Some students even now, two hours into the demonstration, with everything bubbling around them, were focused not on the protest but on getting to class, even a class on the main floor of Commerce.

Betty Menacher, the freshman from Green Bay, took basic English composition there twice a week on Mondays and Wednesdays at 1:20, and she had not missed a class since the fall term began. As she rounded Bascom Hall and walked down toward Commerce, she noticed students carrying signs and chanting slogans about napalm and Dow. She still did not know what napalm was or how it was used in Vietnam.

Only a handful of students were in the classroom when Menacher arrived, among them Jerilyn Goodman, a sprightly 17-year-old freshman from Springfield, N.J., who had pushed her way through the crowd without stopping to talk to anyone. The hallway scene, like much of what she saw during her first few weeks on campus, was wholly alien to her.

Goodman was not into politics, nor into sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll. Her intentions, as she later described them, were to "go to class, make my parents happy, get good grades, and do what I was supposed to do."

What she was supposed to do now was be in freshman comp, so she climbed over people to get into the room. But shortly after arriving, she determined that class would not be held. She had no interest in what was occurring outside the door or how it would be resolved, so she climbed out the window, circumnavigated the crowd between Commerce and Bascom Hall, and walked down to the union to study for an hour before her 2:25 French class.

It was a police matter, Chancellor William Sewell had said, and now the two chiefs placed in charge of the situation stood outside Commerce making final plans. Madison Police Chief Bill Emery and UW Police Chief Ralph Hanson believed that the protesters would use the common civil disobedience tactic of going limp upon arrest, forcing officers to carry them out by their arms and legs.

To make the detention process easier, Emery said he would have the Madison Police Department paddy wagon back up to the edge of the Bascom parking lot so that arresting officers would have to drag demonstrators no more than 40 feet. When the paddy wagon was filled, they would take the arrested students downtown to the Dane County jail, then return for another load. It would be like a shuttle service, Emery said.

Marshall Shapiro of radio station WKOW positioned himself near Hanson and turned on his tape recorder. "This is an unlawful assembly," Hanson said into a bullhorn, his voice weakened by his persistent cold. "We are going to clear the place out."

Only those students closest to him could hear him clearly, but the response was vociferous nonetheless. His words, Hanson testified later, were greeted with "jeers, curses, insults, and tumultuous noises." Someone standing nearby could be heard saying, "You want to bring in your cops, bring them in, baby!"

History graduate student Stuart Brandes, looming over the crowd in the back of the foyer no more than 15 feet from Hanson, strained to hear, but could pick up only part of the message. Brandes did not want to get arrested, so he decided it was time to leave, but that was easier said than done. He found himself "completely hemmed in" by the mass of humanity, unable to escape. Down the east-west corridor, toward the epicenter of the protest where the Dow interviews were being held, Hanson's warning went largely unheard.

Paul Soglin and Jonathan Stielstra, Bob Swacker and Billy Kaplan, Jim Rowen and Susan McGovern - all were down there in the sit-down crowd, expecting something to come but unsure what it would be. Even if they had wanted to, which they did not, they would not have been able to escape. The hallway was impassable.

Protest leaders spread the word to get "the beef" up front, near the foyer and back by the interview room. It was at that moment that Michael Oberdorfer made the transition from sympathetic Connections photographer to full-fledged protest participant. He took off his army jacket, placed his Nikon camera in the large front pocket, and sat down right outside the interview room.

The time had come for resistance, he believed. The war rolled on and on, the university seemed more beholden to corporate interests, hiding behind its cover story of impartiality. The only thing left was to stop business as usual at the university, Oberdorfer thought, even if only for that one day.

No more than two minutes after Hanson issued his final plea for the students to leave, here came Sgt. Buss and the wedge of cops, marching through the first set of glass doors. Officer Al Roehling, at Buss' flank, thought his state of mind was typical of the officers at that moment. He was, he would say later, "full of piss and vinegar and ready to go." They reached the narrow vestibule, then moved through the second set of doors into the foyer. There was no space to gain footing, just a wall of people, and the human wall surged forward, pushing up against the oncoming force.

