Oct 17, 2016

Good and Bad Times in Vilas County

John and I now have a new appreciation for cranberry sauce and jelly after visiting Vilas Cranberry Company in Manitowish. At Thanksgiving dinner the turkey is the main attraction and cranberry a tasty little extra. The next time you have an Ocean Spray cranberry product think of the Vilas
Cranberry Company in Manitowish County - one of the major suppliers. Wisconsin is the nation’s leading producer of cranberries, harvesting more the 60 percent of the country’s crop. The cranberry is the state’s official state fruit and one of three native fruits commercially grown in the United States.  The pilgrims were introduced to the berry and its many uses by the Native Americans. Now it is an integral part of our Thanksgiving dinner.

On Fridays at 10 a.m. from July to late September Vilas Cranberry Company offers a tour where people can learn about the cranberry, how it is grown, harvested, and its health benefits. Contrary to popular belief, cranberries don’t grow in water. They grow on low running vines in sandy bogs and marshes. The fields are flooded to make it easier to harvest them. The bog is flooded with up to 18 inches of water the night before the berries are to be harvested. A water wheel, nicknamed an “egg beater,” churns the water to loosen the cranberries from the vines. Each berry has a little pocket of air so they float.  If the wind is right it will blow all the cranberries to one end of the field there they are vacuumed up and loaded into trucks to be transported to Ocean Spray.

Cranberries are not just for Thanksgiving. Cranberries are healthy. They have highest of all fruits in antioxidants which are thought to help support memory functions, coordination, and maintain a healthy immune system. Cranberries are cholesterol and fat free and low in sodium. 

Cranberries are not the only unique aspect of Manitowish County,
Wisconsin. It is where a famous shootout between John Dillinger, Public Enemy No. 1, and the FBI took place in April 1934 and where the Johnny Depp film, “Public Enemies” was filmed. John Dillinger, “Baby Face” Nelson, and their cronies thought they could hide from the law, specifically the FBI, in the Northwoods. It didn’t work.  Most likely Dillinger chose Little Bohemia Lodge as a “safe” house because he and the owner of the lodge, Emil Wanatka, shared the same lawyer. Resort owner Wanatka charged Dillinger $500 for the three-day stay which would be nearly $6000 in today’s standard. However, the reward for the capture of Dillinger was a whopping $10,000 – a lot of money in 1934. Wanatka waited until Dillinger paid him then
sent his wife to alert the FBI.  FBI agents including Special Agent Melvin Purvis led a botched raid on the lodge. A full-blown gun battle ensued. Dillinger and his gang members escaped but even today there are hundreds of bullet holes in the walls as a reminder of the event. Two people were killed, an FBI agent and a Civilian Conservation worker who was mistaken for one of Dillinger’s gang. A few months later Dillinger met his end in Chicago. Today
visitors can dine at the lodge, check out the bullet holes, and see some memorabilia. The Dillinger Pontoon Tour gives a “behind the scenes” look at the event. It was depression time and Dillinger became a folk hero to Americans disillusioned with failing banks and an ineffective government.