Little Bohemia

I’ve birded at Powell Marsh in Manotowish Waters, Wisconsin dozens of times, and every time I’ve driven past Little Bohemia. I have long been aware of the history connected with the place — in April, 1934, guest-of-the-lodge John Dillinger escaped from the FBI during a long shootout. Other gang members were also there including Homer Van Meter and Baby Face Nelson. Several years ago, the sign out front advertised a Dillinger Museum. But I never stopped.

A couple years ago, I read Public Enemies, by Bryan Burroughs and this summer I watched the movie based — loosely — on the book. The shoot-out scene from the movie was shot at Little Bohemia. I decided it was time. On Wednesday morning, on our way from Rhinelander up to the U.P., we stopped for breakfast.

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We arrived just a few minutes after the restaurant opened. There were no other cars in the lot and the place looked decidedly closed.

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Here’s the way the building looked shortly after the shoot-out. The room sticking out on the right is where the bullets holes were (see below).

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I tried the door and was surprised to find it open. We walked into an empty lodge. On our left was the empty bar, seen in the movie.

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The walls were covered with newspapers from the time of the fight, movie posters and photographs — including this one of Dillinger and lodge owner Emil Wanatka that doesn’t at all look like Dillinger’s head was cut out of a magazine and pasted on somebody else’s body.

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The entrance to the dining room was on the right, but there wasn’t anybody around there either.

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Finally a woman came out and guided us to a table in the back dining room overlooking Little Star Lake.

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Here’s another look at our table.

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Our waitress told us that much of the furniture was original (the lodge was built in 1929). The setting, the history and the solitude — and the 1930’s music playing in the background — combined to make this a fantastic out-of-time experience.

I ordered the Gangster’s Get-Away Breakfast Sandwich (left). My wife ordered Eggs Dillinger (right). The names on the menu were lame, but the food was very good.

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We wandered about at will. The damage from the battle has been fixed, as far as I could tell, except in one dining room where there were bullet holes in the walls and windows.

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We wandered around outside taking photos for a little while. Here’s a pan of the back of the lodge. Little Star Lake is on the left. That’s Nate walking down the steps. Our dining room was the one closest to the shore. The bullet damage is on the far side of the building.

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Earlier, our waitress had mentioned a tour at 10:00. I went inside at 9:30 and asked her about it. She told me that there was no tour guide available. But then she shrugged and said if she could find the key, she’d let us upstairs on our own. The rooms we saw were the actual rooms used by Dillinger and his gang, but all evidence of the fight was cleaned up long ago. However, when the movie was shot here in 2008, the rooms were used as sets and have been left as they were after the filming.

This is the room Dillinger used, in real life and in the movie. There were plexiglass panels across the door, so the photo didn’t come out great.

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Here’s the bathroom next door.

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Another room had photos and displays. These included several items left behind by the gangsters, the bag in which they carried the money from their last bank robbery and a suit worn, I believe, by Christian Bale in his role as Melvin Purvis.

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The room also contained a few old golf clubs and a theater chair, about which I know nothing, but here’s my daughter with them nonetheless.

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We spent about two hours at Little Bohemia before continuing north to the Upper Peninsula. We enjoyed everything about the place. My daughter proclaimed that for the first time in her life she thought history was cool.

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One Response to Little Bohemia

  1. n8 says:

    At least she didn’t call it cute.

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