The officers started flailing with their nightsticks but fell backwards into the vestibule. Chief Hanson was propelled "over and around bodies" and found himself "spilled outside the double doors." He could not get back inside and was unable to lead or control the police force for the next several minutes.

Sgt. Kenneth Buss braced himself with his feet and arms against the corner of a door in the vestibule and remained there. One officer stumbled against a floor-to-ceiling plate glass window, accidentally breaking it into jagged shards with his nightstick, a frightening sound that added to the panic of the moment. As people around him backed away, the officer kept swinging his club at the frame, now apparently trying to clear it of sharp edges of glass.

Some in the crowd saw only the raised nightstick, assumed police were on the attack, and started another surge forward in an attempt to keep them away. One officer who had been pushed out of the building caught sight of Emery standing on the slope and ran up to him and said, "Chief, we can't do it."

Chancellor Sewell was looking out the back window of Dean of Student Affairs Joseph Kauffman's Bascom office with a clean sight line to the front of Commerce. He watched in horror as the first wave of officers marched in and stumbled back out. This cannot be happening at our great university, he thought to himself. His son Chip Sewell, a graduate student at Wisconsin, came bursting into the room.

"Dad!" he shouted. "Look at those cops going into the building. They're going to beat the hell out of those kids!"

Sewell was lost, haunted, the well-intentioned man immobilized by events beyond his imagination. "Well, it's out of my hands now, you know," he said to his son. "They weren't listening to me."

Inside, in the few moments after the glass broke, there was an eerie silence. Then the police regrouped and re-entered the foyer, this time without Hanson and with nightsticks raised. Once inside, they felt pressed against a wall, according to Buss, and then "really started using clubs." John Lederer noticed that the officers "had a very set look on their faces."

Evan Stark, the sociology graduate student who had led the students to that moment, whose rhetoric resounded with calls for resistance, quickly decided when the time came that physical resistance "was not worth it" and managed to slip around the police and out the double doors, disappearing into the protective embrace of the gathering crowd.

The breaking of the glass had "scared the hell" out of Officer Roehling, who was afraid that one of his fellow officers would be wounded by the shards. He also felt overmatched by the crowd, and he started swinging his nightstick with abandon. Roehling knew nothing about the proper way to use a baton in a hostile crowd, he would admit later. Madison police had not been trained in that yet, aside from four who had taken a brief riot control course in Chicago. What they should have done, and would be taught to do in later confrontations, was to keep their batons in front of them, using them two-handed to poke and jab and protect. Instead they lifted the clubs above their heads and started swinging. There was, Roehling recalled, "a lot of overhead swinging."

Jim Rowen and Susan McGovern, two-thirds of the way down the corridor, could see and hear the commotion at the other end. It was an eerie phenomenon, Rowen recalled, all noise and light moving their way, the screams of students and the lights of television cameras. And on top of this a sound Rowen had never heard before, one that he could not immediately place. Then, perhaps 10 seconds later, he realized what it was-"the sound of people having their heads hit. It was like a basketball bouncing on the floor. Or hitting a watermelon with a baseball bat. It makes a sort of thunk."

It all became clear to Rowen at that moment. "Civil disobedience wasn't working on our terms. They weren't arresting people, they were beating people. That's how they were clearing the hallway. Just going through like a machine and beating people."

Tom Beckmann, a business student from Whitefish Bay, was taking a pop quiz at that moment in a classroom one floor above the melee. The door to the room was closed, but still Beckmann and his classmates could hear it all. "We could hear kids being hit on the head with nightsticks. It was gut-wrenching. It sounded like somebody taking a two-by-four and slamming it on a table."

From his place amid the students halfway down the hallway, Jack Cipperly, the assistant dean of students, saw police helmets bobbing above the heads of the crowd and "nightsticks rising and falling, rising and falling." He heard "a series of cries emanate from the group" and tried to move forward toward the police to warn them that they were approaching an area occupied by many young women protesters. Cipperly pleaded with the first officers to refrain from using their clubs.

When he saw one officer wind up as though he were going to strike a young woman, Cipperly "grabbed him, like hockey players do." It turned out to be Jerry Gritsmacher, with whom Cipperly had gone to Catholic grade school and high school.

"Jerry, what are you doing?" Cipperly asked.

