Municipal Building story by Catherine Doyle and Ruth Rolich
Catherine Doyle and Ruth Rolich share memories of the Municipal Building. Ms. Doyle discusses her father's career as a federal judge in the building, and memories she has as a young adult coming to the building. Ms. Rolich relates a story about an office chair that belonged to her grandfather, Judge Doyle. Ms. Doyle and Ms. Rolich share about a story they heard from City staff about possible paranormal occurrences in the Municipal Building.
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0:22- COMING TO FATHER'S COURTROOM (FEDERAL JUDGE DOYLE)
9:24- GHOST STORY
13:27- GRANDFATHER'S CHAIR
[START OF RECORDING]
INTERVIEWER: This is Mary Gandolfo, and today is December 8th, 2018. I am speaking to Catherine Doyle and Ruth Rolich. And Catherine is going to start by sharing some of her memories of the Municipal Building.
NARRATOR (CATHERINE): Well thank you for doing this. I first came to this building, many times as a child, growing up in Madison. It was the post office and I remember that very well, but I never ventured up into the upper floors until 1965, when my father was appointed to be the federal judge and he took over the offices and the courtroom upstairs. Um, it was a great event for our family. A very big summer, 1965. I graduated from high school, my sister graduated from college, and got married, and my father became the federal judge here. And we had a huge party and the investiture was a very gay event. Relatives came from all over the country in celebration and it was—they had food and beverages, it was in the summer.
And that beautiful courtroom was just so—well, it was just exactly what you would expect an old federal courtroom to look like, with the high ceilings and the benches and so on. After that, I had some stories—my father was involved in making many decisions that, of all different kinds, and some of them were quite—during the sixties and seventies, some of the decisions that he was called upon to make were quite controversial or significant, dealing with peoples’ rights—students’ rights, you know, the boys, to have longer hair, and First Amendment Rights, and then due process rights for students at the University of Wisconsin who may have been involved in demonstrations and so on, as to disciplinary rights and discipline. Made him quite controversial. Times are turbulent in many eras, but that really was one.
But those decisions were made upstairs. So it was a place of great significance legally, to our community, at that time. There were a couple of funny stories. One of them was that my parents used to go to Door County in the summer, and they went to, he went to a barber up there and then the barber said, “Where are you from,” and he said “I’m from Madison,” and [the barber] said to my father, “Well there’s this crazy federal judge down there doing all these crazy decisions, do you know him?” (laughter) To which I believe my father told me he said no! (laughter)
But the one funny story was, I was in college, in Beloit, so I was a freshman, and I thought it would be fun to have a couple of friends come to Madison. So we got on the bus and I called my dad, and he said he had a trial going on, so I thought, well, we’ll get up here, go see this trial. So we went in. And if you can imagine, eighteen, nineteen year olds sitting in that big courtroom, there weren’t many people in the audience, and the trial was going on and lo and behold we learned just a few minutes in that the trial involved injuries to a person from an exploding toilet.
INTERVIEWER: I suppose it’s not funny.
NARRATOR (CATHERINE): No, it wasn’t funny, except to eighteen or nineteen year olds, who started, you know—pretty soon someone snorted and that set us off, and my dad gave us that look, and I thought, you know, we’d better get out of here because we’re about ready to—so it wasn’t all about the big constitutional issues of our time, but much of it was.
My father loved working in this building. He loved his offices, which were bright and cheery—it became part, he was a very happy man in his job. He always said there were two things he loved to do: take our mother, his wife, places that she wanted to go, and work. He loved coming to the office. He always took the bus, he never drove a car. He loved the Capitol Square. He loved the proximity of this building to the Capitol. He loved the courtroom and so on. So those memories are very fond.
I can picture him in that office, surrounded by his clerks and so on. It was a small space, it was a very busy space. At one point he had the highest caseload of any judge in the United States. And so it was just a very busy office.
The courtroom was fantastic. There were incidents, not too many, but I recall that they were having a criminal trial and one of the defendants at the time, the defendant who had allegedly committed a crime that involved a gun, I guess, and the gun was sitting out on the evidence table. And he jumped up and grabbed the gun. And I said to my dad, “What’d you do?” And he said, “I dropped onto the floor, and I crawled on my hands and knees out that door that's right behind the bench.” So I picture him just reaching his hand down there, just crawling out the door. But nobody got hurt or anything.
