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Behind the Scenes at the Wisconsin State Capitol

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The Wisconsin State Capitol | Photo by @photosbyzaman

The Isthmus is home to countless iconic venues, historical places + businesses. Come along as we explore behind the scenes at some of the spots that make Madison, well, Madison.

First on the itinerary — the Wisconsin State Capitol.

A quick history lesson before we dive into the lesser-known facts and secrets about the Capitol.

The current building — located at 2 E. Main St. — is actually the third iteration of the Wisconsin State Capitol. The third time’s the charm, no? The building was completed in 1917 for $7.25 million.

Let’s take a closer look at the secrets and subtleties created by two centuries + millions of dollars in development.

A little piece of Philadelphia, right here in Madison

A lesser known relic residing at the Capitol is the Liberty Bell Replica. Currently located in the south gallery, the bell was originally gifted to the state in 1950 by France as part of a savings bond drive alongside a deal of controversy. The bell stands at over 2,000 pounds, matching the same size and weight of its counterpart. And yes, we asked… no — you can not ring the bell.

Let’s go fossil hunting

The building is home to a series of fossils collected from all over the world. These remnants are not on display, instead, they live as a part of the building itself — embedded in the limestone + marble floors, ceilings, walls, railings, and more.
Pro tip: Swing by the information desk located on the ground floor and pick up literature outlining eight of the best relics on site.

The beautiful bronze badger

Maybe you’ve heard of the bronze badger, maybe you’ve even rubbed its nose for good luck. Outside of the governor’s office lives a 1,200-pound bronze statue of our Wisconsin badger. The cast was sculpted from melted-down cannons seized from Cuba during the Spanish-American War. Since 1988, the badger has been on loan to the state + just last week, the Navy has agreed to extend this loan to the state for an additional 50 years — plenty of time to go rub that nose.

A National Treasure gone missing

For over 150 years, the original Wisconsin State Constitution has been missing. After being drafted in December of 1847, the document went missing the very next year. To date, the legal charter has yet to be recovered. Instead, you can visit a non-signed replica of the Constitution located in the Capitol Rotunda.

Being kept in safe hands

Unlike other state relics, this Capitol secret is under lock and key — metaphorically. Located on the first floor of the west wing near the office of Rep. Jeffrey Mursau is the Herring Hall Marvin safety deposit vault. Though the office moved in 1981, the vault door remains intact where it has lived since its purchase in 1910.
Pro tip: you can see inspection notes on the relic dating back a full century.

Our State Capitol is rich with history + lore. So much so that we couldn’t touch on all of the iconic features the building hosts. Let us know of any other Capitol secrets or lore and maybe we’ll feature them in future newsletters.

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