Madison in the Sixties – the end of March
1960 More than a thousand students pack old Music Hall past legal capacity for Sen. John F Kennedy’s last local appearance before the April 5 presidential primary. University workers lock the doors, leaving several hundred students out in the snow – until one of them finds an unlocked back door and the crowd floods in, a hundred ending up on stage. Some remain outside in the bitter cold, listening to the speech on loudspeakers. Kennedy, still fresh after a full day campaigning in snowbound southwest Wisconsin, speaks for about half on hour on foreign and farm policy. Hr criticizes President Eisenhower for not responding to a recent proposal from the Soviet Union on disarmament, and explains that he’s against diplomatic recognition of Red China “on the mere assumption that this will result in a change in their policies.” Pursuant to university policy, Kennedy also answers questions for about 25 minutes. Afterward, some students stand outside and serenade the solon, their song list including a spirited “If You Want to Be A Badger, Just Come Along With Me” Then he’s off to Milwaukee for the next day’s events. The weekend campaign is a family affair – mother Rose arrives Sunday for a campaign tea and reception at the Blackhawk Country Club in Shorewood Hills.
Kennedy’s opponent, Minnesota Senator Hubert Humphrey, also has a campus campaign highlight, as baseball and human rights immortal Jackie Robinson endorses him before an overflow Great Hall crowd of more than five hundred. But the event goes awry for the Humphrey campus coordinator, senior Dave Obey of Wausau, when Robinson says that Kennedy’s record on civil rights is so weak, that if Humphrey loses the nomination to him, he’ll vote for Richard Nixon in November.
And this week in 1960, more than twenty thousand people brave the biting cold for the March 24 opening of the Westgate Shopping Center. Anchored by a J. C. Penney and a Piggly Wiggly supermarket, the 14-acre Westgate is the city’s largest shopping center, with the city’s largest public parking lot – 1150 free customer parking spaces. There are 22 stores ready for opening day, with a Montgomery Ward store to open in June and a Manchester’s department store in the fall.
Two deaths of note this week in 1962. Gay Braxton, eighty- five, who grew the Greenbush’s most important secular institution by turning Neighborhood House into a settlement house in 1921 and serving as its resident director until her retirement in 1950, dies at the Birch Avenue home she shared with her longtime companion and Neighborhood House assistant, Mary Lee Griggs. A native of Richmond, Virginia, Braxton attended Smith College and came to Madison from Quincy, Illinois, where she headed a settlement house known as “Cheerful Home.” City attorney Alton S. Heassler, sixty, is killed when he crashes into a tree at the intersection of West Lawn and Prospect Avenues. The Madison native was also a former Dane County supervisor and unsuccessful candidate for the Republican nomination for district attorney.
Quite an Easter Weekend in 1967. —As usual all banks, and all government offices except the post office, and Most Madison stores, are closed from noon to 3 p.m. for Good Friday. Unlike other years, there are antiwar protests inside several Methodist and Presbyterian churches. The demonstrations, organized by the Student Committee for Direct Action, are peaceful and do not disrupt services.
On that rainy Easter afternoon, a crowd of about four thousand attends the Grand Opening of the $5.5 million Dane County Memorial Coliseum, dedicated to the war dead of Dane County. The Madison Municipal Band, La Follette HS Band and Madison Scouts Drum and Bugle Corps perform at the ceremony coordinated by the Dane County Veterans’ Committee. Designed by the firm Law, Law, Potter and Nystrom and built by the Anthony Grignano Company. Some finishing touches remain, but coliseum manager Roy Gumptow vows everything will be ready for the inaugural event next weekend — the Zor Shrine Circus.
1968 A year to the week later, the largest crowd yet at the Coliseum, as an enthusiastic eighteen thousand shower Senator Eugene McCarthy with thunderous applause as the Minnesotan gives his main Wisconsin address for the April 2 presidential primary. Before his strong but understated attack on President Johnson and the war, a great undercard of entertainment: Lou Gossett reads Mark Twain’s “The War Prayer,” there’s satire from Alan Arkin and Elaine May, and songs of social commentary from 16-yo Janis Ian.
There’s Racial commentary of concern as the EOC reports that there have been eighteen instances of overt racial conflict in the past eleven months.
Something new in Madison radio, as WKOW radio changes its slogan to the “NOW sound, with NOW music, for NOW people.” The station, which will now broadcast from 5 a.m. to 2 a.m., except on Sundays, will feature soul and “underground” music, along with talk shows on controversial topics.
A fitting finale at the Factory, the last big show before it closes at the end of April— the Butterfield Blues Band, with the White Trash Blues Band to open.
And it’s a week of misbehaving youts. In 1961, police issue forty- seven jaywalking and loitering tickets to students and some adults from West High, and twenty- seven to East High students for crossing East Washington Avenue against the light. And shoplifting and roughhousing by West High students has gotten so bad, police chief Wilbur Emery has to have officers walk a beat along Regent and Allen streets, just like on State and East Wilson Streets. “These children should not be such a problem to us that we need an officer there full time,” Emery says.
In 1967, another bout of bad student behavior. Teen vandals with slingshots and rocks cause about $2,000 in damage, breaking twenty- one windows and several reinforced doors at Van Hise School on S. Segoe Rd. It’s the seventh instance of window breaking at Van Hise, Odana, and Orchard Ridge Schools since September, accounting for nearly $10,000 in damages. Police nab five youngsters, who explain they did it “for lack of anything better to do.”
And in 1969, police chief Emery complains to a joint legislative committee about what he calls “a most disturbing lack of enforcement and initiative” from the university in curbing campus drug traffic. It’s gotten so bad, he says, he’s had to assign drug investigators to campus without waiting to be asked by campus police chief Ralph Hanson. Emery strongly endorses a bill putting Madison Police in charge of law enforcement on campus; the bill passes the Assembly and is set for Senate consideration in January 1970.
And that’s this week’s Madison in the sixties. For your award-winning WORT News team, I’m Stu Levitan.