Yesterday, officials approved a resolution to restore two statues removed from the capitol building’s grounds during protests last month.
The Wisconsin Capitol and Executive Residence Board, which oversees maintenance of the state capitol building and its grounds, voted unanimously yesterday to eventually restore the statues.
Now, Hans Christian Heg a union soldier and anti-slavery activist, and the Forward statue at the top of State Street, are slated to come back the Capitol grounds by next spring or summer.
The statues were destroyed during an intense night of protest in mid-June. Heg was decapitated and thrown into Lake Monona, while protesters ripped down the Forward statue and dragged it down State Street. The protesters argued that the statues represent a false narrative of racial equity and justice in “progressive” Madison and Wisconsin.
As a result of being dragged down State Street, the Forward statue was severely scratched and had one of its fingers removed. Heg’s statue had its leg and head removed before it was tossed into Lake Monona.
According to Paula Veltum, Deputy Facilities Administrator with the Department of Administration and Secretary for the Board, the investigation into Heg’s missing head is ongoing.
“On the Hans Christian Heg statue, is it still possible to recover the head? Or should we just assume we won’t find that,” asked Republican Senator Roger Roth, of Appleton.
“We can’t really comment, there is an open investigation. But we are taking steps assuming that we will not be able to recover the head at this time,” Veltum said.
According to Veltum, the agency will be replacing Heg’s head with a bust cast from another statue of him in Norway, his home country. Veltum says that the cost for repairing the statues, as well as fixing other damage to the capitol building as a result of the protests, is still up in the air.
“At this time, total cost for restoration efforts, we’re still compiling those. So we’re not about to release those because we’re working with our insurance company,” she said.
Last night the board also unanimously approved a partnership with the Wisconsin Historical Society for a fund drive to diffuse the cost of repairing the damage done to the capitol. The Historical Society plans to raise $50,000 to cover the insurance deductible for the damage caused to the statues and capitol grounds.
At last night’s meeting, Republican State Rep. Mark Born, of Beaver Dam, expressed concerns about restoring the statues too quickly. He said that there’s a chance another group of protesters could tear the statues down at a later date.
“I’m not comfortable with replacing these things until we believe that the proper authorities in the city have a plan to protect the property. I would hate to see us recast statues and then, nine months later, see them get dragged down the street again,” said Born.
Also last night, the Board considered, but took no action on, a proposal from Michael Johnson, a prominent community leader and head of the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County, to erect a statue of Vel Philips on the capitol ground.
Philips was the first Black woman to graduate from the UW-Madison law school, the first Black person and woman to serve on the Milwaukee city council, and the first Black woman in the nation to be elected to a statewide office.
She died two years ago, at the age of 94.
The Board’s decision to replace the statues come shortly after the introduction of a bipartisan bill last week that would make it a felony to destroy or remove any historical statue on state property.
One of the co-authors on that bill, Democratic Rep. Tim Carpenter of Milwaukee, was attacked and beaten at the downtown demonstrations on June 23rd, the same night the statues were removed.