Gangster Tour

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Cannonshot, Sep 4, 2009.

  1. Cannonshot

    Cannonshot Having a Nice Time Administrator Super Moderator

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    Hideouts, shoot-outs, bank jobs, machinegunnings, bootleg booze, John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, and Al Capone.

    I've been doing a little reading about gangsters back in the day and how and where they spent some time in my "neighborhood".

    I put together a motorcycle tour around the area and visited some of the sites.

    You are welcome to join me in this ride report as I tour around, show some pix, and relate some of the stories about gangsters in Wisconsin.

    Bullet holes from a shoot-out with the FBI.
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    GPX download here.
    #1
  2. captodport

    captodport Adventurer

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    I've been checking and looking for a new post from you, dang glad to see ya back. I'm kicking back and ready for this one.:clap
    #2
  3. GB

    GB . Administrator Super Moderator Super Supporter

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    yo yo yo :super
    :lurk
    #3
  4. windburn

    windburn Long timer

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    I'm subscribed and looking forward to your posts. :clap
    #4
  5. Cannonshot

    Cannonshot Having a Nice Time Administrator Super Moderator

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    In 1931, John Dillinger and some other gangsters were on the run. The north woods of Wisconsin were familiar retreats for gangsters from Chicago.

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    A guy from Chicago, Emil Wanatka, built a resort at Manitowish Waters that same year. Wanatka was connected with John Dillinger's lawyer. Dillinger's lawyer had made arrangements with people to hide Dillinger out in the past. It is widely believed that Dillinger's coming to the Little Bohemia Lodge was no coincidence. Dillinger paid the equivalent of about $5K in today's dollars for a three day stay at the lodge . . . seems obvious this was an "arrangement".

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    Dillinger had a $10K reward on his head at that time. The lodge owners devised a plan to contact the FBI to turn in Dillinger (and the others who also had rewards) to cash in. Some say it was to cover themselves on a potential harboring charge, some say it may have been simple greed. That $10K then is about $100K or more now.

    Back in the 1930s, this place would have been way out in the sticks on potholed dirt roads.
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    Even though the hosts were closely watched and phone calls were listened to, Mrs. Wanatka was able to get out to take her son to a birthday party. When she did, she was followed by Baby Face Nelson who kept an eye on her. In the end, and with the help of relatives, she was able to summon the FBI from Chicago who flew to Rhinelander about 50 miles away.

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    The FBI flew in, set up shop, and started to plan the raid. In the mean time, Dillinger decided to leave early. The Wanatkas were able to get the word to the FBI men who hastily set up the raid.

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    Without enough agents, enough info, or a good plan, Melvin Purvis and the boys set out to capture the outlaws. The moved in on the resort and as they did they spotted three men getting into a car to leave. Believing them to be the outlaws, they machine gunned the car as it came out the driveway. They killed a Civilian Conservation Corps worker, wounded another, and shot a gas station attendant who were the occupants of the car. These guys had just finished a $1 Sunday night chicken dinner at the resort. One wounded guy got out of the car and made it back to the resort even though he had been shot five times. The other wounded guy got out of the car and made it into the woods. This is the driveway, which would have been a potholed dirt road then, where the FBI shot up their car.
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    continued
    #5
  6. Cannonshot

    Cannonshot Having a Nice Time Administrator Super Moderator

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    Meanwhile, Dillinger and the boys heard the shots and ran up to their rooms to recover cash and arms. They then slipped out this back window. They left their girlfriends and a bunch of weapons and other stuff behind.
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    Baby Face Nelson was staying in a side cabin, maybe this one, when he heard the shooting. Being more aggressive than the others, he sought to engage the feds. He took some shots at an agent he saw holding a machine gun that turned out to be Melvin Purvis. Purvis' machine gunned jammed so he shot back at Baby Face with a pistol.
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    All of the outlaws had reconned escape routes when they first got there. They headed toward a steep shoreline embankment to make their getaway.
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    Dillinger and some others went north along the shore a mile or so to another resort where they got a car and a hostage and fled. One in this group got separated and went to a different resort to get a car. If you read some detailed stories about this event, it is interesting to read about the conversations and interactions these outlaws had with regular people. They were polite but firm and explained the feds were after them and they needed to get away.
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    Baby Face went south along the shore on his own after shooting at Purvis. Baby Face eventually got to a house further down the line. The owner had just called the police about some suspicious stuff and just as he hung up the phone, Baby Face entered demanding a car. As Nelson was loading people into the car, a constable pulled into the driveway with two FBI men. The agents had their guns on their laps but were caught unaware. Nelson stuck his machine gun in the driver's window and cut loose. Agents bailed out of the car. The constable was shot in the throat (and recovered) and two of them bailed out of the car and made it about 40 feet before one died and one collapsed with eight bullet wounds. After those two were down, Nelson turned on one agent and gave him a head wound. The agent fired back blindly and managed to crawl through the woods to another resort for help. So after killing one FBI agent, wounding another, and wounding a constable, Nelson took their car and fled.

