Wandawega has quite the “once upon a time.” These grounds have hosted everyone from sinners to saints (the jury’s still out on you). Learn more at the Wandawega Historical Society.
Chicagoans seeking to capitalize on the opportunity presented by Prohibition build Wandawega Hotel.
The place is outfitted for the distribution of liquor, prostitution and gambling. We’re talking multiple exits, trapdoors and hidden hatches to conceal stockpiles. After a Federal raid in 1931, the place is temporarily shuttered by a “Prohibition Padlock.”
"A Bawdy House of Ill Fame"
Although Prohibition comes to an end, the demand for ladies of the night, gambling and bootleg liquor does not. The tavern (nicknamed Orphan Annie’s after the madame herself) is a popular hangout for a cast of characters including criminals on the run, local law enforcement, and Chicagoans hankering for some debauchery. In 1942, Anna Beckford Peck is finally sentenced and sent away to Taycheedah, the womens’ prison near Fon du Lac.
Wandawega Lake Resort
By 1951, the place finally goes legit when it is renamed Wandawega Lake Resort by its new owners, the Andrzejewski family from Chicago. With the ladies of the night banished, the modest resort becomes an idyllic getaway for Chicagoans looking for a convenient, affordable retreat. The bar is re-opened and serves as a popular hangout for guests and the growing year-round community.
As the brochure said, “our Polish Style Cooking has brought us fame far and wide. We serve the choicest cuts of meat. Our vegetables and produce are obtained from the local countryside assuring you appetizing, wholesome properly seasoned foods.”
The Catholic Church
In 1961, the property is purchased by the Catholic Church and blessed by His Eminence Cardinal Archbishop Mayer. The reins are handed over to Reverend Boleslavs Baginskis of The Latvian Marian Fathers. Latvian priests who fled war-torn Europe and are unable to return home due to the Soviet occupation intend to turn “Vandavega” into their retirement home.
Latvian Church Camp
The old resort becomes a summer gathering place for Catholic Latvians seeking to maintain a sense of community some 4,500 miles from their native land. The industrious moms organize an informal kids camp every summer, complete with swimming, hiking, fishing, crafts, campfires and a morning flag-raising followed by calisthenics. The current co-owner, David, and his family spent their summers here.
The Resurrection Begins
With the Soviet Union dissolved, the Vatican instructs the Marian Fathers to sell the retreat and return to Latvia. By purchasing it, David and Tereasa keep the property in the extended family, so to speak, and restoration begins — a labor of love that continues to this day.
The Story Continues
Come experience the current chapter in our living history.
American Getaway Podcast: Coming Soon!
American Getaway: The Very True, Very Strange Story of Camp Wandawega, is a six-part audio series that will be available to stream and download on Spotify and Apple Podcast from May 4, 2022. This limited series tells the stranger-than-fiction story of an infamous lakeside property in southeastern Wisconsin that was once a brothel and speakeasy before later transforming into a family resort, a Catholic retreat center, and a summer camp. Today, the property is owned and operated by a Chicago couple, David Hernandez and Tereasa Surrat, and is listed on the Wisconsin Register of Historic Places.
Brothel, speakeasy, hideout, refuge, summer camp.
For the past 100 years, what is now known as Camp Wandawega has been many things to many people: a speakeasy, a brothel, a hideout for Chicago mobsters, a resort, a summer camp, and the site of a gruesome murder-suicide. Tucked away on the shore of ‘a little lake that no one has ever heard of’ in southeastern Wisconsin, Camp Wandawega has seen it all: from bootleggers to bad cops, priests to prostitutes, hippies to hipsters, as well as flappers, fanatics, and families on vacation.
Now, for the first time ever, Wandawega’s stranger-than-fiction story is being shared as a six part audio experience. Inspired by tall tales told around the campfire, American Getaway blends history, humor, mythology, and music to tell a uniquely American story. Populated with an eclectic cast of characters, including a radical prophet, an infamous madam, a Russian con man, a murderer on the run, a ghost in the woods, and a panhandling racoon, this is a story filled with mystery, scandal, and good old American opportunism. And yes, it’s also a story of hope, of nature’s power to inspire and change us. It is a story of generations of men and women, boys and girls who have come to the shores of Lake Wandawega – whether for virtue or vice – hoping to get away from it all. These people have come here to leave the workaday world behind and enter another, greener and wilder world. This is their story.
This is the very true, very strange story of Camp Wandawega, an American Getaway.
American Getaway was produced, written, and narrated by Austin Sailsbury. It was directed and recorded by Lars Hauschildt and edited by Chad Michael Snavely at Sound On Studios in Nashville. It features instrumental music by Philip Bowen and new recordings of classic American songs by Joseph Bradshaw, Casey Chambers, Beau Jennings, and Robyn and Cory Quintard.
Special thanks to David Hernandez and Tereasa Surratt and the Wandawega Historical Society.
Our History: "American Getaway" Book
90+ years worth of history, condensed to 100 pages…
A SWEDISH MADAM.
A MURDERER ON THE LAM.
THE GHOST OF THE LAKE.
KIDS IN CANOES.
A RUSSIAN GANGSTER.
AND A CHEEKY RACOON NAMED GEORGE.
This is the very strange, very true story of Camp Wandawega, Wisconsin: An American Getaway.
Want to buy your own copy of American Getaway? You can download a PDF or purchase a hardcopy (blurb copies are at a pass through rate – no upcharge from us) They come in their standard gloss dust jacket (without the fancy labels, stamps and bookmarks shown in the photos of our limited edition run).
Meet the Proprietors
Proprietors? That’s too fancy of a word to describe David and Tereasa. More like reluctant innkeepers. When they purchased David’s childhood getaway, their main goal was to preserve it. In someone else’s hands, the old buildings and cabins would have been pushed over to make room for cookie-cutter lake houses (the last thing the world needs). Instead, they wanted to bring Wandawega Lake Resort back to its former modest glory. It was always a place where folks could reconnect to the simpler pleasures of a simpler time, and that IS something this world needs.
By day, Tereasa is a Creative Director at Ogilvy & Mather. In her spare time, she’s an author, a stylist, a contributing editor and a flea market junkie. David is a former Executive Creative Director at Ogilvy, founder of The Royal Order of Experience Design, and is proud to serve as Chief Creative Officer at The Allstate Corporation. An avid preservationist, he also serves on the board of the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust. When David and Tereasa aren’t fixing up old buildings, they can be found rescuing old cars, trucks, boats and trailers. Breathing new life into other people’s unwanted stuff is kind of a thing for them.