Rules can’t stop this mad, mad, mad, Madtown

Madison’s Halloween tradition flourished despite officials’ requests to stay away.

Bryce Haugen

Nothing was going to keep first-year art history student Mary Johnson from participating in the largest college Halloween party in the country, she said.

Despite requests from Madison, Wis., and University of Wisconsin officials to stay home, Johnson and thousands of other out-of-towners donned their costumes last weekend on State Street, Madtown’s main drag.

Saturday, Johnson wore her Catholic schoolgirl outfit from her days at St. Paul’s Cretin-Derham Hall. She said that though it may have happened, she didn’t attend the event to get “completely trashed,” but rather to visit her friends and boyfriend.

“University rules cannot stop true love,” said Johnson, who defied a new rule banning visitors from residence halls and sneaked in anyway.

By early Sunday morning, crowds on State Street grew as large as 80,000, making it one of the largest Halloween bashes in the history of the 30-year tradition, said Madison Police Department Public Information Officer Mike Hanson.

Unlike last year, when revelers set fires and destroyed property, Friday and Saturday nights remained peaceful, he said. Police did make 468 arrests – all but 58 involving non-University of Wisconsin students – and they used pepper spray to disperse a few thousand people who refused to heed a late-night police order declaring the event an “unlawful assembly.”

While many students and business owners laud the thriving Halloween party, city officials are looking at ways to reduce the event’s drain on city resources. This year, police department and university costs totaled approximately $500,000, Hanson said.

“It’s a lot of money to be spending at a time when resources are tight,” said George Twigg, Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz’s communications director.

City officials want what has become a regional event to return to its local, community-based roots, Twigg said. The city will study the issue before deciding whether to make modest changes or to possibly cancel the event.

“We’re going to take our time,” he said.

Chuck Bauer, former president of the Greater State Street Business Association, said he had to hire an extra security guard to protect his property from the type of debauchery that led to his coffee-shop neighbor’s sink being ripped from the wall last weekend. Families stay away from his business during Halloween, he said.

“If it weren’t for the abuse of alcohol, there wouldn’t be anything bad to say about the event,” said Bauer, who has owned The Soap Opera, a body care products shop on State Street, for 34 years. “But, unfortunately, a small number of people abuse their welcome.”

Things were calmer this year than last, said Steve Agee, manager of Knuckleheads Tobacco and Gifts just down the street. Business was exceptional throughout the weekend despite having to close a few minutes early Saturday because of puke on their stairs.

Agee said the tradition will continue no matter what city officials do.

“You can’t stop people from coming here,” he said.

Conservation and biology sophomore Cassie Setter said after going to Madison last year, she couldn’t wait to come back for more. Being told to stay away, “made me want to go more,” said Setter, who dressed as a “slutty” French maid.