    By the way, Nelson got his later. In July 1934 two FBI men spotted him in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, but Nelson gave them the slip. Thinking he was headed back to Chicago, the agents in WI alerted the Chicago FBI who hit the road looking for him. When Nelson passed their car near Chicago, he recognized the FBI men, did a u-turn, and eventually got into a gun battle with them. Using his machine gun he killed one agent outright, mortally wounded the other and escaped. Nelson had 17 bullet wounds as a result of this shoot out. He died a few hours later in Wilmette, IL, and his body was later found dumped in a ditch.
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    Two outlaws that left the resort earlier to get some money that a crook in Minneapolis was holding for them got back to Litle Bohemia just as the shooting started. They doused their headlights, made a u-turn, and hauled ass. What are the odds of that kind of timing?

    continued
    #6
  7. Cannonshot

    Cannonshot Having a Nice Time Administrator Super Moderator

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    As I researched these stories, I found there were several different versions - depending on who was telling it. I also found out by talking to a local that there may be some ill-will around the neighborhood about all of this and who played what role, etc. So, I pretty much just stuck to the basic story for this ride report. You can read more by searching around on your own.

    Anyway, the only shooting by the gangsters was by Baby Face Nelson. The others just lammed it. The people inside the resort headed for the basement (per the plan) once the shooting started. The FBI then lit into the resort. It seems like the gunfire only lasted 15 minutes, but they lobbed tear gas in most of the night.

    Actual bullet holes from that night.
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    When the boys left, they left a lot of stuff behind. The FBI snatched the weapons and the resort owner snatched the rest. Eventually he ran a museum of Dillinger stuff on the grounds. Some of the stuff is still on display.
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    Baby Face Nelson
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    By the way, newspapers around the country got on J. edgar Hoover's case about this botched raid and called for his resignation. Keep in mind that Dillinger had already busted out of a jail. This stuff was getting embarrassing to law enforcement.

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    The resort owner's museum got him in trouble. He had a bullet proof vest and revolver on display that he claimed belonged to the slain FBI agent. The FBI got word and after a careful inventory of their equipment they paid a visit to Wanatka to tell him to knock it off.
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    The movie "Public Enemies" shot some scenes here last year. In fact, they shot a lot of stuff in Wisconsin. I'll visit a few of the movie shooting sites. Little Bohemia was prominently featured in the movie.

    Movie bullet holes.
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    Some of the fictional "shootout" here, as depicted in the movie, was shot in this bar room. There is also an intact set upstair of Dillinger's room that you can pay to see.
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    More gangster sights and stories later.

    You can visit the web site for the movie "Public Enemies" to view a trailer to "put you in the mood" for a gangster story. :lol3

    But more interesting than that is to visit the "Crime Wave" page on that site that has an interactive map of John Dillinger's escapades.

    http://www.publicenemies.net/
    #7
  8. no

    no dreaming adventurer Supporter

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    This is highly entertaining. :lurk
    #8
  9. MeefZah

    MeefZah Curmudgeonly Supporter

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    :clap

    Great so far, I'm in!
    #9
  10. h17

    h17 Enjoying The Ride

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    cool trip...!:clap
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  11. b00t

    b00t errrr, yes uh-huh?

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    Great write up! Pix, history, shoot outs, little bit of everything...keep it coming
    :super
    #11
  12. vwluv10338

    vwluv10338 Adventurer

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    Cool report. Makes me wish you could still order a Tommy gun through the mail. :cry
    #12
  13. Uneasy Rider

    Uneasy Rider The life of Riley

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    Very cool stuff. Cannonshots ride reports are always second to none.

