Little Bohemia Lodge

Little Bohemia Lodge is located in Manitowish Waters in Northern Wisconsin.  It is a nice little supper club that claims “fine dining with a Northwoods touch!”    That is not its only claim to fame, however.  Little Bohemia’s main claim to fame is that it was the location of the Dillinger gang’s shootout with the F.B.I.

The lodge was built by Emil Wanatka in 1929. The Northwoods area of Wisconsin has always been known as a recreation vacation spot and with the abundant natural beauty of this area, it is easy to see why.  A little more surprising to learn is that it was also popular with the mobsters and gangsters of the 1930’s.  They liked its isolation.  It was far enough away from Chicago that nobody recognized them there. 

It was 1934 and the heyday of the gangster was in full swing.  Prohibition had ended in December 1933 and the mobs were very much into running the liquor, girls and gambling.  Bank robbery was in and business was booming.  One of the most notorious of these gangs was the John Dillinger gang.

John Dillinger began his career of crime at a young age when he robbed a store with an accomplice, Ed Singleton.  Singleton was sentenced to two years for this crime but Dillinger was sentenced to 20 years.  Dillinger always claimed that the courts had used him as an example when they gave him such a harsh sentence.  He stated that this act made him bitter toward the government and it was what drove him into a life of crime.  One thing is certain John Dillinger made a lot of friends in prison.   These men would later become his gang members.

Dillinger’s gang was fairly successful and Dillinger, as their leader, had quite a reputation.  He was looked at favorably in the public’s eyes and almost seemed to be a hero to some people.  This was the Great Depression era when banks foreclosed on people’s homes and property.  Most people were glad to see the banks get what they felt they had coming to them.

One of Dillinger’s most notorious moves was in March 1934 when he broke out of the Crown Point Indiana jail.  He was being held there for the murder of a police officer.  Dillinger broke out of the “escape proof jail” using a gun carved out of a piece of wood and stained black with shoe polish.  Just to rub salt in the wound, he stole the lady sheriiff’s car.  This was a decision that would lead to his undoing.  The FBI (and especially J. Edgar Hoover) wanted John Dillinger and his gang very badly.  They had passed numerous laws in order to “put the heat” on Dillinger and anyone who might think of assisting him.  One of these was the National Motor Vehicle Theft Act.  This basically made it a federal offense to move a stolen car over state lines.  When Dillinger broke out of the jail in Indiana, he headed back into Illinois. This allowed Hoover to put Dillinger on the Public Enemy list and Melvin Purvis was hired to head up the Chicago office.

We flash forward to April 1934 now, and John Dillinger who had always figured a way to outsmart the police must have felt at least a little low.  Several of his best men had been killed, his favorite girl, Evelyn (Billie) Frechette, had been arrested, he himself had been wounded.  He must have been desperate for him  to hook up with the psychopath, Baby Face Nelson.  In April,the gang was on the run. 

They traveled up to Northern Wisconsin.  Some versions say that his lawyer Louis Piquette sent him up there to stay in a lodge run by one of his other clients, Emil Wanatka. Others imply that Dillinger was just heading across the state to Minnesota and stumbled on the lodge.  Whichever way it happened, Dillinger and his gang arrived at Little Bohemia  Lodge on April 20, 1934.  Those present were Homer Van Meter, Marie Comforti (Homer’s girlfriend), Pat Reilly, Pat Cherrington, John Hamilton, Tommy Carroll and his wife Jean Delaney, and Baby Face Nelson and his wife, Helen Gillis and John Dillinger.

 After a fine steak dinner, the guests settled in for a card game.  It was during this card game that Wannatka started to suspect his games of being more than a group of friends on vacation.  He noticed that most of the men were carrying guns.  He went into the kitchen to find the latest newspapers and that is when he had his fears confirmed.  Needless to say, Wannatka and his wife spent a sleepless night as they tried to decide what to do about their situation.  On one hand, the gang had paid him a princely sum to use his establishment.  On the other hand, they knew that the FBI was cracking down on anyone who harbored this gang. 

They came up with a plan to send Emil’s wife and son to a birthday party at a relative’s house where she would try to contact the FBI.  Mrs. Wanatka was able to discuss the situation with her brother –in laws at t he party and they agreed to call the FBI office in MIlwaukee.  Mrs. Wanatka bravely returned to the lodge with her son.

