Strangeness at Picnic Point

People are experiencing more than bonfires and kissing on Picnic Point! There have been several reports of a reddish, glowing light that rises up from the swamp on the Narrows and then floats out over the lake towards the Capitol.

View from Picnic Point, Lake Mendota<br /> Circa 1898

View from Picnic Point, Lake Mendota Circa 1898

Typical conditions make the possibility of swamp gas unlikely. Some think this energy is the ghost of August Kutzbock, the Capitol architect who reportedly killed himself off of Picnic Point in 1868.

Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

August Kutzbock was a well known Madison architect who designed the second Capitol building, the Mansion Hill Inn, the Keenan House and a handful of other Madison residences, public buildings and churches. While working on the Capitol building, Kutzbock got into a disagreement that affected him for the rest of his life. In his plans for the final touches on the Capitol, Kutzbock put forth a design for a small dome — a cute little something mounted on a cylindrical barrel and ornamented with columns and arches. Even though this small dome fit with the architectural style of the rest of the building, the governor and other politicians wanted a dome that looked more like the dome on the United States Capitol. Kutzbock vehemently disagreed, and as a result, he resigned. Kutzbock had worked on the project as lead designer for six years (1858 – 1864).

Soon after he resigned from the Capitol project, Kutzbock moved to San Francisco. He lived there for three years, during which time he was hired to design a number of other projects. During his final year there, he became sick and could not complete his projects, which ruined his California business and nearly ruined his reputation. When he recovered enough from his physical ailments to travel, he returned to Madison in 1867 and tried to regain his business and status in Wisconsin. Since he had limited funds, instead of opening a new office, he announced that he was taking orders for work at Bartel’s dry good store. That didn’t go so well — sadly, not many  new projects came his way.

At about the same time, the state began construction of the new dome designed by Stephen Vaughan Shipman, the architect who replaced Kutzbock. After this construction began, Kutzbock became despondent. Late in the evening on November 2, 1868, Kutzbock walked alone to the end of Picnic Point, took one final breath, and silently slipped into Lake Mendota.

The newspaper at the time attributed his suicide to his depression about his failing health, but locals believed that the real reason he took his own life was because he could not bear the thought of looking at the new dome, which was an abomination and an offensive alteration to his most important work. Those who have seen the Picnic Points lights say that they appear from nowhere near the south side of the Narrows and then waft out over the Lake Mendota towards the Capitol. Perhaps this is poor Augustus trying to get a better look at the monstrous creation??

Kutzbock is buried in Madison’s Forest Hill cemetery.

Cravens, Stanley H. (1984). Capitals and Capitols in Early Wisconsin. In Wisconsin Blue Book 1983 – 1984 (pp. 36 – 39). Madison, WI: The State of Wisconsin Collection.

Madison Architects – August Kutzbock. Retrieved April 1, 2009, from Madison, WI – 76 Square Miles Surrounded by Reality Web site:

Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

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