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October 30, 2005


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Craig Wieber

See, I agree with you that this event is a loser for the city. But, do we really need to crack down on house parties? Thats how I paid the rent through undergrad. Have a heart, Paul.


I checked out the Badger Herald article on the history of the Madison Halloween party and found this interesting:

"By request of UW Chancellor John Wiley, University Communications put together a history of the event citing the initial event as held by the student government in 1979"

Sorry. The UW student government did NOT start this event. We were among those who celebrated on State St between about 1975 and 1978, before WSA got involved. We remember the one in 1977 particularly well, as "Star Wars" had just been released, and the costumes were heavy on the outer space theme. That year the attendance was HUGE and we thought maybe Madison's Halloween celebration might become the Mardi Gras of the Midwest.

The following year "Animal House" was released. That was the first year the Wisconsin Student Association (having just been taken over by Jim Mallon, Stuart Baker, and Leon Varjian), became involved in Madison's Halloween scene. Seeing the obvious revenue possibilities of an event that was already attracting thousands of people, they set up a beer tent on the Library mall and promoted a toga party, and arranged for John Belushi to make a phone call during the party, to give a personal message to the partiers.

In 1979 the WSA promoted Madison's Halloween party as a WSA event, and they advertised it to all the state campuses and those of surrounding states.

Some of us felt they hijacked what we considered our own People's Movement. Who knows what the parties would have metamorphosized into without WSA involvement? It seems the serious problems started when it ceased being a townie event.....

paul soglin

Philomena, you are right. I recall two Halloweens before I left office in April, 1979 so that means they go back to 1977 and perhaps earlier. Your memory is correct, the first 'celebrations' were not sponsored by anyone, but were more or less spontaneous.


I'm glad you remember this too, Paul. I've seen a number of articles in Madison papers that credit the WSA for starting the Halloween parties. It's weird that nobody is correcting them, and this false history is being carried forward!

Jim Mallon

OK, here is the history, I know, I was there. In my stay at the UW Halloween was always a special night. Costume parties abounded. In 1977 in a spontanious act of beer powered madness my roommate, Michael McDonald, fired up the the first bonfire on State Street. A crowd quickly gathered with some people adding wood to the growing fire. Others climbed the streetlamps for a better view. If memory serves a few thousand gathered and eventually the fire department doused the flames. In 1978 I was elected as Student Body President. Inspired by the hit "Animal House" we held the world's largest Toga Party, however, it was not on State Street, nor on Halloween (I don't remember the exact date). Because of a stuborn Student Union Building Manager we could not hold it there--I think they wanted all the beer revenue--so we put it out on Lot 60, the parking lot on the far West side of campus. 10,000 kids came out to the circus tent we put up and in fact, Bulushi did call in, also we sold 100 half barrels of beer... I remember that Halloween that year was bigger than the year before and had a bonfire as well. The next year, on September 15, we held Toga 2 on the front steps of the Memorial Union. The Dali Lama event the same night was moved because of the craziness....tho he wore an appropriate outfit for the event. We had the beer concession and I remember a leaf pile 6 feet in diameter of dollar bills on our office floor... On Halloween of that year we built a stage on the end of State Street between the University Bookstore and Memorial Library. It was a wild night with a huge crowd filling State Street. Spooner performed and the headliner was the Suburbs from Minneapolis, who I pulled after their first set because flying beer bottles said Madison was not ready for the 'Burbs. I believe the crowd estimate was somewhere in the 60-70,000 range. There was a costume contest as well. From my point-of-view that night turned Halloween in Madison into the institution which I have followed every year since times!


Jim, it is great to hear from you. I realize time has consummed large portions of your brain, but I doubt that any of the rest of us are in a position to question your account of the festivities or the selection of the beverages.

Would you care to return? We need some leadership, or maybe that would be a lack of leadership, in order to fix things.

Word is that the city officals plan to charge for celebrants to enter State Street. Ban Masel will not put up with that. Nor will thousands of others. Nor will the courts.

Jim Mallon

Ha! Good to hear from you Paul. Well I thought if there is to be some sort of history on that event I should give my two cents worth. Charging for Halloween?? Well, good luck on that. They'd have to fence in State Street wouldn't they? If the city needs money there are many other ways besides that bit of insanity. Ben Masel as the protector of all things righteous and Well these are the kind of things that make your city what I deeply cherish. What part of the city are you involved with now? Again, thanks for writing...JIm

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