As a man born and raised in Madison, Wisconsin, few things will be with me on my death day, like the Statue of Liberty appears on beautiful Lake Mendota.

I was 11-years-old when my parents took me the Memorial Union building in downtown Madison to see something that captivated my imagination. I'd never been to New York to see the real Statue of Liberty. To my young self, it looked like the real thing was peaking from the depths of Lake Mendota.

It all began as a prank by one of most entertaining and creative characters to ever walk the streets of Madison, Leon Varjian, along with his friend Jim Mallon. Leon was the man behind the flamingos adorning Bascom Hill for the first time on the UW-Madison campus in 1979. Leon also was behind both the kazoo and the boombox parades, both of which I attended.

The Statue of Liberty tradition started as a prank in 1979 by the Pail and Shovel Party led by University of Wisconsin–Madison alumni Leon Varjian and Jim Mallon. The two promised they would bring the Statue of Liberty to Madison if elected to the Wisconsin Student Association. has the entire back story, including a picture of the original Lady Liberty made of styrofoam. Watch the new inflatable Lady Liberty rise from the lake in the time lapse video below.


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