Our Capitol at 100
No matter their political leanings, surely visitors to our capitol agree on its remarkable beauty. In The Wisconsin Capitol: Stories of a Monument and Its People, Madisonian Michael Edmonds tells how this spectacular icon came to be.
Starting with territorial governor Henry Dodge, Edmonds tells inspiring and entertaining tales of those who built Wisconsin’s four capitols. The first structure, made of wood, was in Belmont, where the state was born in 1836. The second — a ramshackle affair in Madison — housed pigs in its basement. The third was a grand Victorian building constructed during the Civil War that burned down in 1904. After that, no expense was spared to engage architects, designers, artists, and artisans, who toiled for more than a decade to complete the awe-inspirer that celebrated its centennial in 2017.
Edmonds, director of programs and outreach at the Wisconsin State Historical Society, tells how today’s capitol was designed and decorated — and then restored, from its magnificent murals to its specialty spittoons, through a massive 1990s conservation effort. He introduces not only those who built the four capitols, but also governors, lawmakers, cleaners, guards, clerks, protestors, tour guides, pioneering women, and legislative rascals. Historical images and modern photos adorn the work, including pictures of the statue that stands atop the capitol’s dome: a gilded woman who really does have a badger on her head.
With Samantha Snyder 13, MA’15 — a reference librarian affiliated with George Washington’s Mount Vernon, Virginia, estate — Edmonds has recently coauthored another work. Warriors, Saints, and Scoundrels: Brief Portraits of Real People Who Shaped Wisconsin is based on the 500-plus “Odd Wisconsin” pieces that he wrote for a syndicated newspaper column between 2006 and 2015.
Published in the Winter 2017 issue