Annual Mifflin Street Block Party draws up to 18,000 college students to Madison’s Downtown

May 1, 2018 GMT

After three years of dreary or rainy weather on the unofficial day of drinking for UW-Madison students, the Mifflin Street Block Party was graced with bright and sunny skies — and thousands more partiers descended on the Downtown street Saturday.

The sidewalks and apartments lining the 400 and 500 blocks of West Mifflin Street were packed with 15,000 to 18,000 partiers, according to Madison police. Reveling in the warm weather after a cold and snowy April, the attendees were able to shrug off their coats as they let loose in UW-Madison students’ annual celebration before finals.

Madison Police Chief Mike Koval was less pleased with the weather than the thousands of students.

“Mother Nature is on the side of revelry this year, not on the side of law enforcement,” he said.

For the first time in several years, the Police Department had to block two blocks of West Mifflin Street and surrounding streets from traffic because the swell of partiers couldn’t be kept on the sidewalks, Koval said.

But the Mifflin Street Block Party doesn’t just draw students from UW-Madison. College-age people from outside Madison and even out of state come to revel in the notorious tradition.

It’s that long-standing history that intrigued three friends to drive from Dubuque, Iowa, where they’re enrolled at the University of Dubuque, to Madison.

Allie Biermeier, 22, Kara Enos, 22, and Maddier Boer, 21, talked about the beginnings of the Mifflin Street Block Party as a Vietnam War protest as they took in the sight of the packed porches and yards.

“It’s unfortunate that it turned into just a big party, but it’s a party, so that’s why I’m here,” Boer said.

“It’s really fun to experience something so big,” Enos said. The University of Dubuque doesn’t have anything that compares in attendance, she said.

Although Mifflin has been mostly tame the past few years, the block party’s troubled past has not been forgotten.

“I heard someone got stabbed one time,” Biermeier said.

In 2011, two people were stabbed while attending the party, which has a history of excessive drinking and other problems that authorities have long tried to squelch.

UW-Whitewater seniors Sam Krasnowski, David Matthews and Cody Mack, all 22, said that even though they aren’t UW-Madison students, they were still drawn to the occasion.

“You hear about all the people who come to Mifflin, and you kind of want to be there yourself,” Mack said. “And it’s a perfect day for it.”

Krasnowski and Matthews said they would have regretted not going to the party at least once before they graduate.

“It’s our last drinking holiday,” Matthews said.

UW-Green Bay student Emily O’Leary, 19, said this was her second year going to the party. The chaotic and packed atmosphere is what makes Mifflin worth attending, she said.

“There’s so many people that you want to join in,” O’Leary said.

Long-standing traditions can be hard to break, even if authorities would prefer they come to an end.

“Despite the fact that it’s unsanctioned and unsupported (by any government body), that hasn’t been enough to dismantle this institution known as Mifflin,” Koval said.

By 6:30 p.m., more than 60 people were arrested or cited for infractions such as underage drinking, violating the glass bottle ban in the area and public urination, with one person going to jail, police spokesman Joel DeSpain said. One person suffered injuries in a felony level battery, and at least one person had been taken to a detox center.

“You hear about all the people who come to Mifflin, and you kind of want to be there yourself. And it’s a perfect day for it.” Cody Mack, 22,UW-Whitewater senior “Mother Nature is on the side of revelry this year, not on the side of law enforcement.” Mike Koval,Madison police chief