In 1987, Lou T. Fisk went on a road trip. Perched on the back of a flatbed truck, he departed from his native Madison, Minnesota, and arrived in Madison, Connecticut—stopping in several Madisons, including New York City’s Madison Avenue, along the way. The occasion for this grand Madison tour: The 236th birthday of founding father and president James Madison, and the 200th anniversary of the U.S. Constitution. But Lou T. Fisk isn’t just any traveler: He’s a 25-foot-long fiberglass cod.
Madison, Minnesota, is the Lutefisk Capital of the United States, or at least, it’s been since the Madison City Council gave itself the title in 1982. The same year, the city council commissioned Lou T. Fisk as a fiberglass embodiment of this self-imposed status. Five years later, in an effort to boost their town’s profile, they sent him on his famous multi-Madison tour.
Lou is named after the classic Scandinavian dish lutefisk, which is made of dried whitefish, normally cod, soaked until soft in water and lye. Allegedly invented by Vikings who needed a sustainable winter protein source to fuel all that pillaging, lutefisk continues to be enjoyed across Scandinavia and the American Midwest, where it traveled with late-19th and early-20th century Swedish and Norwegian immigrants. Lutefisk’s flaky, white flesh and notoriously pungent flavor continues to grace tables at Scandinavian-American church potlucks and Christmas dinners. Lutefisk also features in the signature fight song of Washington’s Pacific Lutheran University: “Lutefisk, Lutefisk/ Lefse, Lefse/ We’re the mighty Lutherans/ Ya sure, you betcha!”
Since he was installed in Madison’s J.F. Jacobson Park in 1983, Lou—who was purposely designed to be mobile—has held court over town functions and taken regular rides in community parades. His fame reached a new level during his national tour, and he even received a poetic reception from the mayor of nearby Madison, Wisconsin, who said that lutefisk “creates a spiritual and physical reaction in the body which is unequaled in any way.”
There is a bittersweet coda to this story. While Madison may well be the lutefisk capital of the United States, cultural assimilation and changing food preferences mean that today’s Scandinavian Americans are eating less lutefisk. But if the statue is any indication, you can’t keep lutefisk down. When Lou was knocked off his pedestal by 100 mph winds in a harsh storm in 2008, workers managed to refurbish and revitalize him, eventually restoring him to his place of honor. Lou continues to watch over Madison, a beacon of culture and cod to all who behold him.
Know Before You Go
You can see Lou T. Fisk as you approach Madison on US-75 South.