Little Bohemia Lodge
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Little Bohemia Lodge is a small lodge located in Manitowish Waters, Wisconsin. The lodge is most famous as scene of a gunfight between John Dillinger and his gang, and Melvin Purvis and the FBI. The Lodge was built in 1927, suffered a fire in 1928, and was rebuilt in 1930. The historic Lodge remains as it was at the time of the FBI siege in 1934 and has a collection of memorabilia and damage from the gun fight, including the original bullet holes in the walls and windows. The Lodge is located on US Highway 51 in Manitowish Waters, Wisconsin on Little Star Lake, on the Manitowish Chain O Lakes.
On April 20, 1934, John Dillinger's gang, consisting of Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, Homer Van Meter, Tommy Carroll, and John "Red" Hamilton, settled at Little Bohemia Lodge, then owned by Emil Wanatka. The gang assured the owners that they would give no trouble, but the gang monitored the owners whenever they left or spoke on the phone. Emil's wife Nan and her brother managed to evade Baby Face Nelson, who was tailing them, and mailed a letter of warning to the U.S. Attorney's office in Chicago, which later contacted the FBI. Days later, a score of FBI agents led by Hugh Clegg and Melvin Purvis approached the lodge in the early morning hours of April 23. Two barking watchdogs announced their arrival, but the gang was so used to Nan Wanatka's dogs that they did not bother to inspect the disturbance. It was only when the FBI mistakenly shot a local resident, John Hoffman, and two innocent Civilian Conservation Corps workers, John Morris and Eugene Boisneau, as they drove away that the gang was alerted. (Hoffman was wounded, and Boisneau was killed.) The gangsters inside grabbed their weapons and prepared to jump from a second floor window in the back. A group of agents led by Inspector William Rorer rounded that side and opened fire, but were forced to take cover when Dillinger fired on them.
As the agents ducked to avoid return fire, Dillinger, Van Meter, Carroll and Hamilton each jumped one at a time from the second floor onto a frozen mound of snow behind the lodge. They then ran down some wooden steps to the beach and ran west along Little Star Lake, unnoticed by Inspector Rorer, who could not see them because of an eight foot incline that obstructed his view. In the woods, Carroll became separated from the rest of the group. He made his way to Manitowish Waters and stole a car, and made it to St. Paul uneventfully. Van Meter attempted to flag down a car driven by Nan Wanatka's brother George LaPorte, who was following an ambulance from the work camp to Little Bohemia, but did not stop. They spotted another lodge a short distance away, Mitchell's Rest Lake Resort. The owner, Edward Mitchell, was tending to his sick wife when Dillinger, Van Meter and Hamilton walked in. Hamilton yanked the phone off the hook after asking for a glass of water, while Dillinger put a blanket over Mitchell's wife and asked for a car. The three ended up taking a car driven by Mitchell's carpenter.
Meanwhile, Nelson, who had been packing in the cottage, had fired at Purvis and fled southeast along Little Star Lodge. He took a couple, the Langes, hostage and made them drive him. He then took local switchboard operator Alvin Koerner hostage. Emil Wanatka, who had stopped by, was also taken hostage. At that point, three federal agents, W. Carter Baum, Jay Newman, and Constable Carl Christiansen, arrived from Little Bohemia, acting on a tip about the car that Carroll had stolen in town. Nelson surprised the agents and shot them. First to be shot was Baum, who was shot three times in the neck and killed instantly. Newman was hit once in the head, but was only dazed. Christiansen was critically wounded, shot five times in the midsection. After shooting at Wanatka, Nelson stole the FBI car and escaped as Newman fired at him.
In the summer of 2008, some scenes from the Michael Mann film Public Enemies were filmed on location at Little Bohemia. The events of the shootout were drastically altered for artistic purposes, such as showing Nelson and Van Meter being gunned down by Purvis in a grassy field near Little Bohemia, when in reality, Van Meter was killed in August 1934 in St. Paul, and Nelson was killed in November 1934 in a shootout that also led to the deaths of agents Samuel P. Cowley and Herman Hollis.
Little Bohemia remains operational today as a restaurant and gathering place. The Lodge is open year round, seven days a week for breakfast, lunch and dinner. A historic display of artifacts and memorabilia from the Dillinger gun battle is available for public viewing along with recent memorabilia and autographs from the filming of Public Enemies.