The fourth of July is a great time to be in America. It’s a weekend when they ‘party,’ when bands play, parades march and fireworks fill the sky, but where in America would you choose to be? Big cities like Boston and Chicago may do it particularly well but so does Madison the capital of Wisconsin which also has the bonus of being, small, manageable and has been voted ‘The Most Liveable City in America’
The music that goes with fireworks in Madison is broadcast by the local radio station so that no matter where you watch from you can switch on the car radio and enjoy the concert as well. 10,000 shells will painted the sky. The music included the theme from the blockbuster movie "TITANIC," before rousing American patriotic music was capped by the, "1812 Overture"
We experienced a fireworks show in Madison a few weeks ago on Statehood Day when I joined the students and young families that crowded on to the terrace at Lake Monona. (Madison is set between four lakes.)
It was quite spectacular. The sun set beyond the lake and as the sky slowly darkened we watched the navigation lights on small boats moving like fireflies across the water towards a better view of the show.
Then the rockets exploded in the air, green, red, white, spreading out like so many giant dandelion seeds. A little girl with a twisted glow-stick crowning on her hair sat on her father’s shoulders, cooed with delight and clapped her hands. It was a great end to the day.
Madison impressed me from the first moment I saw it framed in the trees beyond the lake.
The joggers and cyclists who smiled at me as I stopped to take a picture seemed happy enough. They had good cause, it is a quiet university city with a young population. There were picturesque wooden clapboard houses, trees in the streets and round by the Lake Mendola I found a horse drawn carriage with a 'Just Married' sign waiting outside the church.
The bride and groom posed for their wedding pictures amid the trees at the waters edge. It is just possible that their offspring may be very bright indeed. Madison has with more Ph.D's per head of population than any other in the United States
Later the sound of a distant bugle drew me to Camp Randal at Monroe Street where they were recreating the welcome home celebrations that greeted Civil War soldiers of the 2nd Wisconsin Infantry Regiment in 1864.
In the late afternoon the sun slanting through the trees glinted on the metal rifles stacked by the encampment and it all seemed eerily realistic.
A ‘battle weary’ soldier with steel blue eyes drew on his cheroot and told me that more than 70,000 the states citizens who served in the embattled nations armed forces had trained at Madison. The character being portrayed was Willie Mackintosh from Columbia, (so obviously a Scottish connection.) The authentic looking volunteer was in real life Steve Bechtold who along with his troop had come over from California. Most of the others were local men and boys from Wisconsin. They represented Company H of the Second Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, they used muzzle loading percussion rifles and were known as ‘The Iron Brigade.’
Madison with a full program of summer events, plus museums, art galleries was also laid back and relaxed with many outdoor cafes. State Street leads up to the imposing white dome of the Capitol building and the square on which the Capitol sits becomes a farmers market each Saturday morning.
The vegetables and flowers on the two hundred or so stalls transformed it into a riot of colour. It was a great place to mingle with the locals. Every one strolled around the square automatically moving in the same direction unlike the melee of a British market crowd.
The stall holders came from the rural area around Madison and the flowers and plants seemed to merge into gardens of the Capitol building.
Against all this, a few Amish farmers stood out by the sobriety of their black and white clothes.
Mushrooms, garlic, honey, greens, farm cheese, giant tomatoes, rainbow trout, Irish soda bread were all on offer and signs proclaimed “Our eggs are laid by uncaged happy hens” or 'Flowers grown without pesticides on early settlers farm'
In the Saturday morning sunshine it was all very pleasant. It is estimated that some eighteen thousand people visit this downtown farmers market, while on summer Wednesday evenings twenty thousand converge on the Capitol grounds for ‘Concerts on the Square’.
There are tours of the State Capitol building on the hour, from 10 till 3pm and you can climb to the outside observation platform for a great view of Madison and it’s lakes.
As I took it all in, chimes drifted up from the church and I realised that I could happily spend more time amid flags that flew above the unfenced neat lawns and the tree lined streets in this latter day Camelot in Middle America.
Allan Rogers experiences
Report by Allan Rogers