The Launch of AMERICAN GETAWAY: 100 years of saints & sinners at Camp Wandawega

We are thrilled to finally be able to see this thing in print. 90 years worth of history, condensed to 100 pages…


This is the very strange, very true story of Camp Wandawega, Wisconsin: An American Getaway.

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DEDICATION: On the 90th anniversary of Camp Wandawega, this book is dedicated to all those who came before us.

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Prologue: Our Place 8
Part I: Wandawega Before 1925 16
Part II: The Wandawega Hotel (1925 – 1942) 28
Part III: Wandawega Lake Resort (1951 – 1961) 52
Part IV: Vandavega Days (1961 – 2003) 64
Part V: Camp Wandawega (Since 2004) 78
Epilogue: A Broader History 96
Credits + Sources 106

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“Camp Wandawega is a microcosm of the broader history of Wisconsin resorts. In a single property, you can see many aspects of the historical evolution of Wisconsin resorts in the twentieth century. The land speculation that gave rise to its initial development was indicative of a resort fever that swept the state in the 1920s as leisure time increased and the rapid spread of automobiles increased mobility and allowed people to leave urban centers to experience natural areas. Its subsequent ties to bootlegging and prostitution are evocative of the unexpected societal impacts of our failed Prohibition experiment and the penetration of the lawlessness into the most remote areas of the state due to its proximity to Chicago. The subsequent ownership of the property by the Catholic Church was a phenomenon found throughout Wisconsin’s resorting areas as resorts and summer houses became church properties and functioned as religious retreats because improved transportation infrastructure allowed the wealthy of the Midwest to travel to more far-flung and exotic locations. Its transformation into a summer camp was in line with a blossoming of summer camps in the mid twentieth century as urban dwellers sent their children to camp as a means to inculcate the values of rural life that they had experienced in their own childhood before seeking the economic opportunities found in larger cities.

Its incarnation as Camp Wandawega shows the increasing appreciation of historic preservation and the aesthetic, romantic, historic, and emotional power of a place that has stood against our seemingly relentless need for constant updating and change. Many resorts show one or two phases of this evolution, but what makes Wandawega special is that you see all of these aspects in a single site. Its extraordinary state of preservation allows each of the stories to be clearly seen in the physical fabric of the place, creating a powerful slice of time and place that transcends any of these single stories.”

-Wisconsin State Historic Preservation Officer, Jim Draeger

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“When she once again refused him, John Gabriele dragged Virginia Bodziach into a deserted alleyway and shot his ‘one true love’ to death.”

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“Their new enterprise at Lake Wandawega should be both a business venture and a kind of haven for the grieving family: the inn, busy with the flow of holiday seekers, and the land itself, a woodland refuge against the forces of sorrow and loss.”


“All manner of George-related mythology started popping up: He doesn’t age and can’t be killed; he’s a guardian angel; he’s killed three hundred snakes; I heard he was a ghost; I heard he was king of the woods; I heard he was the reincarnation of an old bootlegger who came here back in the ’20s.”


“In these frozen moments in time, a family gathers around a Thanksgiving turkey, teenagers goof off in row boats, and sunny young women pose for the camera in their best homemade dresses. A proud father holds up his son, old friends drink bottles of Wisconsin beer at a picnic table, and couples dance to the sound of summer songs that have long since faded into history.”


“In 1961, the lakeside property was consecrated and blessed by His Eminence Cardinal Archbishop Meyer of Chicago. The old resort rooms that had for so many years played host to bootleggers, mobsters, prostitutes, and corrupt officials were now the private retreat of holy men.”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Austin Sailsbury first went to camp as a young adult and a part of him, like so many lost summer socks, will remain there forever. Austin first wrote about his experiences at camp for Kinfolk  Magazine. He has contributed numerous adventure, humor, and travel stories to Kinfolk Magazine , RELEVANT Magazine online, and COLD NORTH  Magazine. American Getaway  is his first work of Wisconsin-based historical literary non-fiction but, (fingers crossed) not his last. He lives with his wife in Copenhagen, Denmark. You can learn more about the author and contact him at www.allwayfarers.com.

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The Devil is in the details: Each book from our initial limited edition series (limited edition is not for sale, sorry!) is perfect-bound, wrapped in a linen cover, wrapped in a linen dust jacket, secured with our own ‘Camp Wandawega tax stamp’ seal, then rubber stamped with a cancellation date.

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… then a vintage letterpress book plate affixed to the inside cover…

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… and finished off by tucking in a leather-foil stamped Wandawega Historical Society gold tasseled book mark.

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Then for our mailings to friends and VIPs, we’re wrapping each book in original 1920’s Wisconsin area Newspapers & shipping them off in our custom printed manilla Camp mailers:

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Want to learn more? Visit our not-for-profit website: WANDAWEGAHISTORY.org Want to buy your own copy of the standard book? You can download a PDF here or purchase a hardcopy here (blurb copies  are at a pass through rate- no charge from us) Please note the blurb books that you can order come in their standard gloss dust jacket (without all the fancy labels, stamps, etc. seen above). What’s shown above is a limited edition project that is not for sale, sorry!