The footpath up Observatory Hill is still there today, but the hill is decidedly lacking a stone of student commentary. Today’s students may see notices on paperboard signs or sidewalk chalk, but the reality is that along this walk, they’re unlikely to see any messages other than texts on their phones. With countless utility projects and landscape renovations on campus since the 1960s, it’s difficult to say when or why the fixture you remember may have been removed.
But, thanks to the recollections of Jack ’58 and Cathy French, I can share a backstory (with a happy — and quite lovely — ending!) of what you may be remembering as “The Block.” In a note to Badger Insider Magazine in 2005, Jack wrote:
“On the hill between the men's dorms and Liz Waters, there used to be an abandoned utility box, set in concrete, about the size of a refrigerator. It was the logical place to paint various announcements of social events of the dormitories. It was so much in demand that any dorm wishing to use it had to schedule such through the Dorm Association, and it could be reserved (one side per dorm) for one week.
The Block“As a UW junior on a fall day in 1956, I was part of the paint crew from Botkin Dorm to 'paint the block' promoting our next social dance, 'Moonlight Moodnight.' Shortly after we started chalking in our letters, a crew from Barnard Hall arrived to paint the other side with their announcement. Unlike the men from Botkin, the ladies had no diagram, no chalk-line, and only possessed two shabby brushes with cans of almost-dried paint.
“Chivalry prevailed and we Botkin guys ended up painting both sides of the block, their announcement and ours. During the process, a lovely redhead on the Barnard crew caught my eye, although we exchanged few words. Later that evening, I announced to my dorm mates that I would be taking the redhead to 'Moonlight Moodnight,' even though I didn't know her name or phone number.
“A friend of mine was dating the Social Chairperson at Barnard so I called her and asked her to find out who the cute redhead was on the paint crew that afternoon. She did some checking and reported back it was 'Katie Plautz, a freshman from Beloit.' I phoned this lovely gal, she accepted my invitation to the dorm dance, and we were married when I graduated two years later.
“We just celebrated our 46th wedding anniversary and we still have a 35 mm color slide of 'The Block' where we first met. — Jack ‘58 and Cathy French