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Caught off guard by its pleasant pitter-patter, passers-by stopped at the 60-year-old Hagenah Fountain on Tuesday to take pictures, snap selfies, and examine the wealth of bugs sunbathing in its shallow waters.

The sudden appearance of the fountain on Library Mall was a surprise to many. Through the morning's sticky heat, multiple people stopped mid-stride when they heard the playful trickle of the fountain amidst the typical cacophony of campus construction.

The Hagenah Fountain, a fixture at the heart of the UW-Madison campus, began operating again Monday after about six years of silence, though it functioned intermittently between 2007 and 2010.

It resides in the intersection of concrete pathways between Memorial Library and the Wisconsin Historical Society, and across the street from Memorial Union, with a backdrop of chain-linked fence and leftover construction materials marring its discreet, dull prettiness.

Ethan Warden, a graduate student studying musical performance, found the fountain to be "pretty dope." Coming into his second year at UW-Madison, Warden also had no idea a fountain had been there — hidden — all along.

"I wonder if they've been making it," he said, referring to the past few years of construction.

Craig Jacobsen, event manager at the Wisconsin Historical Society and longtime Madison resident, said the fountain goes "way, way back."

He recalls that Quonset huts, which were set up on campus after World War II, had previously dominated the space.

The fountain took over just a few years after the huts were removed, in 1958, becoming a quiet, drizzling observer to the many penny-pitchers, mischievous water-dyers and 1960s protesters, who would use the fountain's stream to clean the tear gas from their eyes.

Now, for Jacobsen, the return of the fountain is a pleasant touch.

"I think it's nice," he said. "It's always refreshing to hear water, see water."

William John Hagenah, the fountain's namesake who received his law degree from UW in 1905, donated $16,500 for its construction. About 25-30 feet in diameter and composed of red granite, the inside wall of the fountain is inscribed with its donor's name, and a message teeming with aquatic metaphor: "Teachers and books are the springs from which flow the waters of knowledge."

Resembling the unremarkable tile of a bathroom stall or gym room shower, the bottom of the fountain is checkered with miniature blue, teal and white ceramic tiles. The water itself emerges from an amphibious bronze structure referred to as a "toadstool," an umbrella-shaped surface draped in sculpted leaves.

The fountain has endured its share of criticism. In 2006, a correspondent for the Wisconsin State Journal called it a "perfect symbol of mediocrity in a posture of self-righteousness."

It was dubbed a "piddling puddle" upon its unveiling, due to its underwhelming spew. The spray pattern has changed four times, the latest installed in 2006.

And although the fountain, originally designed by state architect Roger Kirchhoff, now boasts a three-tiered design of waterworks, it is still plain to some.

"It's fine," said graduate student Ann Sojka, who has lived in Madison for six years. "They could do better."

However, Steven Wagner, UW-Madison Facilities Planning & Management spokesman, has received a passionate response regarding the return of the fountain.

"People see construction coming to an end on Library Mall, and all of the questions and feedback we've had recently is, 'When is the fountain going to be turned on?'" Wagner said. "Now that it's turned on again ... people are happy."


Lexy Brodt is a local reporting intern for the Wisconsin State Journal.