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A solitary red balloon, a remnant from the start of the protests in February, still clings to the Capitol rotunda dome Thursday, June 23, 2011, several months after a Valentine's Day demonstration by University of Wisconsin students and public union employees opposed to the bill. 

John Hart — State Journal

The tens of thousands of protesters have left. The metal detectors are gone. 

But a small reminder of the massive demonstrations that rocked the state Capitol for weeks on end remains. A mysterious heart-shaped red balloon still floats inside the Capitol dome, where it has hovered high over the rotunda since mid-February. 

The helium balloon, which has somehow stayed inflated for more than four months after being released by protesters, has become a symbol of sorts. It now has its own "Capitol Balloon" Facebook page and "The Heart Balloon" Twitter account. The balloon even has caught the eye of the Wisconsin Historical Society, which has been gathering artifacts to chronicle Gov. Scott Walker's plan to dramatically limit collective bargaining for public workers and the ensuing explosion of protests.

"Someday the heart-shaped red balloon will make its final descent, and we hope it may find its way into the Society's collection soon afterward," reads a Historical Society Web page devoted to the balloon.

Some say it has been hovering atop the dome since Feb. 14, the day hundreds of protesting UW-Madison students and teaching assistants held a Valentine's Day march along State Street before flooding the Capitol with "valentines" for the governor and signs reading, "Please don't break our hearts."

But others suspect it is one of 80 balloons that two protesters, Dana Campbell and her fiance, Wes Bonin, brought to the Capitol on Feb. 19. They released a few, then gave some to children and tied others around the building.

"I can't guarantee that it's one of mine, but I can say it's a good possibility," Campbell told the State Journal.

She said all of them were normal mylar balloons she bought from a dollar store, adding that she "never expected a helium balloon to last this long."

However it got there, lately the balloon has been hovering at about 184 feet, not far from the "Resources of Wisconsin" painting in the inner dome.

Its staying power has inspired quite a fan following.

"I think the Capitol balloon symbolizes the feelings of solidarity that Wisconsinites are feeling, and the love for our Capitol," frequent protester Nicole Desautels Schulte said, looking up at the balloon. "It's something that is not going to give up. The balloon is a symbol of our fight."

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