"[History is] a cyclic poem written by time upon the memories of man." -Percy Bysshe Shelley

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Carl Christensen & Baby Face Nelson

Like many Northwoods "old-timers," Carl had his own story to tell about the night that the FBI tracked down the Dillinger gang at Little Bohemia. Read on for Carl's part in the shoot-out!

Baby Face Nelson
We had been very busy, Ann and I. She was making sandwiches, she did a lot of that, sandwiches, and I was tending bar and everything else and we hadn’t even had a chance to eat anything because the people kept coming and coming and coming. So that was toward evening when two fellows walked in. They wanted to know if I was the constable, which I had been elected constable. I says, “Yes.” Well, they says, we need your help. We think we’ve got Dillinger locked up in Little Bohemia but in case they should get loose, we need you to go and show us how to set up road blocks, where we can set up road blocks and roads that were going out from there. So I says all right.

So I got my jacket on [now located in the Frank B. Koller Memorial Library in Manitowish Waters], and I had a pair of old shoes on and a cap. I says to Ann, my wife, I says we’ll be back in a little while and we’ll get a couple of sandwiches. We’ll make some for these men too and I’ll have something to eat. But I never got back. And you know the rest of the story from there on.

Dillinger & Emil Wanatka, owner of Little Bo
We stopped at Koerner’s to check a car out there. Baby Face [Nelson] was in that car and he shot Newman under the hat and also Brown [sic]* was shot right above his vest, through the throat, and he caught me with eight bullets. I never found out till after I was out of the hospital that George La Porte was walking back and forth with a rifle in the crutch of his arm. So I asked George one day what he was doing. Oh, he says, I was on guard, he says, in case they should come back. And another thing I found out was when Emil Wanatka was being held prisoner by Baby Face Nelson in that car, which was George La Porte’s Model T Ford and when Nelson saw us coming he got out of the car. Emil got out and he crawled into a snowbank and he had dark trousers on and Emil told me, he says, I tried to cover my pants with snow, he says, so he wouldn’t see me. I was afraid he was going to shoot me. So all that came out after I was out of the hospital. So the rest of the story that’s newspaper, you have that in my scrap book. [at the Frank B. Koller Library in Manitowish Waters]

Johnny Depp in the Little Bo scene in Public Enemies
After I came home from the hospital, we had a tremendous business. All the publicity, newspaper stories about me and everything else. We really had people stopping, curiosity seekers. They wanted souvenirs from me, and so on and so forth. I had postal cards made up with my picture on it and sometimes they’d buy four or five of them, take them along to give them to friends. I had that much publicity. So things were going along real good and we were taking in money and it was really, in those days, rich money, you know, good money. So I go out to Hank Coonan, he had promised me that if I could make good of that place there he would sell it to me when we first started in. So I says to Hank, I says, now I’m in a position, I says, I can buy from you, buy your share out, buy the building off you. Oh, no, no, he says, I can’t sell that, he says, that’s too valuable a piece of property now. Well, I says, if that’s the case then I’m just going to pull my share out. You can pay me off and I’ll pull out and you can get somebody else to run it. Which he did.

*While our transcript records the name as Brown, Carl Christensen most likely meant to refer to W. Carter Baum.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

the powell marsh fire

Powell Marsh went up in flames in 1932, and Carl Christensen was on the scene. Not only did he fight to contain the fire, but he survived it in a pretty amazing fashion when he seemed likely to be engulfed in flames! Read on...

That summer, they had someone out on Powell Marsh and they was gonna heat up a cup of coffee or something. They made a fire out there and they started Powell Marsh on fire. That fire swept up to the Powell Road. We fought with as much as we could fight with to keep it from going across Powell Road because it would have got into Manitowish and wiped out everything. So the wind went down and the fire died out, which was lucky for us, but on the other side, into the marsh, it kept going.

Powell Marsh today: a rather nondescript photo courtesy of the DNR

The life and times of Carl Christensen

Carl Christensen, entrepreneur and man of at least nine lives, moved up to the Northwoods in 1930. We will dedicate several blog posts to following his story, which he recorded on tape and which was subsequently typed up. Janelle and Annette recently uncovered it on the library's dusty shelves and have brought it to light. Here we'll enjoy a few excerpts, cleaned up a bit for easier reading!

Carl did his dictation in 1993. We hope you will come to enjoy his distinctive "voice" as much as we have.

I have to tell you how I came into Manitowish Waters in 1930. That’s 63 years ago. Height of the Depression and there was no work. I was a carpenter. No work, couldn’t get work, any kind.

I put an ad in the “Wisconsin Agriculture,” a magazine, saying that I would do carpenter work for anyone who wanted me for my room and board. Anyone that needed any remodeling or anything else, I would be willing to do it for my board and room. I got a letter from Chicago and we answered it. The letter writer had a resort up in Spider Lake Wisconsin [Manitowish Waters] on Rest Lake and he wanted someone that had a strong back to come up there and take care of it... I answered that letter and told him that I was just the guy he needed – I had a strong back and a weak mind. I got another letter from him that said to meet him at the Northwestern station in Racine. I had another partner that went along with me.

Everyone come to the dance

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

skiing skeeters


A follow up to our Fast Girls! Fast Boats! post. A few images of the Skiing Skeeters have come our way -- here are some for you to enjoy, too. See anyone you recognize? Let us know!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


A new MW Library History Challenge!

Do you know what's hot and what's not? Have you read recent bestsellers? Kept up on your classics? Look no farther than the quiz on the right-hand side of the page: Name That Book!

Winners may enter the library and receive adulation. Losers... you better beef up your reading!

For each quiz, you must correctly match the opening line to the author and book title. Good luck!

fast girls, fast boats

Fast girls! Fast Boats! Island Lake Manitowish Waters
Paul Lehmkuhl, volunteer extraordinaire, sent us this image of a vintage poster! Fast Girls! Fast Boats! We can only imagine "fast" girls had a less licentious meaning than the one that springs to mind ... although for those with a not-so-distant memory of the shenanigans of Hurley, WI, the double-meaning may be appropriate.