All Wet

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Courtesy of UW–Madison Archives: S07650

The Mifflin Street Block Party struggled through its forty-fourth year in early May, the festivities somewhat dampened by friction with the city and sponsors (but not by hoses, as in this photo dated 1970).

Planners for the 2012 party had a difficult time during the last year. After the 2011 event was marred by violence — including three reported stabbings and two reported sexual assaults — Madison Mayor Paul Soglin ’66, JD’72 and other city leaders called for an end to the annual bash in the student-heavy neighborhood south of campus. Then in March 2012, the event’s sponsor, All-Star Catering, backed out. The party survived the scowls from officialdom and went on anyway on May 5, but only after neighborhood residents promised to make it more of a block party and less of a booze-fest.

Friction with city authorities is nothing new to the event: its first celebration, in May 1969, began as a street dance and ended as a three-day riot, with seventy injured and a hundred arrested — including then-alderman Soglin.

In the ensuing years, attendance at the party has varied from the hundreds to the tens of thousands, and arrests and injuries have ranged from zero (as was the case in 1970) to hundreds. By 2011, the event was known chiefly as an opportunity for binge drinking. A survey that Associated Students of Madison conducted on campus found that 54 percent of respondents believed that the main purpose of the party is to drink (and 78 percent planned to attend).

Ultimately, an estimated five thousand people attended this year’s Mifflin Street Block Party.

Published in the Summer 2012 issue

Tags: Campus history, Students

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