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Wisconsin's Gangster Tour
Last Updated: 3/2/2014
The Prohibition and the Great Depression of the 1920s and '30s were lucrative times for outlaws like Al Capone and John Dillinger. Charismatic and successful, they were polarizing figures unpopular with the FBI and local police-the honest ones, anyway.
The usual suspects were often on the run. And that usually meant Wisconsin.
Wooded and rural, Wisconsin was popular among Chicago-based gangsters for its isolation. The state often played host to a number of infamous figures including Capone and Dillinger, a history mined by Michael Mann's movie, Public Enemies. Starring Johnny Depp as John Dillinger, the movie filmed on several Wisconsin locations and faithfully recreated some of crime's most vivid moments.
This summer, go “On the lam” in Wisconsin and experience the rich lore and legend of Wisconsin's history and a little Hollywood magic for yourself. The following itinerary will guide you through some of Wisconsin's most notorious locations. Rats need not apply.
Manitowish Waters, Couderay, Lac du Flambeau, Minocqua, Hayward, Mercer, Hurley, Miscuano Island
Little Bohemia Lodge
The site of a vicious 1934 firefight between the Dillinger gang and FBI, the Little Bohemia Lodge still operates as a restaurant and was used as an authentic location for Public Enemies' recreation of that fateful night. The property has been faithfully preserved to maintain its unique history: original bullet holes still pepper the walls, Dillinger memorabilia is on display and legends of a missing bag lost in the shuffle of the gang's escape remain.
Barker Lake Lodge and Golf Course
Chicago gang leader and speakeasy operator, “Polack Joe” Saltis, owned a 238-acre estate on Barker Lake near the town of Winter in Sawyer County, not far from Al Capone's estate. Today visitors can stay in the historic lodge and play golf at the Barker Lake Golf Course, a classic nine-hole layout that Saltis built there in the 1920s.
Herman's Landing Resort in Lac Courte Oreilles
According to wiseguy legend, in 1949 Joey “The Doves” Iupa caught a world record muskie at Herman's Landing Resort. On the run from the law, Iupa sold the 69-pound, 11-ounce fish to Louis Spray. Spray, a former bootlegger himself, registered the catch as his own and has been recognized as the world record holder ever since.
Hurley's Silver Street district was popular among “vacationing” gangsters and remains full of lively nightclubs.
Ralph Capone (brother of Al) enjoyed northern Wisconsin so much that he made it his home. He settled in Mercer and operated The Rex Bar until the 1970s when he passed away. Today, Mercer is known for its secluded waterways and outdoor activities such as boating, fishing, biking, hiking and swimming.
Darlington, Columbus, Beaver Dam, Madison, Wisconsin Dells, Lake Delton,
Milwaukee, Racine, Oshkosh, Lake Geneva
Lafayette County Courthouse
Johnny Depp stood trial for Public Enemies at the courthouse in handcuffs and leg shackles at the Lafayette County Courthouse, which substituted for the Lake County Courthouse in Crown Point, Indiana where Dillinger was arraigned after being captured.
For Public Enemies, all of downtown Columbus was converted into Greencastle, Indiana, circa-1933: the site of a $75,000 robbery by Dillinger and his gang with the West James Gallery made into the Central National Bank. The city was selected because of its “Good Bones”- the entire downtown commercial area is on the National Historic Register.
For Enemies, the historic Hotel Rogers stood in for Tucson's Hotel Congress, the site of the Dillinger gang's capture after a fire broke out and the outlaws were recognized by authorities.
Public Enemies served as a homecoming for director Michael Mann, who attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The crew shot in a number of Madison locations, including in and around the Wisconsin State Capitol building, which doubled as FBI headquarters for the film. Also, street scenes utilized Madison residents as extras, with casting taking place at the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center. The nearby city of Oregon also hosted Enemies filming.
Mirror Lake State Park
Enemies gunshots also rang out at Mirror Lake State Park in Lake Delton. The park hosted several night shoots, and observers heard gunfire and squealing tires as late as midnight. Production also had nearby private lighting shut down and had the lake declared “off-limits” to the public for optimum seclusion.
Milwaukee County Historical Society Building
During the mafia's heyday, Milwaukee was home to some of the organization's most powerful men, including Frank Balistrieri, who was considered for head of the Commission: the mafia's governing body. Several Public Enemies scenes were filmed in Milwaukee including a bank robbery scene at the Milwaukee County Historical Society building - a fitting choice, as the building was converted from a bank.
Racine Art Museum
Formerly the American Bank and Trust, the building housed a bank that was robbed by John Dillinger and his gang in 1933. Following a brief shootout and hostage situation, Dillinger's crew made off with $27,000. The museum has previously housed exhibits commemorating the robbery, including a submachine gun that is now displayed at the Racine Police Department.
Oshkosh recreated two famous Dillinger robberies for Enemies: the American Bank and Trust Company in Racine set at Oshkosh's Masonic Temple and the Security National Bank and Trust in Sioux Falls at a bank/office building at 404 Main St, which retained the film's prop bank sign as part of a display commemorating the film.
Oshkosh Public Museum
Enemies' production and historical references will be on display with The Era of Public Enemies: A Wave of Crime in a Troubled Time: an exhibition that runs from June 27 through October 18.
EAA Airventure Museum
The 1929 Ford Tri-Motor aircraft featured prominently in Public Enemies depicting the aircraft that the FBI used to transport Dillinger to Chicago from Arizona is part of the EAA Airventure Museum permanent collection. Also, EAA's Pioneer Field was the filming location for the scene in which Depp gets out at the Midway airport in Chicago. Not only can people see the airplane up close, EAA's Ford Tri-Motor will embark on a tour of several Midwest cities this May. For $40, visitors can actually fly on the 9-passenger plane. Visit www.FlytheFord.com to see the tour schedule and book a flight.
Watersedge of Lake Genva
The Watersedge was frequented by a number of gangsters in the 1920s and '30s, most notably by Bugs Moran. Bugs reputedly stayed frequently to avoid the police, with the now B&B doubling as a speakeasy. Bugs's wife Lucille would eventually divorce him and marry the establishment's original owner.
French Country Inn
Known during prohibition as the Lake Como Hotel, the French Country Inn was a hideaway for Al Capone, Bugs Moran, John Dillinger and Babyface Nelson. Before his fatal shootout with the FBI, Nelson was spotted near the hotel by agents shopping for groceries.