Sunday passed with the visitors enjoying more cards games and even playing catch with the Wanatka’s young son.  No one even suspected that the FBI had been alerted and Melvin Purvis and his men were moving in at that very moment.  There are many versions of what actually happened that even but it seems that even the FBI suffers from Murphy’s Law.   Agents flew into Rhinelander, Wisconsin but had difficulty finding  a place to rent cars from.  On the trip from Rhinelander to Manitowish Waters (A distance of 50 miles or so) two of the cars broke down and some of the agents had to finish the trip standing on the running boards. 

The agents split up to cover what they thought were all the avenues of escape.  They hadn’t been waiting very long when some men left the restaurant portion of the inn.  The FBI ordered them to stop but (and versions vary here as well) either they were too inebriated or their radio in the car was up too loud but they ignored the FBI orders and when they continued driving, the FBI agents opened fire.  The men inside the car were not part of Dillinger’s gang. They were three men who happened to dine at the lodge that evening. Two were Civilian Conservation Corporation workers named John and Eugene Boisneau and the other was a salesman named John Hoffman.  They were, however, carrying rifles when they climbed into the car causing the agents to believe they were part of the gang.  Morris and Hoffman were wounded and Boisneau was killed.

Meanwhile, inside the lodge some of the gang had been playing cards when they heard the gunfire. According to some witnesses the gang inside never fired ANY bullets while others stated that some gang members covered the others while they ran upstairs to retrieve the money and more guns.  The men in the gang all escaped out the back windows.  The agents apparently thought the lodge was set back closer to the lake than it actually was.  They slipped out of the back while the agents released a volley of gunfire on the front.  The Wanatka family and employees hid in the basement with the three women who had accompanied the gang members.  They were lucky to be left alive.

Dillinger, Hamilton and Van Meter headed north up the shore of the Little Star Lake. They stopped at a place about a mile up the road called Mitchell’s Lodge.  They commandeered a car and had the owner drive them out of the area.  In a typical Dillinger style, the family at the lodge described Dillinger as being very polite.

Baby Face Nelson had gone south along the lake shore and then he grabbed a car with hostages but was stopped by agents. During this gun battle one of the agents, W. Carter Baum was killed by Nelson in his typical ruthless manner.  Carter left a wife and two small children when he was killed.  Nelson escaped that night and in some versions walked 17 miles to Lac du Flambeau where he hid out in Cabin Number 5 of Dillman’s Bay holding an old indian man hostage for days until things had calmed down enough for him to leave the area.

Unlike the portrayal in the movie ”Public Enemies” , Baby Face Nelson didn’t die in the gunfight at Little Bohemia.  It seems almost a miracle that more people weren’t killed when you see the damage that was done from the FBI agent’s bullets.

The lodge is still open today and due to Wanatka’s quick thinking, it has been preserved exactly as it was on the night after the gunfight.  There are holes in the walls, and the windows have also been preserved behind panes of glass.   In fact, Dillinger’s own father worked there for a time before he and Billy Frechette went on their “Crime doesn’t Pay Tour.”                                         

 This little obscure place set in the back woods of Wisconsin has insured its place in history. 

There are some websites that I used when I planned my trip to this unique place.  One is the Little Bohemia website at www.littlebohemialodge.com. They have a nice history page filled with pictures and descriptions of the night.  The lodge is a fine restaurant and bar on the first floor and the second floor is a little museum of Dillinger- it even has the seat from the Biograph Theater that he supposedly sat in the night he died.  Its walls are filled with articles of his exploits and even love letters from his grilfriends. It also has some of the clothes left behind by the gang.  The present owners have added their own memorabilia from the making of “Public Enemies”.   Yes, Johnny Depp was there!  It is a fascinating place to visit and is definitely worth the trip.  Even those people who don’t believe in ghosts admit they feel a “presence” in this place.

In case you need further convincing, there is a website that has a gangland tour that mentions other places close to Little Bohemia and in other parts of Wisconsin.  This is the website for this site: http://www.travelwisconsin.com/Article_Detail.aspx?articleid=327&menuid=61

I would also recommend the books by G. Russell Girardin:  “Dillinger:The Untold Story.” and Elliot J. Gorn’s  “Dillinger’s Wild Ride: The Year that Made America’s Public Enemy Number One” . 

The Dillinger story has fascinated me (as well as many others) for years.  He charmed men and women alike and even those hired to hunt him down admired him.  He was a loyal friend and fell hard for the women he loved.  He was close to his family and continued to visit them and send them money even after he made the most wanted list.  Whether you consider him a cold-blooded killer or a small town hero he is definitely one of history’s most interesting men. 

