The Zombie Survival Guide, a brains-in-cheek how-to book by Max Brooks published in 2003, suggests that persons on the lookout for nascent undead outbreaks should keep track of man bites dog stories and other telltale signs of reanimation. No such discerning eye will be needed on Saturday morning at the Mifflin Street Block Party, though, as an uprising of zombies is expected to occur.
On the morning of Wednesday, May 3, a declaration of a zombie uprising at one of Madison's best known spring traditions was published online. "The closing of the co-op was the last nail in the coffin of the radical past of a street once better known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail," it began. " The trouble is, no fratty-made coffin can contain the rotting corpses of Mifflin past. Zombies will rise! And it's happening this Saturday at the Mifflin St. Block party."
Potential undead were subsequently encouraged to prepare themselves and gather at the corner of Mifflin and Bassett streets at 11 a.m. on the morning of the party. " Zombies have no leaders," the announcement continued. "This is a decentralized, do-your-own-zombie-thang, affinity-style insurrectionary street party. Zombie street theatre, drumming, marching bands, bring out your dead wagons, zombie critical mass, zombie kissing booth, zombie face painting, playing dead, walking your zombie dog, zombie poetry, zombie baked goods, knitting..."
A planning session for the uprising was conducted on Thursday night, when a group of would be zombies held a caucus at the Plaza Tavern.
One focus of the lurch is the closing of the Mifflin Street Co-op in November 2006, a symbolic milestone in the final transition of the surrounding neighborhood away from the days when Paul Soglin was its alderman and an attempt was actually made to rename Bassett Street to the Ho Chi Minh Trail. "Mifflin is business as usual, the party a last hurrah for a lot of the student population to get pissed before finals as well as a huge draw from out of town," said Karol Lewis, one pseudonymous participant ready for reanimation. "But many people in Madison are disgusted by it," he continued.
"Our ancestors prophesized this day," intoned the online announcement, referencing Mifflin Cooperative Community Mural created in 1987 by artists Olivia Gude and Jon Pounds. This painting includes a depiction of " techno-skeletons, a black-and-white image of economic oppression, environmental degradation, and unhealthful food" as described by Gude shortly after the mural's completion. One piece of literature prepared for the event simply declared: "Mifflin is dead."
Nevertheless, explained Lewis, there are likely to be various groups of zombies participating for different reasons. "I think there are going to be multiple levels of interpretation," he said. "People are going to come in there with an overt political perspective, while others will simply participate with a carnival atmosphere in mind. It's interesting to think about what the interactions between the living and undead will be like."
This kind of event, variously known as a zombie walk or zombie lurch, has flared up repeatedly in cities around the world in recent years as a classically contemporary trend fueled by the rise of instant communications and social networking. Participants, in costume and in character, gather in a public place and make a situational spectacle in the guise of the undead. More recent gatherings have even included elements of charity, in the vein of blood drives or through the participation of groups like the Zombie Squad. These lurches are but one recent manifestation in a wave of public spectacle-making, from the explicitly political Reclaim the Streets movement born in U.K to the brief social trend popularized in the early '00s and simply known as a flash mob.
The first inklings of this lurch in Madison were leaked on May Day, when a succinct call was made for zombies to prepare for Saturday, May 5. "We will dress up and crash the Mifflin St. Block Party," promised this aspiring patient zero. This was followed less than two days later with the more detailed announcement calling for crews to join the "flesh carnival."
Word of the impending infestation spread fast. Mere hours after the announcement was promulgated on Thursday, members of the city's online community hefted the zombie banner and started to spread the word. It was even republished for the Madison LiveJournal community. This locus of online discussion is significant when it comes to matters undead in Madison.
The first major zombie outbreak in the city -- back in October 2005 -- was announced and promoted via this LiveJournal group, and crouched as a irony-dripping protest. "To add a particularly Madisonian touch," suggested organizer Maddie Green, "we'll raise public consciousness for the plight of our cannibalistic brothers and sisters."
This lurch turned out to be quite the outbreak, with scores of the undead gathering at the Capitol for a staggering march down State Street to the UW Memorial Union. In fact, one videographer captured footage of the spectacle, assembling it into a six-minute documentary of the infestation: