Peter Thelen was waiting for the perfect opportunity to break out the horse head mask. And when he saw a group of three mounted police officers head down Mifflin Street early Saturday afternoon, he wasn’t about to miss his chance to join the formation.
“I wanted to be part of the herd,” said Thelen, who donned his horse head and trotted alongside the real horses for a bit. “They were awesome about it. That one horse was kind of nuzzling me. I think he liked me.”
It was that kind of day on Mifflin Street, as the violence and chaos of two years ago was replaced by good-spirited hijinks and relatively peaceful partying. Nearly every house on the two blocks between Broom and Bedford streets was hosting some kind of gathering, but the crowd was well below last year’s estimate of 5,000 and a far cry from the 2011 bash, which police said drew around 20,000.
By early evening, Madison police had made just three arrests and issued a handful of citations, according to spokesman Joel DeSpain.
“That’s almost nothing for us,” said DeSpain.
A year ago, there were 398 arrests, with 10 people ending up in jail and six more in detox, while 382 were cited and released. And that was tame in comparison to the year before when things turned really ugly with two stabbings and three sexual assaults reported.
“Certainly, we’re very pleased with the way things have gone,” DeSpain said. “What we’re seeing today is not the Mifflin Street party of two years ago.
“We worked hard over the last year to get the word out to people as to what our expectations were for this day and, by and large, people have been keeping the peace and policing themselves.”
Of course, if they had failed to do so, there were plenty of Madison police officers and Dane County Sheriff’s deputies around to help them out. Instead, they spent more time posing for photos with students, than arresting them. And by late afternoon, officers were already being sent home, DeSpain said.
Brian Figueroa, a UW-Madison senior from New Richmond, could’ve told them that the show of force at the start of the day wasn’t necessary.
“It’s like a wasted resource,” said Figueroa, enjoying his fourth and final Mifflin Street bash. “Just take a look and see how many cops there are for how many students. It’s such a waste.
“Nothing bad is happening. It’s just a lot of people having fun, drinking and enjoying a sunny day that finally came. It’s good to let loose and have fun. We’re just celebrating a mess of hard work.”
Thelen, a junior from West Bend and a veteran of three Mifflin Street parties, blamed most of the problems in previous years to outsiders drawn to Madison because of Mifflin’s wild reputation.
“We probably have a responsibility to keep it kind of tame,” he said. “Everybody in Madison knows what it’s all about. We know how to act at this. Just have a good time and not be violent with it. But a lot of out-of-towners don’t know. They just come here and get absolutely wild.”
The wildness of recent years, and the toll it took on police budgets, led the city to try to quash the event this year.
It also led a group of students to come up with an alternative by creating Revelry, an event featuring bands and a mix of other events that drew more than 3,000 students to Union South.
The event more than lived up to the expectations of its organizers.
“It’s going really well,” said Sarah Mathews, a senior and executive director of Revelry. “I’m seeing a lot of people having a lot of fun.”
Mathews said Revelry succeeded despite being misrepresented in some cases. It was never intended as competition for the Mifflin Street party, she said.
“There was so much misinformation out there,” she said. “There are so many people that thought Revelry was going to be this really tame, temporary tattoo and Hula-Hoop, alcohol alternative thing. That’s really not what it is.
“As a student that loves to have fun, I think Revelry is about the chance to stand out in the sunshine with my friends and listen to great music. And since I’m 21, walk around with a beer in my hand without getting a $400 ticket. I wish I could have it on Mifflin, but because of the poor choices of people who came before me, I can’t.”
Mathews said that Revelry will continue in the future.
“I think it’s going to be bigger and better with time,” she said. “I don’t think anyone involved expects it to be a one-shot deal.”
Marc Lovicott, UW-Madison police spokesman, said the event went off without any serious issues, although one person was taken to detox.
The only serious incident of the day was not related to either Mifflin Street or Revelry. A 19-year-old woman was taken to a hospital after falling from a second-floor balcony on North Brooks Street. Police had no information on the extent of her injuries.
“Nothing bad is happening. It’s just a lot of people having fun, drinking and enjoying a sunny day that finally came.” — UW-Madison senior BRIAN FIGUEROA