nonindigenous people to visit what is now Wisconsin was a 1634
group, led by Jean Nicolet, in search of the Northwest Passage. A
small group of priests, fur traders and hunters followed. French
control gave way to British control until the 1783 Treaty of Paris
ceded control to the United States and the largest group of settlers
began entering the region. They established the dairy, lumber and
mining industries. Dairy farming was their first major industry and
the state continues to be the country’s leading dairy producer. The
area prospered and in 1848 Wisconsin was granted statehood.
In the years leading up to the Civil War the state held a place of prominence on the Underground Railroad because of its proximity to Canada. Only one of the UGRR sites, The Milton House, can be toured. The 1844 building is octagonal and has the only portion of the UGRR that is authentically underground and is a tunnel that is open to the public. hhttps://www.miltonhouse.org
Northern Wisconsin’s heavy forestation made farming nearly impossible and the area became known for its logging villages. Because of the very cold, snowy, lengthy winters the region become known for its outdoor activities and unique crafts. The Northwoods is estimated to be 30,000-sq. miles rife with hundreds of picturesque lakes, wetlands and forests where you can opt for serenity and tranquility or unique shopping opportunities, great food and a plethora of all-season outdoor activities. The history of the region and its people is seamlessly incorporated in every aspect of a visit and this special combination of history, small town charm, winter sports, attractions and one-of-a-kind gifts makes the region an ideal winter destination.o:p>
Most visitors value the landscape, create no disturbances and respectfully leave nothing behind. That was not the case in 1934 when tranquil little Manitowish Waters was the scene of a series of events that would make headlines throughout the country and change law enforcement procedures forever.
By March of 1933 when John Dillinger escaped from Crown Point Jail he was an infamous career criminal. The day after his escape he hooked up with Baby Face Nelson, by all accounts a psychopath, and drove across the state line. J. Edgar Hoover, wanting to jettison himself and his force to national fame, turned up the heat on the search. By this time Dillinger, joined by other gang members, was in Chicago. While there he heard about a quiet, relatively deserted, lodge in Wisconsin. They agreed that this would be a perfect hideout and plans were made to drive the 400-miles. They left the next day in three cars staggered along the route to prevent an ambush.
They were headed to Little Bohemia, a lodge originally built in 1929 by Emil Wanatka. The cost of their 3-day stay was $500, paid in advance. The entire gang was present by the early evening of April 20th and all took rooms on the lodge’s second floor except Baby Face. He and his wife took rooms in an adjacent cottage. After a steak dinner several gang members scouted out escape routes. There was a main entrance, wooded areas on both sides and the lodge backed up to the lake.
Wanatka later claimed that he caught a glimpse of two guns on Dillinger and then found a photo of the gangster that helped him identify him. There are hints that Wanatka was aware of who they were, wanted the $10,000 reward and did not want to be arrested for harboring a criminal. His wife was instrumental in contacting the FBI. She passed a note to her brother-in-law, Henry Voss, inside a pack of cigarettes. At that time all telephones were party lines so Voss drove 60-miles to call the police who told him to call Melvin Purvis in Chicago. Purvis chartered two airplanes and told Voss to meet them at Rhinelander Airport.
The raid, originally
planned for the next day, was moved up because Dillinger was known
to change plans quickly. The agents had one car but managed to rent
or borrow four more. Things then began to go horribly wrong. Voss
was asked to draw a map and he neglected to note a ditch to the
south and a barbed wire fence on the north side of the lodge as well
as two dogs, Shadow and Punch. The local police were not contacted,
many surmise because Hoover did not want to share the credit. On the
way two cars broke down on the snowy roads and some of the 16 agents
had to ride outside on the car’s running boards. Headquarters was
set up at a lodge about 3-miles away and once Purvis verified that
Dillinger was at Little Bo they headed to the lodge in the dark of
night. They blocked the entrance, spread out and the dogs began to
Simultaneously three guests finished their meal and proceeded to their car. They put on the radio and headed for the blocked exit. The agents, believing they had Dillinger, commanded them to stop. The falling snow and loud music kept them from seeing and hearing and the agents opened fire. All three were hit and one later died of his wounds. The gunfire alerted the gang and they immediately jumped into the snow at the rear of the lodge and escaped. The three women, who had been playing cards, hid in the basement as the agents released a fusillade of bullets. All of the gangsters escaped. The agents fired into the house until someone told them they were coming out. To their dismay they captured only the women who were arrested and sentenced to 18-months probation.
The failed capture of Dillinger at Little Bohemia continues to be considered an FBI debacle. The spin at the time was that the gangsters opened fire first. Hoover was furious and issued his first “shoot to kill” order in retaliation. The town of Mercer sued, and won, because of the harm done to their citizens and Hoover’s failure to include local law enforcement who might have set up roadblocks and assisted in tracking the men. Hoover’s resignation was widely called for and the reputation of the new agency plummeted. The raid also resulted in the enlistment of more than 200 new agents, better weapons, additional bulletproof vests, expanded laws and faster vehicles.o:p>
The Dillinger Pontoon History Tour is a narrated land and water based tour of the sites and area that figured in the raid. It is a totally unique way to view the events and understand the role the topography played. From the water you can follow the actual escape route and see what the gang saw. The tour stops at the Blue Bayou Inn, then Kerner’s Resort. Nelson fled south alone and stole a car that stopped in front of the resort during his escape. He crossed the road and entered the driveway of a nearby property and again confronted agents killing agent Carter Baum. A tour of the area and the supposedly haunted Blue Bayou includes memorabilia and information on the raid. http://bluebayouinn.com/
Bayou is currently one of the best restaurants in the region. The
Cajun/Creole cuisine is a favorite of locals and visitors who come
for the entrées as well as their Bananas Foster Flambeau. Guests can
dine lakeside or watch stunning sunsets from indoors. Manitowash
Lake was the center of regional Native American trade and was part
of an 1837 treaty. An island in the lake was a native burial site
and spirits housed there are believed to guard the lake.
