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Riot-wrecked statues restored and back at Capitol

By M.D. Kittle

MADISON — Miss Forward and Civil War hero Hans Christian Heg are back where they belong, and looking as proud as ever.

The iconic statues that had long guarded Madison’s Capitol Square were torn down and badly damaged during a Black Lives Matter protest last year that quickly devolved into a riot. On that long violent night of June 23-24, 2020, rioters and looters attacked large portions of Downtown Madison, particularly the Capitol Square. The mob smashed Capitol windows, set fire to Madison’s City-County Building, and badly beat a state senator as part of their rampage.

As Empower Wisconsin has detailed, the violent scene played out as Gov. Tony Evers and Capitol Police failed to restore order in and around the Capitol.

On Tuesday, a restoration project nearly a year in the making concluded as crews positioned the statues in their long-standing places of honor.

“It’s a huge relief to me. It’s been a long time,” said state Rep. Amy Loudenbeck (R-Clinton), chair of the State Capitol and Executive Residence Board (SCERB) that led the restoration campaign. “Hopefully cooler heads will prevail and they will remain unharmed in the future.”

The board directed the Department of Administration to proceed with the restoration of the statues in July of 2020. Documents obtained by Empower Wisconsin show restoration of the Heg statue surface cost $17,000, and remodeling of the Heg head was $10,000. Restoration of the surface of the Forward statue was $15,000, plus $2,000 in remodeling and decorative costs. The project included transportation and supervisory costs, as well.

The project received $60,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts. More so, the Wisconsin Historical Foundation received nearly $13,000 in donations from Wisconsin citizens to help with the restoration projects.

“I’m grateful we were able to find a conservator that did such wonderful restoration work. They look fantastic. They are absolutely stunning,” Loudenbeck said.

When the smoke cleared on the riot, it appeared as though the century-old statues might be relegated to the lost monuments of history.

Protesters had ripped down and soiled the famous, 7-foot Forward statue, a proud symbol of progress created by a Wisconsin female artist nearly 130 years ago. Then they proceeded to drag down and decapitate the statue of Hans Christian Heg, a Union colonel who fought and died in the Civil War in large part because he abhorred slavery. They dumped what was left of the statue in the lake.

They shifted their violence from artwork to people, attacking state Sen. Tim Carpenter, an openly gay Milwaukee Democrat and vocal advocate of the BLM movement.

As events turned more violent, Evers had no plan to stop the mob, according to texts and other communications from the governor and his staff. Evers also told Capitol Police to stay inside the building even as rioters smashed Capitol windows, toppled the iconic statues and went on to firebomb the building that houses the Dane County Jail.

While the scars of the riot remain, the statues that have long served as a symbol of Wisconsin’s strength are back in their rightful places.

“We are very fortunate that the conservator-restorer was able to cure the extensive damage, particularly to the Col. Heg statue,” Loudenbeck said.

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