A few years back, House Crazy Sarah visited this fascinating old lodge in the north woods of Wisconsin.
Little Bohemia Lodge was the site of the infamous Dillinger Gang shootout with the FBI in 1934 and was also the filming location of the 2008 Johnny Depp movie Public Enemies that depicted the botched raid which saw all the criminals escape.
John Dillinger was a legendary American gangster of the Great Depression era. He led a group of criminals known as the “Dillinger Gang“, who were accused of robbing 24 banks and four police stations. Dillinger was imprisoned several times but escaped twice.
A handsome devil with a mischievous smirk, Dillinger loved flirting with the press, and of course, they loved him back, cementing his place in gangster lore.
On April 20th 1934, Dillinger and his gang along with their girlfriends, arrived at the Little Bohemia Lodge for a weekend escape. Within 24 hours, however, their location was leaked to the FBI and the FBI (then known as the Bureau of Investigation – BOI) hastily arranged a raid. Long story short, the ambush was a complete debacle that left a Federal agent and a civilian dead and many more wounded. Not to mention every member of the Dillinger gang got away!
After the botched and incompetent FBI raid at Little Bohemia Lodge, the lodge became instantly synonymous with the Dillinger Gang and has latched onto its infamy ever since.
In fact, the Lodge’s tagline today is:
JOHN DILLINGER ONLY LEFT BECAUSE HE HAD TO!!!
Located off US Highway 51 in Manitowish Waters, Wisconsin, Little Bohemia Lodge is essentially in the middle of nowhere and you really have to watch for the entrance.
Set back from the highway down a long lane flanked by large pines, it’s no wonder the Dillinger gang choose this place as a R&R hangout/hideout.
It really is in the backwoods of Wisconsin, and that’s one of the reasons John Dillinger and the gang were able to escape: they simply disappeared into the thick forest.
Little Bohemia Lodge no longer offers lodging, but its restaurant is still fully functioning and draws diners from around the world (like House Crazy Sarah) because of its tasty rustic fare and place in American gangster history.
The owners of the lodge have kept a shrine of sorts in one of the former hotel rooms that is filled with mobster memorabilia, including clothing, toiletries and other items left behind by John Dillinger & crew in their hasty escape.
The lodge also still has windows and balconies riddled with bullet holes from the epic 1934 gun battle.
Preserving these bullet holes and embracing the lodge’s sordid past was a wise move on the owner’s part.
House Crazy was thrilled to see (and touch) the 80+ year old bullet holes that still pock-mark the trees around the lodge!
Little Bohemia Lodge gained renewed fame during the summer of 2008 when scenes from the movie “Public Enemies ” – about the final years of John Dillinger’s life – were shot on location.
Let’s go inside…
The lodge was built in 1929 by Emil Wanatka. It is set on a beautiful crystal clear lake and was once a fun family vacation spot for visiting folks from cities to the south like Chicago.
Astonishingly, the lodge has been kept in almost original condition since it was built some 90 years ago.
There is a long bar where locals still go to hangout and drink a cold one.
Apart from the bar, there are several large dining rooms, the best of which has windows overlooking the sparkling lake water.
This was where House Crazy Sarah sat when she visited on a hot August evening a few years back.
However, the most fascinating treat of the Little Bohemia Lodge is the preserved rooms on the upper floor that were damaged during the 1934 FBI shoot-out.
Protected behind glass barriers, the former hotel rooms are just as the Dillinger gang left them when they fled the barrage of gun fire.
The bullet hole damage is remarkable, but so is the 1930’s vintage décor.
The Little Bohemia Lodge is essentially a tribute museum that pays homage to one of the most notorious Depression-era gangster groups.
So if you are looking for a fun outing in a gorgeous location with a fascinating historic slant this summer, you should make the pilgrimage to Manitowish Waters in northern Wisconsin.
Little Bohemia Lodge is truly a gem in the hinterlands, and unlike John Dillinger, you can linger and enjoy your time there!
Ps….. Like historic gang hideouts? Check out Bonnie & Clyde’s Joplin Missouri Hideout!