms on the backplate and "Wisconsin" on the knob.  There were quite a few of them throughout the building.  Ready to go inside?

The Christmas tree is a 25 foot balsam from Antigo, and is decorated with ornaments made by students from Wisconsin's public and private schools as well as with energy saving LED lights.  The Festivus Pole?  We were told it was taken down a day early.  We did see a display honoring the Flying Spaghetti Monster.  Our tour guide didn't seem to approve.  Her words were something along the lines of  "I guess everybody has the right to believe what they want to believe or not believe".  Don't know what the Flying Spaghetti Monster is about?  I didn't either until I found a reference to it and maybe I have a more "evolved" sense of humor because I laughed out loud and seeing it represented there kind of made my day!  Nothing brightens the holidays like a little good natured religion oriented satire in my opinion.

 But, back to the tour. Edwin Blashfield's mural "Resources of Wisconsin" lavishly decorates the ceiling of the rotunda, which is the only granite dome in the United States.  The woman in the center with the red headdress represents Wisconsin.  She is holding a sheaf of wheat symbolizing Wisconsin's agriculture.  The other figures are holding various products from Wisconsin such as tobacco, lead, fruit, and fish.  Visitors used to be able to go all the way to the top, within arm's reach of the mural at 184 feet until the 1950's.  If you're doing mental math you'd realize that isn't actually the top of the dome, they are another unaccounted for 80 feet still above the painted "ceiling".  As for today, visitors can access the observation deck at 92 feet from Memorial Day to the first weekend in November.  If I make it back during the summer I'll definitely hike up there and get some pictures of the view inside and outside as well.  Still, I think New Year's Eve was a great day to visit as the place was practically empty and the three of us were the only ones on the 1:00 tour.

There is so much to see in the Capitol that I'm going to do a series of posts so we can savor it.  I'll leave you today with my little video of the singers who were performing when we first arrived.  If you watch it by clicking on the YouTube symbol you can see it larger.

One more thing.  Remember the weather issue?  This is what it looked like for most of our ride home, though the main highway was mostly clear as far as Janesville.   Luckily we made it back without mishap.  
Happy New Year, Followers!


  1. I can't count the number of times I've see Madison's dome from afar. Thanks for taking us inside.

  2. What an awesome building. Look forward to see more when you visit again. Weather is rain and stormy wind at the moment here.

  3. Nice tour of the capitol building. And I like the Christmas tree too. I loved the piece about the "flying spaghetti monster." This is great! I'm surprised no one in Oregon has done something like this (it would be so Portland!) Our state capitol is a very different (aka weird) looking building with a golden pioneer on top. I took my kids there for a tour many years ago. Happy 2014!