History of Lady Liberty on Lake Mendota

February 16, 2009 By Cindy Foss

Photo: Bryce Richter

The original statue made its debut in February 1979, fulfilling a campaign promise from Pail and Shovel Party candidates to bring wackiness to UW–Madison’s Wisconsin Student Association if they were voted into office. After claiming victory, party leaders Leon Varjian and Jim Mallon spent $4,000 to construct the statue’s head, crown, arm and torch on frozen Lake Mendota, creating the illusion that Lady Liberty was rising from the lake’s waters.

Although an instant hit, the statue was destroyed by arson its first year. A fireproof version replaced it in 1980 and 1981, but it didn’t appear for some years thereafter, in compliance with state regulations for removing structures on the ice. It remained in storage in a Barneveld barn, at one point suffering damage by a tornado.

In late 1995, an anonymous donor covered the cost of replacing the torch and touching up the crown, and the iconic statue was returned to the ice in 1996.

This year, Hoofers began hauling the statue’s pieces onto the ice on Thursday, Feb. 12, and completed their task on Saturday, Feb. 14. The Winter Carnival runs through Saturday, Feb. 21.

Cindy Foss