The pontoon portion of the tour begins and ends at the dock at Little Bo. Walking up from the water you can see the rear of the building and the windows from which the men escaped. An addition was made to the lodge in 1936, probably with the reward money, but it has generally remained as it was in 1934. Bullet holes are still visible on the exterior and the driveway is virtually as it was.
The interior has been preserved including the dining room where the women played cards, a slot machine and numerous bullet holes. Display cases showcase items left behind when they fled, suitcases, under garments, grooming items, shirts and a tin of Ex-Lax. The second floor is the real gem. The tiny area still shows the carnage wrecked upon the lodge. Hundreds of bullets peppered the walls leading one to believe these were the worst shots in the world as no one was hit. The tiny bathroom seems to have borne the brunt of the attack. The two bedrooms contain newspaper accounts and artifacts from the raid.
IInterestingly, the lodge held a museum shortly after the raid and Dillinger’s father served as a tour guide each summer. Dillinger’s career lasted less than a year and left in its wake 12 dead, 7 wounded and earned him approximately $500,000. “Public Enemies,” with Johnny Depp as Dillinger, was filmed here for a month, at night, in 2008. Depp actually used Dillinger’s real bed in the movie and it and other movie memorabilia are displayed.
Little Bohemia offers a tour, exhibits and a restaurant. The menu includes seafood specialties and, on occasion, Dillinger’s favorite cream pie. The adults only Hideaway Bar & Deck is a great place to spend some time and soak up the atmosphere. http://www.littlebohemialodge.como:p>
Jean Francois St. Germaine and his Native American wife were the first settlers in the town named after him. A statue of the mythical Chief St. Germain greets you as you enter the town in honor of the town’s native heritage. https://www.townofstgermain.org
The Hammock Hut, a boutique hammock and messenger bag shop, is one of the town’s specialty shops. Each item is handcrafted of designer fabric and is both rugged and practical. You can make a selection from an exterior mall filled with testable hammocks or chose from interior displays in three showrooms. Purchases can be made online and delivered for Christmas. https://www.hammockhut.com
Green Rich Tea is an interactive shop offering quality teas and a Tea Academy experience. Guests gain expertise on brewing, serving and drinking natural teas. Tea was shipped in tins until a vendor in the 50s felt the cost was prohibitive. He put leaves in small pouches made from his wife’s stockings and stapled them. wwww.greenrichtea.com
Supper clubs are a Wisconsin feature that developed in the 1900s. These “clubs” serve fine, traditional, food and drink and usually depend on local clientele. Clearview Supper Club is a St. Germain favorite for a meal to round out your visit. This historic restaurant provides stunning lake views and classic fare made from natural ingredients. www.clearviewsupperclub.comThere is area real place named Land O’Lakes and it is, of course, in Wisconsin. The town, originally known as Stateline, was built around a sawmill in the late 1800s. The town is most famous for the breathtaking landscape, skiing and snowmobiling opportunities. It is also home to the Land O Lakes Artisans Center where one can learn the region’s art history and take workshops and classes to enhance your art skills. www.landolakes-wi.org
Nearby visitors can follow in the footsteps of the SyFi Channel and Ripley’s and investigate the Paulding Light. These lights have appeared regularly since the 1960s. The move around and change size and there are unproven theories regarding their existence.
The Old Copper Indians lived in the Eagle River area until settled by whites in 1853. The town was named because of the huge number of eagles found there. The largest concentration of freshwater lakes, more than 3,000, in the world is located around Eagle River. The lakes and Nicolet National Forest make this an outdoor and winter sports paradise. You can select from numerous land and water-based activities including peaceful sails around the lakes. It is a resort town and the “Snowmobile Capital of the World®.” The town hosts the Amsoil World Championship Snowmobile Derby and has been rated “The Best Overall Snowmobiling Vacation Destination” by “SnowGoer.” https://www.eagleriver.org
Northwoods Children’s Museum is totally interactive and showcases 24 individual learning stations. Exhibits are both indoors and out and it will be difficult to tear your child away.
Soda Pops must be on your itinerary. It was constructed n the 1880s as a tavern but during prohibition it became a soda fountain. It is now the oldest soda fountain in Wisconsin. All of the interior elements, booths, ceiling, floors, etc., are original. The 1940s fountain was located in PA and installed here. The walls are decorated with memorabilia, some sold in the adjacent store, the food is wonderful and the menu has more than 100 possibilities. Try the Water Tower Sundae. It was made for sharing. https://www.soda-pops.com
Downtown Boulder Junction, an area that abuts Eagle River, provides wonderful shopping opportunities in an eclectic collection of shops that offer Northwood’s treasures. The shops include antiques, arts, home décor and boutique stores. Wiley Miller, a premier wildlife artist, has a studio complex in Eagle River that he shares with his son, a woodcarver of large-scale tree sculptures. There are well over twenty-five shops where visitors can both watch the art being created and make special purchases. o:p>
Another must is The Raven’s Niche and Mykytka Leather, a unique shop where you can purchase ready to wear moccasins or opt for a handmade pair crafted just for you. The store also offers items made by other artists that can only be purchased here. People order special pieces, leather artworks, clothing, journals, etc. They also make handcrafted seats for motorcycles that are superb and have been ordered by several stars.
Acorn Lodge is a best bet accommodation. Located in the center of downtown Boulder Junction, it offers, large rooms, pool, spa and breakfast, all in a prime location. https://www.acorn-lodge.neto:p>
GGrab your gang and getaway to a perfect Northwoods hideaway. https://www.travelwisconsin.com