Madison history lesson: Time stands still at the Wisconsin Historical Society Reading Room

Time appears to be standing still in this deft, chills-inducing work by award-winning photographer Patrick Stutz, which seamlessly blends a 1914 archival photo with his 2022 photo.
a photo from 1914 blending into one from 2022 of the Wisconsin Historical Society's reading room
Photo from the Wisconsin Historical Society Archives (image ID: 74250), blended with new photo by Patrick Stutz

Time is a blur. Especially these days. But at the Wisconsin Historical Society Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson Reading Room on the University of Wisconsin–Madison campus, time appears to be standing still in this deft, chills-inducing work by award-winning photographer Patrick Stutz, which seamlessly blends a 1914 archival photo with his 2022 photo.

Standing in the same quiet spot as thousands who came before, you can almost hear generations of librarians shushing. This could be 1901, the year the 5,568-square-foot, two-story-tall reading room on the second floor of the Ferry & Clas-designed architectural wonder first opened. It could be 2010, the year they revealed the results of a $2.9 million renovation that restored it to its original neoclassical revival glory after renovations in the 1950s concealed some of its best features — like the old stained-glass skylights, an effect now achieved by tricks of paint and light, and by 14,760 pieces of Kokomo art glass. Or it could be 2022, providing a quiet place to read after a long couple of years that many of us have wanted to escape. It’s a comfort, isn’t it? This is a place where any reader, writer or wandering daydreamer can go and become a time traveler to whenever, wherever.

What better showcase room to anchor the four-floor building that houses some of the collection’s nearly 4 million books, 3 million photographs and 25,000 maps and atlases — one of the largest North American history collections in the U.S.? Drop in, visit the stacks and study our lived history in depth. Or curl up in a leather armchair with a book and let the story — and the place — transport you away.