2019 Winter Solstice at Frank’s Hill

It’s my people – people who appreciate peaceful settings and recognize the solstice as an annual marker — A lot of people don’t even know about it.

Susan Graham, Madison, on why she attends the solstice celebration at Frank’s Hill year after year
Sunset on December 21, 2019 at Frank’s Hill for the winter solstice. Photo by Diane Schwartz.

About 100 people gathered at Frank’s Hill, near Muscoda, on December 21 to watch the sunset and to learn about the effigy mounds. The mild 45 degree weather made for perfect conditions. I arrived at 4:15 p.m., about 15 minutes prior to sunset, just in time for the show.  

And what a show.

With no clouds in the sky, the sun set on autumn in a blaze of yellow, orange and red. Flocks of geese flew across the sky in silouhette.

Mounds at Franks Hill feature a canine, bear, bird and two mounds described as a bird woman and a beaver. Frank’s Hill is located just north of the intersection of Hwy 60 west and Hwy 193. Photo courtesy of the Three Eagles Foundation.

The annual winter solstice event is organized by the Three Eagles Foundation, the group that owns the property at Frank’s Hill and works to educate and preserve the 1000-year-old mounds for visitors. The hill is home to a series of 5 mounds: a canine, bear, bird and two unusual mounds that have been described as a bird woman and a beaver mound. A series of 12 conical mounds – called calendar mounds — are preserved on an adjacent ridge.

Mark Cupp (in red), Vice President of the Three Eagles Foundation and Dave Martin (left), President, Three Eagles Foundation, interprets the mounds to visitors at the winter solstice event on December 21, 2019. Photo courtesy of the Friends of the Lower Wisconsin River.

According to Mark Cupp, the Vice President of the Three Eagles Foundation, the sunset on the winter solstice is aligned to the head and body of a gigantic bird effigy mound with a 1310 foot wingspan. The effigy, or what is left of it, is referred to as the “ghost eagle” because most of it has been destroyed by farming. It is barely visible in the farm field just south and west of Frank’s Hill, though an aerial photo from 1968 shows the outline of the mound. The photo can be found in the book Indian Mounds of Wisconsin by Robert A. Birmingham and Amy L. Rosebrough. Cupp said that the alignment of the setting sun extends to Frank’s Hill and to the ridge just north of Frank’s Hill.

This alleged alignment, the incredible view, and the unique mounds are what draws me and many others to Frank’s Hill for the solstice each year. Linda Meadowcroft, Baraboo, tries to get to all of them and has been coming for 10 years.

After the sunset, a mature bald eagle flew near the edge of the ridge, adding to the beauty and spiritual meaning of the night.

Cooking hotdogs over the solstice fire. Photo by Diane Schwartz.
Timm Zumm with the Friends of the Lower Wisconsin State Riverway, burns three dried Christmas trees in honor of the three stewards of the Three Eagles Foundation: Dave Martin, Mark Cupp and Brian McGraw. Photo by Diane Schwartz.

About 30 people then gathered around the solstice fire for stories and hot dogs. Tim Zumm, with the Friends of the Lower of Wisconsin Riverway brought three dried Christmas trees and burned one in honor of each of the “Three Eagles”:  Dave Martin, President; Mark Cupp, Vice President; and Brian McGraw, Treasurer/Secretary. Thanks was given to others who have passed. Mark Cupp, read a story in honor of Jan Beaver, a friend of Frank Shadewald. Frank’s Hill is named for Frank Shadewald, the man who purchased the land and started the Three Eagles Foundation.  

A barred owl visits the solstice fire. Photo courtesy of the Friends of the Lower Wisconsin River.

As if on cue, a barred owl swooped down and landed on a tree nearby. It stayed for a few minutes and then moved on.

One person said that it was Frank (Shadewald), stopping by for a moment.

That’s as good an explanation as any, so I’ll take it. There is something about this place that defies reason.

We’ll see you at spring equinox in March.

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