But I know that at the time they moved out of here, the building had—they were cramped, and it was much too small. They had—by then there were three federal judges, Barbara Crabbe had become a judge, and Judge—Shabazz. So they were cramped in the quarters there, and the building had gone into disrepair, I don’t know if the federal government had just dried up money at that time but you know, there were a lot of problems with broken windows and delayed upkeep and everything. But all I remember mainly was how happy he was in his work here and in this building and just the environment. I have a picture of him I’d like to find, of him just sitting in his office chair, and sort of leaning back, and the sun’s coming in those windows, which—they opened, they must have had air conditioning but even then—
INTERVIEWER: I think so—
NARRATOR (CATHERINE): Yeah, so then they opened the windows, and that brought in bugs—but just a happy smile on his face. He conducted weddings there, much stuff occurred—he was there for, I’m trying to remember when they might have moved out, it must have been around 1985, when—
INTERVIEWER: When the new courthouse—
NARRATOR (CATHERINE): Yeah. The new courthouse is beautiful, but it’s not quite the same. It’s a beautiful building. So it was twenty years that he spent here, doing his judge stuff.
INTERVIEWER: Did you go up to the court—
NARRATOR (CATHERINE): I did. It’s so beautiful.
INTERVIEWER: I haven’t been up there yet. Is it still—retained?
NARRATOR (CATHERINE): It’s retained, and it’s better, because during the time the City was here, they had covered up the windows, I think, and also put a lot of acoustical, electrical stuff in there. Now it’s all back, restored, the windows are back, these beautiful windows. So it’s really the way I remember it being. The benches aren’t in there, and the bar is gone, but the bench is there, my dad’s bench, and it’s really nice. It’s such a beautiful renovation, it really made me very sentimental. I’m very happy to see that this is what’s happened with this beautiful building.
INTERVIEWER: Okay, so—
NARRATOR (RUTH): Should I tell—
NARRATOR (CATHERINE): Should I tell—
INTERVIEWER: Oh yeah, you can tell the ghost story—
NARRATOR (CATHERINE): So my daughter, Ruth Rolich, who is here, works in this building. She’ll tell you about that in a minute. And she was working there before the renovation and now is back in the building. And I came to visit her not long after she moved in, and we got looking around the building and we went into the courtroom, and then we asked—there were some people that worked in the chambers, what had been the judge’s chambers, so we asked if we could work in the—just walk through there.
So we walk through there, it looked a lot the same, it was nice. And when we were leaving, just standing there, these several women who worked there in that office, I don’t know what office it was—
NARRATOR (RUTH): Community Services.
NARRATOR (CATHERINE): Community Services. They came running up to us, and they said, “Are you related to someone who had been a federal judge here?” And we said yes, you know, and they said, “Because there’s a ghost in here.”
And there were several of them that had had this experience, that they really considered to be an encounter with a ghost. And they told these stories about working late, and then doors started slamming, and they’d hear somebody walking with footsteps, um, and they’d look and there’s nobody anywhere around. But it scared them, and they would go (laughs) running out of the building. And they asked us, “Do you think that could be your father’s ghost?” And I’m like, “Well, I don’t know—” It’s just such an odd thing to think that one of your parents is hau—
INTERVIEWER: Haunting city workers.
NARRATOR (RUTH): It was one of his happy places.
NARRATOR (CATHERINE): It surely was. But I asked them, I said to them, “Did he—does he make you feel afraid?” And they said “Yes, he really makes us feel afraid.” And I said, “Well, my father would never ever intentionally make someone feel afraid that way.” Never been in his personality.
NARRATOR (CATHERINE): But I don’t know, Ruth and I after that thought, perhaps we should stay overnight here or something (laughter), you’d hate to miss that chance.
NARRATOR (RUTH): Right. If there are ghosts, and it’s—
NARRATOR (CATHERINE): —if it is my father’s ghost, that we wouldn’t interact with him. But we haven’t done that yet. However I’m wondering now, with the renovation, if the ghost is still there. They believe—(speaking at the same time)—they believe that there’s a ghost there.
NARRATOR (CATHERINE): I don’t know, this was a couple of year ago—
NARRATOR (RUTH): I don’t know, that’s a good question, I should find out.
NARRATOR (CATHERINE): It’s a different department now, I think.
NARRATOR (RUTH): Yeah.
NARRATOR (CATHERINE): Human Resources, or something.
INTERVIEWER: Well, and buildings are locked all the time now, so, not likely to think there’s somebody walking around who doesn’t belong there.
NARRATOR (CATHERINE): Yeah. Well, they were very convinced.
NARRATOR (RUTH): Yeah.
INTERVIEWER: That it was a ghost, or that it was another person?
NARRATOR (RUTH): That it was a ghost. Not another person.
NARRATOR (CATHERINE): Those women were—
NARRATOR (CATHERINE): They believed that those chambers [were] haunted. And this was just, two years ago now?
NARRATOR (RUTH): Yeah. Yeah. So maybe the renovation has released the ghost.
NARRATOR (CATHERINE): And they think the ghost had been there for quite some time, because other people had talked about it. So, it’s a haunted building.
INTERVIEWER: Interesting. I would love to get more stories from the people—
NARRATOR (RUTH): Of the ghost. I know them, so we’ll get in touch.
NARRATOR (CATHERINE): Yes, because we should get to the bottom of that.
NARRATOR (RUTH): Yes, the haunting. Okay, so—
INTERVIEWER: So, Ruth Rolich.