Copyright © 2014 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

Mystery At Winnebago

When one thinks of the library, they often call to mind long stacks of colorful bindings where tall, thin, darkly dressed women glide through putting away books and shushing patrons.   That has not been my experience over the last 15 years of library work.   (For those of you who have met me in person, you know I am neither tall nor thin and I am usually the one being shushed!)

I am very fortunate to wear many hats at the library and one reputation that I have inadvertently earned is the collector of the odd and unusual.  The goddesses that work the Local History room come across some of these stories while researching things for people and always share them with me.  I have tucked them away in a file but have decided that this would be a good place to share these tales of the weird and peculiar.   

This story came from a Register Gazette article that appeared on August 22, 1908.  The headline reads:  Mystery at Winnebago.  It seems that on this Tuesday morning, Sexton Joseph Dunkley and his assistant James Bouton were hard at work preparing a place to lay the newly departed Mrs. Bradshaw. They were both surprised and a little startled when they stuck the shovel in the dirt and heard a metallic clunking sound.    They were only about a foot down so they continued to dig and unearthed the remains of what proved to be a corroded cracker tin such as the one pictured below:

One can only imagine the thoughts that were running through their minds as they pulled the tarnished box from the dirt.  The article described the box “badly decayed only one side being in any state of preservation.”

Their greatest fears were realized when they opened the box and there looking back at them were the empty eye sockets of not one but three skulls!  

The box also contained the “major portions of the larger bones of the human body, all of which were the bones of adult persons.”  As if that wasn’t enough, there was also a  black string necktie which it mentions is the “only clothing found”. 

There was no more mentioned in this article- nothing to tell us what was done with the bones, where it was thought they might be from, or who they might have been.    The last line only yielded another mystery.  It mentioned “The Reflector suggests it is not likely to prove another Gunness affair.” 

There was stated in such a manner that it implied that this was a name that the reader should know.  This intrigued me enough that I again turned to my Local History sages where they declared that the name Gunness refers to a woman of the time period who is suspected of being a female serial killer!

Apparently, this Belle Gunness  (who was later found to really be Brynhild Paulsdatter Størseth), was believed to have killed over 40 men, women and children (including her own!) for money.  Belle was at first believed to have been killed herself by a handy man that worked for her.  The bodies of her two children and a decapitated woman’s corpse were found in the ashes of their LaPorte, Indiana home in February 1908.  The handy man was found guilty of the arson but not the murder since he claimed that the body was not Belle Guinness but a woman that she had poisoned and put there as a “body double”, even though the woman was shorter and much thinner.

I will definitely be writing an article in the future to fill you in on all the sordid details!  This, ladies and gentlemen, is why I find history so fascinating!

Copyright © 2014 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

Grewsome Catch

On the morning of August 22, 1908, Ross Foster started his day like he had ended the day before, fishing.  He put out the line around 10p.m on August 21 and went back to check it at daybreak on the 22.  He could not have known that this day would take such an appalling turn.

Mr. Foster was in the Corey’s Bluff area of the Rock Rivera place that he fished often.  He got an early start that morning, it was just around 6:00a.m.  He started to bring the line in and when the line reached about mid- point between the shore and an island there, it snagged something heavy.

Foster pulled the line slowly toward him and to the surface.  One can only imagine his horror as the object came to the surface and he realized it was the body of a child.

Mr. Foster knew immediately who the child was.  The story had been all over Rockford.  He carefully rowed his boat within a few feet of the body and called for assistance.  The men were able to lift the body into the boat and take it to shore.  

It seems that the hook had caught the back of the coat as the “body was being rolled slowly downstream by the current.”  Mr. Foster helped deliver the young boy’s body to the coroner’s office where a verdict of “death by drowning” was decided.

The beginning of this tragic story started two days earlier.  A little 5 year old boy, Earle Morris and his his eleven year old brother, Orley were walking in downtown Rockford, Orley told the jurors at the inquest.   The article gave this description, “Orly appeared to be a manly little fellow or his age and fully capable of taking care of his younger brother under any circumstances except such trying ones as that which resulted in the drowning on Thursday.”

Orley went on to say that the boys crossed over the Nelson Bridge and started to return on the Illinois Central Bridge.  He explained that though this was their first trip together on that bridge, he himself had used it several times to cross. 

