Fifty-nine years ago, John Patrick Hunter, a reporter for The Capital Times, was looking for a Fourth of July story for the Madison newspaper. He took the preamble to the Declaration of Independence, six of the ten amendments that make up the Bill of Rights, plus the 15th amendment, typed them up in the form of a petition and went to Vilas Park to see who would sign this document. Of the 112 people he talked to that day, only one would sign.

They undoubtedly didn’t recognize the words from these historic documents.
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Whether you’re planning a vacation or just want to explore the sights of Wisconsin from your armchair, the selection of FREE travel maps and guides available from the Wisconsin Department of Tourism will help you find museums, festivals, multicultural destinations, bike trails, birding hotspots, campgrounds, and golf courses.

The Wisconsin Official Travel Guide is a great place to begin your adventure. It has 80 pages of color photos, history, and introduces you to some wonderful (and occasionally weird) local attractions. You may download it and many specialized publications in PDF format at the website.

If the thought of downloading a 16.4MG file and then clicking your way through 80 pages is a bit daunting, you may request that a printed version of this guide — as well as any of the others on offer — be mailed to you. We requested several different guides and they arrived in less than a week.

Spring break just started and you’re already wondering how to keep the kids occupied? If they’re dinosaur fans, why not pay a visit to the UW-Madison Geology Museum?

The vertebrate room of the museum houses a variety of dinosaurs from the Cretaceous-age Hell Creek Formation including a 33-foot long Edmontosaurus skeleton, and skulls from Tyrannosaurus rex,Triceratops, and Pachycephalosaurus.

Other museum exhibits include fossils, meteorites, rocks, and minerals.

Admission to the museum, located at 1215 West Dayton Street is free. Hours are 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays. The museum will be closed on Friday, April 2nd because that day has been designated a mandatory furlough day by the UW-Madison campus.

For additional information about the Geology Museum, visit their website or telephone ( 608) 262-2399.

Want to learn about the art of writing short stories from a successful Madison author? Then you may be interested in a free copy of “How to Write A Short Story” by Leslie W. Quirk.

That’s right! Not Lorrie Moore.Leslie W. Quirk.

Leslie Quirk graduated from Madison High School in 1900, attended the University of Wisconsin (but didn’t graduate), and went on to become a successful author of novels for young people, as well as a short story writer. In 1906, The Editor Publishing Company in New York published Quirk’s book of advice for aspiring short story writers — and most of it is still valuable, even if the market for short fiction may not be as welcoming as it was a century ago.

Quirk’s book is now available for FREE download at Internet Archive in a variety of formats, including PDF, which we think is the most convenient form. You may also read it online.

Alternately, for a couple of dollars you can purchase a rather pricey reprint of How to Write a Short Story; An Exposition of the Technique of Short Fiction.

There is also a FREE download of “How to Write a Short Story; An Exposition of the Technique of Short Fiction” available from Google Books.

Thanks to the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research, you can enjoy an online custume exhibit featuring the work of legendary designer Edith Head, who worked on costume design for more than 1,000 movies. According to the WCFTR, “Head was the head costume designer at Paramount Pictures for 44 years, and worked for Universal for another 14.”

During her long career, Edith Head received 35 Oscar nominations for costume design and carried home the gold statuette eight times.

Head’s papers, including sketches for many of her designs are available to scholars who make the trip to the WCFTR to study them. This FREE online exhibit makes many of them available to anyone with a computer, Internet access, and Adobe Flash Player. If you don’t have the latter installed on your computer, you’ll find a download link on the exhibit’s main page.

These exhibits are no longer available online.

Photograph ©Nadine Goff

We have friends and relatives who wear designer clothes and hang signed prints by famous artists on their walls — and boast that they bought that gorgeous sweater or piece of art for just a few dollars at a local thrift store. We aren’t that lucky or successful.

Still, we occasionally browse at thrift and resale stores, hoping to find a great bargain. That’s why, while ambling down State Street on Saturday afternoon, we popped into re•threads, a new-to-us “clothing boutique” at 410 State Street.

The store according to its business card, sells “modern, vintage, new, used, and recycled” clothing. It was crowded with out-of-town shoppers, many of whom, judging by overheard snippets of conversation, seemed to be here for the high school wrestling tournaments.