    More please!
    #13
  14. DRT2OIL

    DRT2OIL Greenhorn

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    Love this one!
    #14
  15. drthumper

    drthumper Been here awhile

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    hey cannon, any chance you would be willing to actually lead a gangster tour on friday or saturday next week?:evil would be fascinating and fun for many of us. i have been up there (actually spent some summer vacation in high school and my honeymoon at whitecap mountain outside of hurley) but don't have near the knowledge of the area that you do. anyway just a thought and could really put a neat twist on the cadvr rally! in any event thanks for the great read and pics, keep it up. looking forward to meeting you next week!
    drthumper
    #15
  16. EM-50

    EM-50 Been here awhile

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    Sign me up for that ride! Great report!
    #16
  17. captodport

    captodport Adventurer

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    How dumb am I?

    I saw your post last night. This morning I rode about 200 miles of back roads over to and around Arcadia, La.

    I didn't even think of going by the Bonnie and Clyde museum, or down the highway where they were killed.

    Even if I did a RR on it, it wouldn't hold a candle to this.:2guns
    #17
  18. Cannonshot

    Cannonshot Having a Nice Time Administrator Super Moderator

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    "Polock Joe" Saltis was an underworld beer baron in Chicago. He was ranked #9 in Chicago (Al Capone was #1). Joe was from Budapest so no one is clear why they called him "Polock Joe". This guy once clubbed a woman to death when she refused to convert her ice cream store into a speakeasy. He operated on the south side and was initially tolerated by Al Capone. Once the gang wars started and Saltis' gang got weak, Capone moved in for a cut. Capone kept a hideout fairly close to a place that Saltis kept in Wisconsin's north woods (more on that later).

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    Polock Joe is given credit for introducing the Thompson sub-machinegun into the Chicago gang wars.

    The Thompson was invented as a result of trench warfare in WW I. It was named the "trench sweeper" because of it's properties. Other names for it were the "chopper", "typewriter", and the "Chicago Piano".

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    At one time you could mail order one of these for about $175. There were state and local laws regarding pistols, but machineguns were overlooked for quite a while. Once these were regulated a clean chopper went for about $2K.

    Extra 20 round box magazines were $3 each and 50 or 75 round drum magazines were $21. Pictured is a 50 round drum.
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    This gun weighs 8.5 lbs, fires .45 caliber ammo, is very accurate, has a high rate of fire, a removable stock (good for hiding under coats and shooting from cars). It also had great penetrating power. A perfect gangster weapon of sorts. Some police departments kept them in their arsenals - which sometimes turned out to be a handy source for gangsters to raid.
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    Anyway, gang life in Chicago was a high stress environment. Also, sometimes gang members needed to get away for a while until the police or intergang conflicts cooled a bit. Saltis' solution was to build a spectacular place in Wisconsin's north woods on Barker Lake near Winter, WI.

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    At one time this would have been way out in the sticks. Actually, it still kind of is out in the sticks depending on what you are used to. Today asphalt leads to the site from one direction and gravel from the other.
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    Saltis spent about $100K (back then A LOT) to build a lodge, some cabins, and a nine hole golf course as a place to get away.
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    The lodge is now an inn. It originally had ten bedrooms and was surrounded by other cabins for his gunmen. It is on Barker Lake.
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    The current proprietor told me there used to be three gun towers and a still on the 200+ acre site.
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    The cabins that once surrounded the lodge have since been moved around.
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    Saltis intially put in a nine hole golf course. He brought some soil for the course all the way from Kentucky via railroad. (The soil is sandy in this area.)
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    Saltis used to violate game laws. Eventually the game warden got tired of it so he put together a small well armed posse and snuck around Saltis' bodyguards to bust him fishing too close to a dam. Saltis asked about "why the artillery?" noting the well armed wardens. When his bodyguards responded, Saltis essentially told them to take a tranq while he went with the wardens to a local judge and paid a fine.