They met a man just as they were starting to cross and he told them to hustle across because there was a train due soon.  Orley said that this flustered the younger boy.  The boys both became frightened as they reached the middle of the bridge and saw the train approaching.  At Orley’s instruction, they took seats on a “heavy plank nailed on the outer edge of the bridge ties” to wait out the train.  The boys were facing the track about three feet apart.  Orley was horrified when he saw his little brother fall over backward into the river.  The article mentioned that Orley watched as his brother came up to the surface three times and he was still straining to see him when the trainmen finally reached him.

A follow up article said that an autopsy of little Earle showed a bruise on his forehead that at first was thought to have come from his body hitting a stone in the river.  After conducting several interviews of the eye witnesses, a more plausible scenario presented itself.  These people mentioned that several cars behind the engine was a tool car that had steps that jutted out several inches farther than the other cars.  The engine passed without dislodging the young boy but when the tool car passed it struck Earle in the forehead causing him to fall into the river.

This article was found in the Rockford Morning Star edition for August 25, 1908.  Even though this took place such a long time ago, it doesn’t take much imagination to put oneself in this family’s place as they had to bury one young son and help the other recover from this unbelievable tragedy.

Copyright © 2013 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

Ghost Bridge Road

Have you ever taken a trip (drive or other forms of travel) where you set off for one kind of adventure and end up having a completely DIFFERENT kind?

Well, this is one of those stories.  I set off for Central Illinois with my regular ghost adventure buddy, John Hoblit.  We were returning from something (neither of us remembers exactly what) and decided to stop at Lincoln, Illinois where John’s father’s family hails from.

John had mentioned this road that leads to an abandoned bridge called “The Ghost Bridge”.  Well, I, of course was up for that!  John had done some research through a cousin of his named Leigh Henson and Troy Taylor’s website that talked about this bridge that was located between two old cemeteries.

We arrive and find the gate that leads down this old road. (The following picture is from John’s cousin, Leigh Henson).  These are the kinds of places I LIVE for.

It is about a 10 minute walk (taking time to slap the mosquitoes!)  The road winds through some pretty dense trees with a few clearings that show the field that surround the area.

So we come around the corner and there it is…the last remnants of this old bridge.

This is where I find out the great part.  This used to be a part of the famous Route 66 road!

Much of the information to follow came from Leigh Henson’s award winning website: http://findinglincolnillinois.com/rte66atsaltcreek.html

Salt Creek ( which was called Onaquispasippi by the Native Americans. I know what you are thinking and I completely agree!  Salt Creek is SO much easier) is the largest stream in Logan County and has been important to this region.

Its history began with the Native Americans and even includes a land dispute settled on the banks of the creek by none other than Abraham Lincoln himself!  The churches in the area used it for their baptism rituals which back in the 1850’s included total immersion in the creek.

So, where (most of you are probably thinking) does the Ghost from Ghost Bridge come in?  I, too questioned this.  I imagined a great story of a love between a Native American girl and a local white boy where both families refused to accept their love and the young lovers took their own lives rather than be separated.  I even though that maybe the stories of Boone Hoblit making his moonshine to sell continued on after his death with him chasing visitors away from the road so no one would reveal his secret.  But this is not the case.

In my research I found no such story.  My buddy John even called the local library in Lincoln.  He was assisted by a very helpful librarian who gave him a website that she assured him would prove interesting.  Imagine his surprise when the website turned out to be of the ADULT kind! (seems that the Logan County tourism website had changed their address and did not inform their local library!)

That is what I meant in the beginning when I spoke of thinking I was in for one type of adventure and having a completely different one.  The cemeteries on either side of the old road are very beautiful and peaceful and Troy Taylor talks of another in close proximity, the Old Union Cemetery on his website.   But the reason that this particular bridge is called a Ghost bridge is because that is what the people who seek out such abandoned sites call them.

Even though there is no great story behind the name, I felt that this place deserved to be mentioned.  As I stood there, with the light from the sun setting around me, it was easy to picture it as it once was.  It has that sense that places of the past carry with them.  The ability to, just for a second, transport us back. These places share their layers of history, from the days of Native American hunting and fishing, to the baptisms of the 1850’s, to the bootlegging of the 20’s and 30’s.  I hope you take the time to visit if you are ever in this area.

For more great tales of this area, please visit Leigh Henson’s website: http://findinglincolnillinois.com/rte66atsaltcreek.html

 

 

Copyright © 2013 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events