Former Mayor Remembers First Mifflin St. Block Party

By: Dana Brueck
By: Dana Brueck

Some call it a stress reliever, others ... a last hurrah before final exams. But the legendary springtime bash known as the Mifflin Street block party originally carried a message.
"Realize that the Mifflin Street area is one of the major thoroughfares through the area ... "
That's mayor of Madison in 1969 ...
A time when Mifflin Street brought to mind hippie culture.
"I would be hard pressed to say there wasn't one who wasn't against the war in Vietnam," former mayor Paul Soglin says.
Another former mayor still remembers well that first real block party.
Soglin says, "clearly students were there to party, not to have a confrontation."
But a confrontation ensued, as these pictures document.
"They decided they were gonna move us out of streets, then what happened is the riot equipped officers arrived, the arrests started," Soglin says.
Among those arrested, then-alderman Paul Soglin ...
"Officer told me to move ... said, wait a second ... supposedly you're here to keep street open, that's why you're not letting people here have the block party ... make your mind up," Soglin says.
Soglin says that police presence made it political…
"This is our neighborhood. You're not treating us the same and so consequently, it was a turf battle," he says.
But what about the young people who live on Mifflin Street nowadays ... How much do they know about the party's start?
UW Senior Sara Zurn says, "it's not overlooked the fact that it's a tradition."
Paul Jones says, "it was a protest for the war way back when and that's just kind of how it started."
Elliott Kane says he does not know how it started.
"I consider myself more informed than average student and I didn't know that."
Another couple of students say, "I heard that they had to stop it for a while that's all I know," and "I heard it used to be political with riots and things, but now it's just turned into a drunken debacle."
"Everyone is drunk pretty much so it's a blast," Kane adds.
Soglin says the block party lost its political twist after the late 1970's ...
He doesn't expect it to return.
"I really don't expect people to do much more than have a good time."
Police say the date change for this year's block party will cost between $80, 000 and $90, 000.
Some alders suggested charging the Associated Students of Madison, who lobbied for the change.
The Mayor says the city has no legal basis to do that.

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