    The small town of Winter was nearby. It seems like Saltis employed almost half of the residents at one time. In fact, he tried to change the name of the town to Saltisville. (Winter is pretty proud of the fact that they produced an astronaut.)
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    Some of the Chicago mobster crowd used to hang out in this small town when they were at the lodge. There wasn't much there at the time.
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    When Saltis got squeezed out in Chicago, he retired to his Barker Lake retreat.
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    One more quick little story about Winter. This was once big logging territory. A guy bought some land from a timber company that included part of a river. Previously he had been employed by the lumber company and was owed $1,800 in back wages (a lot of money then). When the company refused to pay, this guy refused to allow them to float logs down a waterway that crossed his property without paying a fee. The company refused to pay and the guy guarded his waterway with a rifle forcing the lumber company to haul their logs to another river (which cost the company money). Eventually the lumber company caved and paid his back wages. The guy still refused the logging company access to float logs. Eventually a legal complaint led to the Sheriff and a posse heading out to get the guy in October 1910. After a shootout in which the guy was wounded, the Sheriff got him. The guy eventually got convicted of something. A glimpse of the times in the northwoods in the early 1900s. . .
    #18
  19. Cannonshot

    Cannonshot Having a Nice Time Administrator Super Moderator

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    Thanks for the kind and enthusiastic replies guys.

    I think I mentioned before that I really enjoy riding, but enjoy exploring some of the history of the places I go to even more. Makes for a richer experience overall.

    As far as leading a gangster tour at the Central Rally, I already posted a route for some sites in that vicinity for anyone that wants to ride it on their own. As always, I'll be happy to send the GPS info for this route or the abbreviated northern loop to anyone that wants it. I'll also be happy to meet up at the rally to answer questions or pass on some more detail to anyone that wants to ride any of this. Normally I would be happy to host this ride, but I plan on taking my DRZ for some forest riding instead of road riding with my big bike.

    I rode the northern Wisconsin portions of this on my DL1000.
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    I had great weather with sunshine and 70 during the day with the temps dropping to the 40s at night. No liner during the day but once the sun gets low it gets cool fast. It will be much cooler during the Central Rally.

    I also rode part of this route at night through the Clam Lake (elk/deer and extremely low frequency submarine antenna) area on up to Hurley. The full moon was very welcome as I had some concerns about the large number of deer I was seeing and the lack of other traffic. :lol3
    #19
  20. Cannonshot

    Cannonshot Having a Nice Time Administrator Super Moderator

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    Al Capone was a big time Chicago gangster during the prohibition days. He was a folk hero to some because he offered a lot of charity to those in need. He ran a soup kitchen for the unemployed which cost some significant coin and also would throw a Christmas Party for the poor in his area. On a visit to a race track once, he was cheered by the crowd for his philanthrophy. He was also a brutal murderer. It is believed that he was responsible for the St Valentine's Day Massacre (the murder of seven members of the rival Bugs Moran north side gang). At a party to celebrate three associates being acquitted, Capone accused the three of trying to take over and beat their heads with a baseball bat. He continued to beat them as they laid on the floor and the bodies were found to also have been stabbed and shot.
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    Capone was also the target of rival mobsters. There were several assassination attempts. Capone kept a lot of hideouts in the midwest including one in Brookfield, WI, that has long since been replaced by a subdivision. The hideout he kept near Courderay, WI, is still around and up until just recently has been open for tours. By the way, Capone had a car with bulletproof glass, run flat tires, and a police siren. After the Treasury Department siezed the car, it was used by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as one of his limos.
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    One would think that Al would have picked a road with a different name for his northwoods retreat. . .
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    This place is no longer open for tours. I don't know if it will reopen either.
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    When Al built this place, the area had been recently logged so it was much more open. In fact, brush fires were a real threat during those times so Al installed a sprinkler system in the surrounding lawn to help protect the place from fire.
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    I couldn't visit the grounds, but there are a few pix around to give you an idea of what it is like. Al would spend anywhere from a week to a month here each year during the summer. His main house had walls 18" thick that were likely intended to offer protection from gunfire.
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    There is a stone gun turret that overlooks the entrance to the place. A couple of German Shepherds would roam the grounds at night. The eight car garage had gun ports built into the walls.
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    There was also a jail cell on the place. No one really knows who it was intended for.
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    There was also a long pier that was large and stout enough to handle a truck. It is believed that Al had booze flown in here from Canada via float plane. These lakes would offer a remote site for landing and transferring loads.
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    #20