Lady Liberty on Lake Mendota: A continuing campus legacy

February 15, 2019

by Jennifer Jiang

The construction of the Statue of Liberty replica by the Pail and Shovel Party at Music Hall before transporting it to frozen Lake Mendota. ca. 1979.
The construction of the Statue of Liberty replica by the Pail and Shovel Party at Music Hall before transporting it to frozen Lake Mendota. ca. 1979. ID: 2018s00226

Pail and Shovel party members work on scaffolding in order to assemble the Statue of Liberty replica on Lake Mendota. ca. 1979-1980.
Pail and Shovel party members work on scaffolding in order to assemble the Statue of Liberty replica on Lake Mendota. ca. 1979-1980. ID: 2018s00258

Forty years ago, in February of 1979, the Statue of Liberty showed up at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The Pail and Shovel Party of the Wisconsin Student Association pulled off one of the greatest campus pranks in the spring of 1978 by making several campaign promises they never intended to keep. Except one for sure they did keep: bringing Lady Liberty to campus. Nearly $4,000 was spent on building the original styrofoam statue. Unfortunately, it was torched by an unknown individual only ten days after its completion. A funeral took place on Lake Mendota after the arson, and a new replica was quickly put into construction. In February 1980, as the Pail and Shovel Party was re-elected, the Lady Liberty made her reappearance on Lake Mendota.

The Statue of Liberty's funeral on Lake Mendota at the University of Wisconsin--Madison. To the right of the monument, by the wreath, are Pail and Shovel Vice President Jim Mallon (L) and President Leon Varjian (R).
The Statue of Liberty’s funeral on Lake Mendota at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. To the right of the monument, by the wreath, are Pail and Shovel Vice President Jim Mallon (L) and President Leon Varjian (R). ID: 23/15

The second statue was apparently housed in a barn near Richland Center around the mid-1990s, Hoofers brought it out of storage and used it during their 1996 Winter Carnival. As the tradition goes on, the Madison icon has been paying visits to the Winter Carnival multiple times since, including in 2010 and 2019. The Wisconsin Union replaced the previous styrofoam statue with an inflatable one, for a more convenient moving and storing process. The Lady of Liberty is likely to return again during Winter Carnival, in 2020, as an annual UW tradition, according to the Wisconsin Union.

Students and Statue of Liberty on Lake Mendota. ca. 1979-02.
Students and Statue of Liberty on Lake Mendota. ca. 1979-02. ID: 23/15, x25-3535

There are many records of the events reserved in the UW-Madison Archives Images Collections and the UW Archives Images at the University of Wisconsin Digital Collections.

(Featured image at top left: A postcard of a partially submerged Statue of Liberty on frozen Lake Mendota as part of a prank by the Pail and Shovel party. The back reads, “Ms. Liberty at high tide.” ID: 2017s00409)