Letters: “On, Wisconsin!” the Song

The article in the Winter 2009 On Wisconsin [“Fight on for Her Fame,” News and Notes] reminded me of my father’s affection for the great Badger song.

Dad, who graduated from the UW Law School in 1911, was there when the new “On, Wisconsin!” was presented to the student body, and the song always provoked a strong emotional response in him. That was especially obvious on one occasion in the late 1940s when we happened to be on the [University of Minnesota] campus on a Wisconsin-Minnesota football weekend. We rounded a corner and unexpectedly encountered the UW Band marching down the street just as they started “On, Wisconsin!” It was one of the few occasions when I saw my father break into uncontrollable tears. Such can be the power of “On, Wisconsin!”

David Strang ’59, MD’62 Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania

[The song “On, Wisconsin!”] brought to mind a letter we found among our family papers, written by my mother’s cousin, Ellenwood “Jim” Halsted, UW circa 1915, to his parents.

The letter mentioned New York City’s ticker-tape parade for Charles Lindbergh x’24 in June 1927, after he returned from his historic New York-to-Paris flight. The city’s welcoming committee, mayor, and other politicians who all wanted to be seen with him had tightly scheduled Lindbergh’s every minute.

I believe Halsted was an officer of the New York City alumni chapter at the time. Their regular monthly meeting coincided with Lindbergh’s visit, and they were determined to get Lindy to their luncheon. Several of the alumni knew that as a Wisconsin student, he had loved the fight song. Thus, they decided that Carl Beck (who wrote the lyrics for “On, Wisconsin!”) would be the perfect bait to lure him to their meeting.

Halsted, Beck, and several other chapter members became the designated “kidnappers.” They dressed in tuxedos, rented a limousine, and set out to catch their prey. Their tuxedos made them look official and gained them admission to one of the scheduled activities. They were able to introduce Lindbergh to Carl Beck and invite him to their luncheon. Lindy replied that he would love to escape the official folderol, but that he was closely guarded and didn’t know if he’d be able to slip away — whereupon the chapter leaders put on their most officious looks and walked him out of the meeting room and into their waiting limo.

It must have been a fabulous alumni meeting, and I’m sure they sang more than one chorus of “On, Wisconsin!” before, somehow, officialdom tracked Lindbergh down after several hours and whisked him away.

Evan Clingman ’50, PhD’72 Kennett Square, Pennsylvania

Published in the Spring 2010 issue

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