NARRATOR (RUTH): Yeah, Ruth Rolich. I’m going to tell a quick story. And Jeanne Hoffman, and some of the other women who were involved in this restoration project sort of asked me to tell it, just because it’s sort of a cute story. So, my name is Ruth Rolich, and I work in the City’s Economic Development Division, for the last about seven, eight years. And so we were working here before the renovation. We were displaced for two years during the renovation, and now we’ve just moved back in.
So my office, before the renovation, was on the third floor on the corner. So I had a view of the lake, a view of Martin Luther King [Jr. Blvd] and at that time we had the windows open to fresh air, and it was just this beautiful space, where you’d get this great breeze in the summer and you’d hear the farmers’ market down on Martin Luther King Blvd on Wednesdays. And because my last name was Rolich, no one ever knows that Judge Doyle was my grandfather. And that’s cool, and I don’t tell very many people that. And so it’s very rare for someone that I work with to know that.
And so late nights, I work after five often, and there was a maintenance man. He was kind of quirky, I can’t remember his name now but he was just a quirky Madisoni—very Madison kind of guy. And we would talk. And he’d come in, and I’d always be one of the last people in the office and we’d talk. He was really funny and it was always a nice little break in my afternoon. So he was retiring, and we’d been talking a lot about that and it was his last week of work. And he showed up in my cube with this huge rolling wooden and leather chair, and said, “This was your grandfather’s chair.” (gasps) “They’re going to throw it away and I think you should have it.”
And I thought, “How does he know that my grandfather worked in this building, first of all, that was bizarre, and how does he know that was his chair, and what am I going to do with this chair.” And of course I said, “Thank you so much, it’s so nice of you to think of me,” and we said our goodbyes. He’s retired, I’ve never spoken to him since he dropped the chair off.
And then the chair sat in my cube for a while. And when I started working in this building my mom of course was emotional because it was such a sweet thing to have me working in the same building as my grandpa, and I thought it was really special too. Because I have, you know, as a child I came here and I knew how important this building was to our family. So the chair sat there for a while. And our family has a problem of hoarding family heirlooms, which are not really valuable except for emotional. We’re all trying to pare down.
So I thought, I don’t want this chair in my house—I don’t have room for it, I don’t want to tell my mom because then she’ll want the chair, and it’ll go into her house and she doesn’t have room for it. So I didn’t know what to do—it was a dilemma. [It] sat there for a couple more weeks and then I started thinking about my cousins, and a lot of them are going in to law, inspired by their parents and Grandpa and Grandma. So then I thought, oh, maybe I should tell someone, I don’t know.
A few more weeks go by. I start piling up files on it. It’s still in my cube, I don’t know what to do—and then, very government-style, our office administrator walked in and she said, “What is this chair doing here?”
And I said “Oh, my grandpa used to work in this building, the maintenance guy who retired thinks that this was his chair, and he thought I should have it, and I haven’t decided what to do with it.”
And she said, “Well, you can’t have it. That’s government property. You have to go through procurement to get that chair.”
And I thought, “Well, that solves it.” You know, I don’t want to go through a hassle, so I’m not going to do that. And I told her, “Okay, I’ll make sure that procurement folks get it and figure it out.”
And then it sat there for a while longer, and I finally thought, maybe I’ll call procurement, tell them the story, and then bring the chair home.
So I called Jeanne Hoffman, who was taking care of all the restoration, and I said, “Listen, this is a weird thing. My grandpa used to work in this building. I have his chair. Um, and I was thinking, could I do paperwork or whatever to take it home.”
And she said, “Was your grandfather Judge Doyle?”
And I said, “Yes.”
And she said, “We’ve been looking for that chair for three months. (laughing) That is a crucial part of the restoration of the courtroom. You cannot keep that chair. How did you get it, who in the world would have stolen this chair?”
And I just thought that was hilarious, it was so great, and it was like, problem solved. No one has to keep the chair, it will be in its proper place, and that’s the end of that story. It’s just this funny little mystery—they were searching for it, and it was just sitting there, the whole time.
INTERVIEWER: That’s a great story.
NARRATOR (RUTH): I love it. And so now, seeing it, with the bench in that beautiful room, that is going to be—it’s now going to be used for a lot of public things. And I always think about Grandpa overseeing weddings, and I’m sure he swore a lot of new citizens in, that was his favorite—
NARRATOR (CATHERINE): Oh, yeah, his favorite thing to do was to have the, to swear in the new citizens, the naturalization ceremonies. He would cry. He just would tell these stories and it would just choke him up, because they’d be people from all over the world and for him, that was the most beautiful sign of the United States, and they’d all be in that beautiful courtroom.
NARRATOR (RUTH): So now, just thinking that it’s going to be really used by the public again, is awesome. That’s the best use for it. Well, thank you so much.
INTERVIEWER: Thank you, very much.
[END OF RECORDING]