"Jack, what are you doing?" the officer responded.

Paul Soglin and Jonathan Stielstra had been in the line of protesters standing not far from Cipperly, outside the Dow interview room. Suddenly the crowd in front of them disappeared and there was nothing between them and the bull-rushing police. Soglin saw five officers coming toward him. He and Stielstra and the others started backpedaling very slowly, trying not to start a stampede, shouting at the police as they retreated.

Soglin pulled the collar of his sheepskin coat over his neck and the back of his head. Then, as he later described the moment, "they just came right at me. It was almost like, 'We'll get that one next.' And they grabbed me and started beating me, and I ended up right on the floor. I don't know how long it lasted. ... But I know I was holding my own and they were getting frustrated. Because the jacket was doing its job. The jacket was doing its job in protecting my head and my back pretty much.

"One of them hit me right on the base of the spine. I was on my side, and instinctively my arms went out and my legs went out, my limbs just shot out. And at that point everything was exposed. And then they started working on my legs and my head."

Rowen and McGovern, who had been positioned a few yards behind Soglin, were trying to escape toward the stairwell at the western end of the corridor but found their way blocked. Rowen turned around in time to see Soglin being beaten. Less than a decade later the two would run the city of Madison together, Soglin as mayor and Rowen as his chief of staff, but at the time they barely knew each other. Rowen recognized Soglin by "his hair and his jacket. The trademark jacket with sheepskin lining."

The image that would stick in his mind was of Soglin "in a ball, a little fetal position ball. And a cop beating him on his back and making this tremendous sort of whacking sound."

Betty Menacher was in the north-south hallway when the police charge began. She had heard the ruckus outside her classroom and opened the door, which locked behind her. Soon the crowd was backing up in her direction.

A woman pushed her against the wall and said, "What's wrong with you? You're not ready at all. Pull your hair back and take your earrings off!"

Then the corridor resounded with shouts and shrieks and it seemed to Menacher that "an army was coming down the hallway." She watched as two policemen grabbed a young woman by her long blond hair and yanked her down the hall. Then she saw "a policeman hit a kid over the head and the blood just gushed out."

It was time to flee, Menacher thought.

Chancellor Sewell had not moved from the back window of the Bascom office. He saw the students staggering out of Commerce, heads bloodied, disappearing into a thunderous crowd that now numbered nearly 5,000.

That night, while students debated whether to strike, President Fred Harvey Harrington, Chancellor Sewell, Dean Kauffman, and Chief Hanson gathered at Kauffman's house on Celia Court on the far west side. Kauffman's wife and teenaged son drove to Kentucky Fried Chicken and brought back dinner.

Harrington constantly worked the phone, dealing with legislators, the governor's office, faculty members, and regents. With frequent interruptions the four men huddled late into the night, discussing how they should deal with the faculty, the Legislature, and the press.

It was difficult for them to understand or accept the reality of violence that had erupted on their campus, on their watch. The police had overreacted, they thought, and the students turned on them with a vengeance. It was a mess and would only get messier, they knew. Now the university would be portrayed as an out-of-control institution and there would be more pressure from state legislators and the public to crack down on the radical students.

William Sewell was the most traumatized. He said little that night, then retreated to his house on Countryside Lane and slumped down in the blue easy chair that usually gave him so much comfort as he dug into his copies of the American Sociological Journal.

Now he was overcome by dread. Feeling drained and defeated, he thought to himself, "My God, I've just screwed everything up. It's my fault. I let those police go in there and I shouldn't have. I've bollixed it up. I've just ruined my career. I've never been involved in anything in my life before where anyone was hurt. People won't remember me for anything but the Dow riot."

Excerpted with the author's permission from "" target="_blank">They Marched into Sunlight," Simon & Schuster, 2003.

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(1) comment


Fascinating and a pretty good retelling of what happened. Although I'm barely mentioned in the book, I was one of the few students who was arrested and subsequently placed on trial. Oddly enough I was not one of the student leaders, but a lowly freshman who simply began shouting at the bystanders when I saw that the police--already in riot gear--placing their shields inside their shirt pockets. I then went inside and, within minutes, got a stick shoved in my ribs. I was then dragged out and tossed in a paddy wagon.

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