We wrestled our way through the crowd and discovered lots of used women’s clothing priced in the single digits. We couldn’t get close to the new or the vintage, but we did check out some items on a rack labeled “Designer Brands and Premium Denim.” There we saw a size-6 Brian Reyes dress in marigold-colored silk for $165 (according to the tag, it was originally $510).

While not every item at a thrift store or resale store is necessarily cheap, they do tend to be full of bargains — if you have patience and a knack for sighting the good deals. That’s why we’ve decided to add a “Thrift and resale store” page to Madison on the Cheap.You can access it via the tab at the top of this page.

We’re not experts on this kind of store; we suspect that there are lots more stores that should be added to this page. If you know of some, please send us an e-mail at or use our contact form. If you have a link to the store’s website, please include it: Looking up this information can take a lot of time, and there are scores of other tasks also in need of Izzy the Intern’s attention.

Disney is releasing Tim Burton’s 3-D version of “Alice in Wonderland” on March 5th, 2010, which should give you plenty of time to complete the delightful FREE papercraft version of the Cheshire Cat available on the fan blog “Alice 2010.”

In order to build your own Cheshire Cat, you’ll need to download and unzip a PDF file. You can find the link under the second image in the blog post. We tried it and encountered no problems. There are some assembly instructions in the blog post.

Have fun, but be careful: The craft knives and scissors you may need to assemble the cat are not children’s toys.

In the midst of a cold, snowy January — when the fragile glass Christmas ornaments were safely tucked away and the Valentine’s chocolates were still a distant promise — my grandmother knew what to do to bring sunlight and summer into the house: She sat down and began pouring through the myriad FREE seed and nursery catalogues that started to arrive in her mailbox after the New Year.

Whether you have a couple of acres, a plot in a community garden, or a few of pots on the balcony of your apartment, you, too can escape to summer by leafing through FREE gardening catalogues and making selections from the dizzying array of fruits and vegetable seeds they offer.

We’ve made a list of a dozen of our favorite sources for seeds (and fruit trees) and included links to their websites, as well as links to their catalogue request forms. If you’re worried about too much paper in your mailbox, most companies also have online editions of their catalogues that you may read online as flipbooks or download as PDFs.

Even if you order a paper catalogue, you may want to take a few minutes to browse each website for deals. Many had discounts and other incentives (free seeds!) for ordering early.

If you know about some terrific seed and nursery companies with free catalogues that aren’t on our list, please share your knowledge with the rest of us by leaving a comment.

That said, you’ll find our list after this jump: [click to continue…]

You’re never too old to learn — and if you’re old enough, you can take advantage of a terrific educational freebie: Wisconsin residents age 60 and older may audit hundreds of UW-Madison credit courses at no cost.

According to information from the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), Senior Guest Auditors, “sit in on lecture courses and learn from top UW faculty without the obligations of tests, papers, homework, or class participation.” If this sounds too much like your classroom experience in the Sixties, then you’re probably over 60 and this is your opportunity to learn all about the subjects you slept through when you were an undergraduate.

In order to become a Senior Guest Auditor, you must apply to and be admitted as a UW-Madison Special student and complete the class enrollment. According to OLLI, “There are seven steps, which must be followed in order to participate in the Senior Guest Auditing program.”

A general information session to learn more about the Senior Guest Auditing program is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, January 6th, 2010 at the Madison Senior Center, 330 West Mifflin Street. If you plan to attend, please RSVP by calling (608) 262-5823.

If you wish to learn more about the Senior Guest Auditing program but are unable to attend the January 6th information session, you may call the Continuing Studies Adult and Student Services Center at (608) 263-6960.

December 23rd is Festivus, the holiday — “to celebrate the season without participating in its pressures and commercialization” — invented by Dan O’Keeff and popularized by a 1997 Seinfeld episode.

But did you know that Festivus Poles® are made in Milwaukee? And Festivus Poles have their own Facebook page?

In 2005, Governor Jim Doyle displayed a Festivus Pole in the family room of the Executive Mansion. Now, that six-foot “floor model” Festivus pole and stand made of an extruded aluminum alloy are part of the Wisconsin Historical Museum’s collection.

It’s probably too late to buy a Festivus Pole for this year’s celebration, but R &B Wagner, the company that manufactures them has some FREE Festivus greeting cards and invitations available as PDF downloads on its website.

If you want to learn more about this holiday, consult Daniel O’Keefe’s book, The Real Festivus. Or watch this YouTube video: