Man Mound becomes a National Historic Landmark

By Tim Wohlers

Mound enthusiasts from across the state attended a gathering in Baraboo last month, to witness the designation of Wisconsin’s most celebrated effigy mound as a National Historic Landmark. 
“This is a very special day for Man Mound,” said Ho-Chunk Nation President Wilfrid Cleveland.  “And it’s great that all these people could come and be a part of it.” 
The event took place at Man Mound County Park, where the prehistoric earthwork is located, and commemorated the site’s designation as one of only 43 National Historic Landmarks in Wisconsin. 
Representatives from the Historical Society spoke solemnly about the virtue of such a distinction.  
“National Historic Landmark designations are very rare,” said State Historic Preservation Officer Jim Draeger. 
“And it’s really difficult to have a property designated.  It’s a long and arduous process that takes years.  You have to do a significant amount of research and documentation.  You have to make your case that, in the history of the nation, this thing stands out as important.  So that designation is important because leading authorities in the country on archaeology and Native culture have determined this is one of the most significant sites in the entire United States.” 
The designation came as the result of a lengthy application process completed by Assistant State Archaeologist Amy Rosebrough, who works for the Wisconsin Historical Society and has been recognized as the world’s leading expert on effigy mounds.  For her dissertation, Rosebrough compiled a database of all known burial mounds in the state. 
“Amy is a leading authority on Wisconsin’s mound-building culture,” Draeger said. 
“She has a tremendous amount of knowledge about not just this mound but all Wisconsin mounds.  The critical understandings that she has come to, and the information that she’s amassed, has been seminal not just to the efforts to protect this mound but countless other mounds in the state of Wisconsin.”
For the past few years, Rosebrough has worked diligently on the site’s nomination.  In that nomination, Rosebrough emphasized the importance of Man Mound as an unparalleled work of both architecture and archaeology.  
“The designation was based on an excellent nomination written by Amy Rosebrough,” said the National Park Service’s Assistant Regional Director of Cultural Resources Robert Bryson.  “She initiated the effort to nominate Man Mound with the support of Sauk County, which owns and manages the site.” 
The nomination had to undergo several layers of review by the National Park Service (NPS), before the site could be added to the nation’s list of National Historic Landmarks.  Reviews were performed by bodies such as the Landmarks Committee and the NPS Advisory Board, which all agreed that the site deserves greater national recognition. 
“The national significance of this site was unanimous at all levels of review,” Bryson said.  “And you should be very proud of having a site like this in your backyard.” 
Coincidentally, the site received its official designation as a National Historic Landmark on October 31 of last year – the day of Halloween.   Rosebrough was notified of the decision two days later, on the Day of the Dead. 
“It’s appropriate,” Rosebrough said, “in an odd kind of sense.  It hints at the remembrance of the deceased here.” 
The celebration was postponed until the summer season, though, so that more people would be able to attend.  According to the archaeologist, the wait proved difficult for some of those involved in the ongoing preservation of Man Mound. 
“The caretaker was really anxious to get going,” Rosebrough said.  “He wanted to have a party immediately.” 
To help celebrate the occasion, the people of the Ho-Chunk Nation were invited to the event.  One tribal member shared his views in regard to effigy mounds, and stressed the importance of protecting them in years to come. 
“They’re none of our business,” said Executive Director of Heritage Preservation Jon Greendeer. 
“They hold a lot of answers, and they speak of an intellect that is far greater than anything we could produce with every bit of technology we have today.  Yet they’re not ours.  So today is what we have going forward in making sure that these mounds remain undisturbed.” 
As a token of appreciation, Greendeer presented Caretaker Rob Nurre with a wooden medallion that he had carved into the likeness of Man Mound.  He thanked Nurre for taking care of the site, a task which he has performed for over a decade. 
During his own portion of the presentation, Nurre encouraged others to get involved in the collective preservation effort. 
“This is a place that requires some care,” Nurre said.  “It is something that I need a lot of help with.  And I hope all of you will continue to be involved.” 
Future efforts would focus on getting Man Mound added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Rosebrough said.  There, it would join the likes of Stonehenge and Machu Picchu.