Ancient civilizations are defined by their artifacts. If Madison were suddenly smothered by a Mount Vesuvius, or swallowed up by Lake Mendota like Atlantis, what would future archaeologists conclude about us? What would we want them to find — and what would we wish had stayed buried forever?
In 2014, the Wisconsin State Journal ran short appreciations of 100 objects that define Madison. Many of them, like the Memorial Union Terrace chairs or state Capitol building, are pure Madison trademarks. Others, like the brats we consume by the hundreds of thousands each year at the World's Largest Brat Fest, may not have been invented or even made here but have come to be so closely associated with Madison that they're in our blood.
For longtime residents, these things remind us of home. For newcomers, we hope they'll serve as a sort of Cliff's Notes to getting to know the city better.
To be sure, we don't all see these objects the same. Rather, they provide a sort of Rorschach test in which our perceptions say more about us than what we're looking at. For example, few objects provoke as strong a reaction as the "blue fist" poster that was ubiquitous in parts of Madison during the 2011 protests against Gov. Scott Walker. Love it or hate it, it's forever associated with Madison and its famous liberalism.
Or take "Nails' Tales" (please). The obelisk of concrete footballs outside Camp Randall is either an abomination or a towering representation of the University of Wisconsin's football dominance.
[Editor's note: This list was first published in 2014. Some of the references in the descriptions below are outdated.]