The city as a playground
Growing up in the middle of the Isthmus in Madison during the 1940s and ‘50s was much different than the experience would be today. As part of a family that included six kids, there was always something going on.
We did not have video games, cellphones or any of today’s electronic gadgets. What we had was the city as a playground, and two lakes within walking distance for our enjoyment.
Our dad had a good friend in Alex Jordan, the architect and creator of The House on The Rock, who also owned property at the foot of Henry Street. Daddy was allowed to build a pier there for us to swim from.
During the summer months, we could be found jumping or diving off that pier, then making our way toward the many UW piers where the students would sit, swim and study. They often got a bit upset with us, climbing up onto the piers, then pushing off again in a race to the next one down the line.
Countless hours were spent in that pursuit, but when that got old, we would walk to Brittingham Park on Lake Monona and swim at the beach there. All in all, I suppose we must have been waterlogged with all the time spent in one of the two lakes.
There were other activities also: playing “kick the can,” “red light, green light,” and other neighborhood games in the middle of the streets; walking up to the corner of State Street and Henry Street to get ice cream cones for the family, hoping to get them back home before they melted! I well remember neighbors across the street who had their windows open and we heard the sounds of the country music they enjoyed.
We rode our bikes, and as we got old enough, attended Girl Scout camp at Camp Maria Olbrich. There were walks to Picnic Point, and across the Capitol Square to the Majestic Theatre for Saturday matinees.
We would cut right through the Capitol building, often playing hide-and-seek. We had firsthand knowledge of where every bathroom was on the ground-floor level!
On the 4th of July, the family would have a reunion picnic at Vilas Park and stay for the fireworks display, “oohing and aahing” while lying on our backs in the grass to watch.
Looking back after all these years, I realize more and more just how lucky we were to have grown up when we did. Life was so much more simple, and we appreciated every single minute of every summer!
— Janet “JB” Grosse, 82