I got an e-mail reminding me that my parents moved the family to Madison 40 years ago last month. As anniversaries go, this is of little consequence next to the city's sesquicentennial or Isthmus' 30th. But it is an occasion to revisit the city as it was half a lifetime ago, when we arrived on Homecoming weekend.
In the penultimate home game of coach Milt Bruhn's 11-year career, the Badgers lost to Purdue, 23-0, on Nov. 5, 1966, in front of 56,475 fans. He would end the season at 3-6-1 overall and seventh in the Big Ten at 2-4-1, finishing with a 7-6 victory at home over Minnesota on Nov. 19. It would be the last Badgers win until Oct. 11, 1969.
Madison's mayor was Otto Festge. The city's population amounted to about 166,000 residents, including students. Our first drive from one edge of the city to the other took about 10 minutes. For a 7-year-old who had to be dragged kicking and screaming all the way from sprawling Los Angeles, this was a shock.
But then Lake Mendota froze over the day after Christmas, 38 inches of snow fell on Madison that winter, and shock yielded to wonder. I got my first pair of used skates at Sportsmen's Home.
The city parks system then encompassed almost 2,000 acres, 56 skating rinks, two toboggan runs and one ski jump. The toboggan runs were a blast.
Madison boasted only about 200 restaurants back then, if you included the ones in Middleton and the 16 Rennebohm Drug Store Fountains around town. Several are still around, but many are long gone, including one boy's favorites: the Jolly Troll Smorgasbord and Mr. Steak. There were four Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises and three McDonald's, and you could find a different supper club for every night of the week.
There were eight radio stations and four TV stations in Madison circa 1966, and eight movie theaters, including the Badger and Big Sky drive-ins, the Capitol and the Strand. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and A Man for All Seasons were the big Oscar movies that year, but I was captivated by the debut seasons of 'Batman' and 'Star Trek' and 'The Monkees,' and by the string of hits coming off the Beatles' Revolver album, along with hits by the Rolling Stones and Nancy Sinatra and Dylan and Cream but most of all, '96 Tears,' by ? & the Mysterians, and 'Wild Thing,' by the Troggs.
With the exceptions of six Piggly Wigglies, El Rancho, Regent Food Market and Sentry, most grocers ' Bernie, Bud, Fauerbach, Martinelli ' still put their names on their storefronts. And with the exception of Pic-A-Book and the University Book Store, so did local booksellers, including Bratlie, Brown, Moseley and Rengstorff.
The choice of banks included Hilldale, Randall and Westgate.
Recent UW-Madison chan-cellors were at or near the starts of their careers in 1966. Donna Shalala was beginning a graduate research fellowship at Syracuse. David Ward was a first-year assistant professor of geography at the UW. John Wiley had two years to go on his doctorate here.
Bob Johnson was starting his first season as UW hockey coach. The Badgers had no women's teams in 1966, and no soccer team. But the men's Varsity 8 won the national title that year on Lake Onondaga in New York, under longtime UW men's rowing coach Norm Sonju.
Fred Harvey Harrington was the UW's president and Robben Wright Fleming was chancellor when we arrived in Madison. The Tolkien Society had established itself that September, and the campus was starting to simmer with anti-war sentiment. Fleming's office was blockaded in February 1967 by demonstrators protesting Dow Chemical. By March, Fleming had been named president of the University of Michigan.
In 1966, future Madison Mayor Paul Soglin took his undergraduate degree with honors from the UW. Dick Cheney, now vice president of the United States, was starting his abortive pursuit of a doctorate in political science here. Tommy Thompson, Wisconsin's future governor, took his law degree from the UW in 1966 and was elected to the state assembly the Tuesday after my family drove into town. This was the same Tuesday that an actor named Ronald Reagan was elected to his first term as governor of California, the state we had left behind.
Few of the storefronts along State Street in 1966 remain today. Back then, the 600 block included Fireside Pancake House, Yost's Beauty Lane and Campus Shop, Petrie's Sporting Goods, Troia's Steak House, Antoine's women's clothing and the Grotto. (For the rest of State Street circa 1966, go here.)
Storefront by storefront, day by day, a city evolves all around you in tiny unnoticed increments that become profound across decades. Mayors and college football coaches are succeeded. The lakes freeze and thaw. Jolly Trolls and toboggan runs vanish. Banks merge, the names of people you know fall off of grocery and book stores, restaurant numbers swell with the population. The hits keep coming. Once-recent grads find themselves at or approaching the ends of their careers.
And 40 years after being dragged kicking and screaming away from Los Angeles, a 7-year-old boy finds himself, at middle age, smitten by a city that in one regard remains everything it was at Homecoming weekend in 1966 plus everything it has been since. Home.