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Wisconsin Supreme Court entrance in Capitol Building (copy)

Wisconsin Supreme Court entrance in Capitol Building

WHA-TV's production of "Our House: The Wisconsin Capitol" in late November was an impressive behind-the-scenes look at our state's most impressive building.

Hosted by WPT's Michael Bridgeman, the show put an exclamation point on the 100th anniversary observance of the year the Capitol — actually the third building on its Madison's site — was completed.

The production served as a complement to the Wisconsin Historical Society's Michael Edmonds' book "The Wisconsin Capitol" published earlier in 2017. Edmonds tells the story of how the people of Wisconsin decided to replace the Capitol building that had been destroyed by a fire in 1904 with a first-class structure that would proudly serve the people as an accessible public place for decades to come.

One hundred years later it is serving the citizens and promises to continue doing so for another 100 years to come.

Bridgeman, who hosted WPT's acclaimed "Remarkable Homes of Wisconsin" back in 2015, spoke of the "wonderful treasure" that the Capitol has become through the years, an expression of the Progressive Era in which it was planned and built. It has served as a gathering place for events as diverse as Christmas celebrations, high school choir concerts, tributes to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., angry demonstrations against war and rallies for and against controversial legislation.

What I liked best about "Our House" was the way it would add to the story of the Capitol by following school class tours in which most of the kids were seeing the home of Wisconsin government for the first time. The cameras captured the awe in the faces of those young people as a tour guide told the stories behind many of the building's features, its hundreds of paintings and murals, the art work on the dome, the statues and sculptures, the dozens of different kinds of stone, the intricate woodwork on the doors and windows.

It was on such a tour that I saw the Capitol for the first time. I participated in a fifth-grade class trip to Madison back in 1950. I don't think any of us New Glarus kids could grasp the magnificence of the building or the significance of the history that unfolded inside it.

When I came to Madison to attend the UW in 1958, I'd walk down State Street and take tours of my own, pausing to watch the Assembly or Senate from the galleries and hoping to catch a glimpse of Gov. Gaylord Nelson in the hallways.

A decade later I had the privilege of working in the Capitol several weeks a year while covering state government. Soon I discovered every nook and cranny while chasing down legislators and lobbyists, even into the many restrooms in the building.

To this day, the state Capitol to me is still a special place where Wisconsinites can gather to praise, protest or just get inspired.

It was a lasting gift to the people of Wisconsin by a people who didn't have all that many financial resources back in the early 1900s. I can't help but wonder if we'd be up to the task today.

Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. and on Twitter @DaveZweifel

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