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Mendota Mental Health Institute

Effigy Mounds

Between 1000 B.C. and 1000 A.D. effigy mounds were built on the north side of Lake Mendota. MMHI's eagle logo represents the largest effigy on the hospital grounds. Following is an excerpt from a scholarly paper done in preparation for a book on this subject by a member of Mendota's psychiatric staff:

The Journey of the Soul to Earthmaker
As Told by the Effigy Mounds

by Gary J. Maier, M.D.

The land of the northwest shore of Lake Mendota in Madison, Wisconsin, now the grounds of the Mendota Mental Health Institute, used to hold about 50 Indian mounds in three clusters.

The eastern cluster, which portrayed a procession of thunderbird, falcon, fox, and other animal mounds has been completely destroyed.

The mounds in the central cluster, which include the world's largest eagle effigy mound (624 foot wing span, 131 foot body), are relatively well preserved, as are the majority of the conical and linear mounds in the western cluster.

This paper will describe the findings of the excavation of two of the conical mounds in the western cluster which included a classical burial chamber containing three human skeletons.

A modern aerial photometric survey will show that several mounds-- the turtle, deer, and eagle -- are aligned to correspond with the moon, sun, and North Star, respectively.

The deeper meaning of the mounds will be discovered by placing them against the backdrop of a Winnebago/Sioux liturgy of the soul's four day journey to Earthmaker.


A partial list from Dr. Maier's bibliography for further reading:

  • O.E. Brown, The Indian Mounds of Lake Mendota, The Lake Breeze, Wisconsin Memorial Hospital, Madison, 1929.
  • J.M. De Harte, The Antiquities and Platyonemism of the Mound Builders of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters, Madison, 1878.
  • W.Y. Evans-Wentz, The Tibetan Book of the Dead or the After-Death Experiences on the Bardo Plane, Oxford University Press, New York, 1960.
  • M. Harner, The Way of the Shaman, Harper & Row, San Francisco, 1990.
  • E.C. Krupp, In Search of Ancient Astronomies: Stonehenge to Von Daniken: Archaeoastronomy Discovers Our Sophisticated Ancestors, McGraw-Hill, New York, 1978.
  • P. Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, 1990.
  • R. Silverberg, Mound Builders of Ancient America: The Archeology of a Myth, New York Graphic Society LTD, 1968.
  • R.A. Williamson, Living the Sky: The Cosmos of the American Indian, Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, 1984.

    Mendota Mental Health Institute
    301 Troy Drive, Madison, WI 53704
    Phone:(608) 301-1000 Fax:(608) 301-1358
    TTY/TDD:(888) 241-9442

Last Revised: July 12, 2010