|The "M" on the Platte Mound
The "M" is found on Platte Mound, County Trunk B, on Hiawatha Pioneer Trail, about 4 miles east of Platteville. There is parking at the site.
| The historic monument to the Engineering Department of Wisconsin State University-Platteville, had its beginning back in the winter of 1936. The first M which appeared on the Mound when Raymond Medley and Alvin Knoerr took a winter hike and trudged up and down the sides of the Platte Mound in about two feet of snow to form a huge "M". The following day became colder and the print was preserved so that one could see the letter from town for about a week with startling clarity. "This, perhaps, established the idea that an "M" could be built that would be seen for a considerable distance."
The Platte Mound first became a historical symbol when Major Rountree, founder of Platteville, had a picnic on top to celebrate the 51st birthday of the country on July 4th, 1827.
One early spring Sunday afternoon, in the year 1937, a group of hikers from Platteville gathered at the top of the Mound for a breather. They decided to gather rocks and start an "M", and in a spirit of boldness, planned to build the "M" to be the "Biggest in the World", instead of a small letter such as High School students construct everywhere. The afternoon's work resulted in part of one leg of the "M", which was perhaps 15 feet wide by 60 feet long.
This gash on the side of the Mound showed up so clearly that Mr. H. B. Morrow, then director, decided to hold a field day and have the entire student body of the Engineering Department turn out to complete the "M". The original design of the "M" was based on the monogram of the School of Mines of 1936.
Work was finished the following fall, 1937 in time for the homecoming celebration. Construction was done by underclassmen with seniors acting as supervisors.
Several of the seniors surveyed the "M" to make sure that it would be larger than the Colorado "M", which was then famous as the largest. Director Morrow and Prof. George Dobson drove out many miles in the distance to view the "M" outline and came back to instruct the students to change certain dimensions to correct for distortion which the slope of the Mound gave the "M". The following information resulted from the preliminary survey work. The Platte Mound is 1 mile long, approximately one-half mile wide, 150 feet high and 450 feet wide above the city at the summit of the hill. The "M" is built on the South side of the hill at a 45 degree gradient.
For constructing the "M", the students used picks, crowbars, and wheelbarrows from the local C. C. C. Camp to move the 400 tons of light colored clolmitic limestone rocks. They built it 241 feet high and 214 feet wide with legs 25 feet in width. All the loose rocks were used first, then rocks were pried loose with a crowbar or small charges of dynamite.
The school received permission from Mr. William Snow, owner at that time, to build the "M". Mr. Clausen of Racine, who later purchased the the Mound Farm, presented the property to the Board of State College Regents.
On October 16, 1937, the "M" was lit for the first time for the Miner's Homecoming. The illuminated "M" could be seen from as far as twenty-eight miles away. Thousands of people have watched the relay of the torch commencing at the Tech building, four and one-half miles away. Before 1940, it was only lit at Homecoming, but after the war, the lighting was changed to the night of the Miner's Prom. During the war the upkeep was neglected because of the toll which the draft took on the Mining School men.
In 1944, the coeds brought out the fact that the "M" needed repair after several years of neglect. So, since then, there has been a general clean-up in the fall of the year, and the whitewashing of the "M" on the Thursday before the Miner's Ball in the spring.
On April 29, 1949, the day of the Ball, Francis Miller from LIFE Magazine came to Platteville to witness the lighting festivities. He was amazed at the sight -- two hundred fifty-quart cans with corncobs were lit around the outline of the "M".
Mr. Melcher, former President and Dean of the Engineering School on that day in April gave the torch to the runner and said, "We are a school which tends to hide its light under a bushel. Tonight we will again remove the cap from our light and display it so that all may see it glow in perspective. Carrier! Accept this torch, hold it high and speed to another lighting of our monogram."
This special night, it took twenty three minutes to relay the torch from Tech to the Mound. The story appeared in LIFE on May 23, 1949.
Many other schools have a monogram "M" for their symbol. We claim ours to be the largest and no one has come forth to disagree with us.
More on the "M"
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