Madison, the first week of June, 1969
City building inspectors find 208 building and safety code violations in the student Mifflin-Bassett street area, seemingly validating student complaints about bad landlords. Mayor Bill Dyke ordered the comprehensive inspections in the wake of the Mifflin Street Block Party riot in early May after area youth cited poor housing conditions as one of the reasons for their discontent.
Mayor Dyke names 70 leading Madisonians to his Citizens Advisory Committee, including former mayor Henry Reynolds, two former Supreme Court justices, east side activist David Mollenhoff, black labor leader Hilton Hanna, professor Robert Kimbrough, and bankers Jim Bradley and Dale Nordeen. The conservative Dyke keeps only two CAC members who had been appointed by liberal mayor Otto Festge – chiropractor Kenneth Luedtke and atty Shirley S Abrahamson. The committee, more than three times as large as the one Festge appointed, will study and suggest changes in city government on everything from the problems of the elderly to environmental pollution.
June 5—Changing demographics and declining enrollment prove too much for Central/University High School to survive as the final bell tolls at its hundredth—and last—graduation. Valedictorian Karen Bergstedt calls on her 185 classmates in dark blue caps and gowns to remember their “fierce pride” in going to what she says is the “smallest but very best high school in the city.” Her comments fit the official class motto: “There’ll be no tears, for these were happy years.” The last diploma goes to Joseph W. Vultaggio, chosen by lot for the bittersweet honor. The choir sings “Blessing, Glory and Wisdom” by Bach, the Rogers and Hammerstein classic from Carousel “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” and the school song—“Hail, Central High, Grand Old School.” School Board president Ray Sennett, a pioneer of local softball just inducted in the Madison Sports Hall of Fame closes by paraphrasing William Seward’s comment on the death of Abraham Lincoln: “From this day forward, Central-University High School belongs to the ages.”[i] Sennett has seen Central rise and fall – he graduated Madison High class of 1922—the last class before East High opened and Madison High school became Central. Of Central’s remaining students, 227 will go to West High, 67 to East, 58 to Madison Memorial, and 19 to La Follette. More of Central’s teachers will transfer to West than any other school, as well.[ii]
A newsworthy week for the Students for a Democratic Society. In Washington, US Representative William Steiger reveals that he recently attended an SDS meeting on the Madison campus. The Oshkosh Republican, one of 22 GOP legislators who took an unpublicized and privately funded tour of fifty college campuses, said he chatted with students at the meeting and listened to the speaker, a Black Panther from Chicago. Vice President of the Wisconsin Student Association a decade earlier, Steiger says campus unrest goes deeper than radicals. “Dissatisfaction and alienation are widespread,” he says, “with vast numbers of bright and sincere students just as deeply disturbed as the so-called revolutionaries.” Steiger was one of six young GOP leaders who spent 80 minutes with President Nixon last week discussing their campus experiences.
In Madison, SDS’s long-time faculty sponsor cites freedom of speech in pushing back against legislators who say the militant organization is damaging the university. “They have a right in the market place of ideas,” economics professor John Bowman tells the joint committee to study campus disorder. Bowman tells the committee, formed in the wake of the black studies strike in February, that freedom of speech is so vital he would even sponsor a Nazi student organization if no one else would. Faculty sponsor since 1965, Bowman says he often disagrees with SDS positions and tactics, and has been booed off the stage at SDS meetings. He testifies that “SDS been blamed for things it wasn’t responsible for,” including taking over the black studies strike. And he notes that the extreme democracy SDS practices – anyone who shows can vote – means that sometimes regular members are outvoted and positions taken which don’t reflect the true positions of Madison SDS.
Campus radicals aren’t the only ones clamoring for change.
A drastic change could be coming to downtown traffic patterns, as city planners hope to solve the congestion crisis on the Capitol Square by reversing traffic on the streets a block away. Because that outer ring of Doty, Webster, Dayton and Fairchild streets now goes clockwise, many motorists going from the west side to the east side come all the way down to the square itself, clogging the streets and making it more difficult for shoppers to drive and park. Creating another counter-clockwise flow by reversing the outer ring, Traffic Engineer John Bunch thinks, will siphon off most of that pass-through traffic. It would also let the city expand the sidewalks around the square, and turn the first blocks of Wisconsin and Monona Avenues into traffic-free landscaped malls. The city hopes to coordinate the transformation with the installation of new sewers on State Street later this summer.
And there’s a change in the childbirth protocol at Madison General Hospital – for the first time, husbands are allowed in the delivery room, subject to the obstetrician’s approval. “The husband’s presence is intended to deepen and enrich the family experience for the couple,” a hospital spokesman said. Husbands have long been allowed in the delivery room at University Hospital, but are still barred at St Mary’s and Methodist hospitals.
There are two deaths of particular note. Joseph E Meagher, co-founder and chairman of the board of the Forbes-Meagher Music Company, dies unexpectedly at age 88 on June 3. Meagher was a music salesman from Chicago who joined with Jessie Forbes in 1916 to start the firm which bears their names. Also a co-founder of the Madison and Wisconsin Foundation, predecessor to the Chamber of Commerce, Meagher played an instrumental role in Badger music history by providing the for the University band to make the first recording of “On Wisconsin” in 1926.
Army Private Thomas A. Greisen, twenty, 446 Hilltop Dr., is killed in action June 6. A 1967 graduate of West High School, he worked at the Pure Oil Company at Westgate before entering the Army in May 1968. He was sent to Vietnam that December.[iii]
[i] Holly Dunlop, “The Auld Lang Syne’s Out,” WSJ, June 4, 1969; Dunlop, “‘Hail Central’—and Farewell,” WSJ, June 6, 1969; “Last Tribute to Central: ‘Smallest but Best,’” CT, June 6, 1969.
[ii] Roger A. Gribble, “On Last School Turn, Central Finishes Fast,” WSJ, May 17, 1969.
[iii] “Thomas Griesen Killed in Viet; W. High Grad,” WSJ, June 7, 1969; www.virtualwall.org/dg/GreisenTA01a.htm.