Lady Liberty to Make a Comeback

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Filed under: College Pranks

Statue of Liberty may return to Lake Mendota
by Jane Burns
The Capital Times
January 31, 2009


The cold, long winter has at least one good thing going for it: It might mean the return of the Statue of Liberty to Lake Mendota.

The Hoofers, the UW-Madison’s outdoor recreation club, is hoping to bring back the iconic faux statue as part of its Winter Carnival Feb. 16-21.

“It’s looking more and more like it’s going to happen,” said Kyle Olson, the Hoofer Council president and a UW-Madison senior. “There’s a lot of excitement about it.”

Lady Liberty on the lake has a long and legendary history in the city. It was the brainchild of two leaders of the campus Pail and Shovel Party, Jim Mallon and Leon Varjian. In 1978, the party took charge of the UW-Madison student senate with a variety of campaign promises that included bringing the Statue of Liberty to Lake Mendota.

In February 1979, they did, sort of; a statue was made that looked as if it was rising out of the lake. It was burned by an arsonist but returned the next year, fire-proofed. Oddly, it also survived the Barneveld tornado. It was in storage in a silo in 1984 and the silo was strong enough to withstand the tornado that flattened the area.

Varjian became a high school math teacher in his native New Jersey. Mallon went on to create the cult sci-fi spoof “Mystery Science Theater 3000.”

The statue was last seen in 1996, also at a Hoofers Winter Carnival. It has been stored in buildings owned by the county, Olson said, and the challenge has been finding a place on or near campus large enough for volunteers to work on piecing it together. On Thursday Olson said he thought the group had found somewhere to work on it.

“That was a big road block that was in the way,” he said.

The original statue caused controversy because it cost more than $4,000 in student funds. Olson said there would be some costs to this, but probably only a few hundred dollars and probably accessible through funds for the carnival or grants within the Memorial Union.
The work, Olson said, would likely be done by volunteers and the group would likely call on art students, engineering students and anyone willing to help.

“The torch is in pretty good shape,” he said. “It’s one solid piece. The rest is a little beat up. We’ll definitely need some material, some caulk or some foam to patch over it and some backing and some support to make sure she stays together.”

Olson said the Hoofers also have the backing of some of the students who first put up the statue 30 years ago.

“Some of the ones still in the area have even said if we needed help piecing it together, they know how the system worked,” Olson said. “There’s a number-letter system and one of the guys said he could explain to us.”

If the Hoofers are successful in recreating the statue, it will be in its original spot on Lake Mendota, right off the Union Terrace. As a 30-year-old prank, most of the students at the university now weren’t around when Lady Liberty first seemingly rose out of the lake.

“It will be really neat to see it up there after seeing all the postcards and posters from 30 years ago,” Olson said.