Image: film crew films the movie "Public Enemies"
Morry Gash  /  AP
A crew films the movie "Public Enemies", starring Johnny Depp, in downtown Columbus, Wis.
updated 4/30/2009 3:27:50 PM ET 2009-04-30T19:27:50

John Dillinger: America's most notorious criminal or Robin Hood of the Great Depression?

It doesn't matter to the Wisconsin Department of Tourism, which wants people to visit Wisconsin locales related to his gang's time here in the 1930s and the movie filmed in the state, "Public Enemies." It stars Johnny Depp as Dillinger.

The movie doesn't open until July 1 but Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois and Arizona are readying for the onslaught of attention related to the film, which features Dillinger's escapades through those states.

The Wisconsin tourism department has created itineraries on its Web site of state locales from the movie and of those related to other notorious criminals, such as Al Capone, as well as an illustrated map and video guide.

"Visiting the old battle sites of the war on crime, it's eerie," said author Bryan Burrough, whose book "Public Enemies, America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI 1933-34" was used to help craft the screenplay for "Public Enemies."

"Almost all these places still exist," he said. "A few of them have historical markers, but ... if you walk down the pavement where Dillinger was killed, you would never know. You would have had to read a book or know something about Dillinger."

Universal Studios and the group that promotes filming in Wisconsin, Film Wisconsin, also plan movie premieres and parties June 30 in Oshkosh, Madison and Milwaukee — where crews filmed.

"Public Enemies" director Michael Mann filmed in the Midwest where Indiana-born Dillinger's gang killed 10 men, wounded seven, robbed banks and police arsenals, and staged three jail breaks, according to the FBI.

Crews filmed in Manitowish Waters, Wisconsin Dells, Columbus, Darlington, Beaver Dam, and around Mirror Lake in Wisconsin, and Crown Point, Ind., Chicago and Los Angeles.

Depp stars as Dillinger, and Christian Bale co-stars as FBI agent Melvin Purvis. Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard is Depp's love interest, Billie Frechette.

One of the most dramatic events happened at Little Bohemia Lodge in northern Wisconsin in April 1934. Dillinger and his gang went there to relax and hide from the FBI, but a family member of the owner told the FBI. Agents staged a disorganized and disastrous raid, firing hundreds of bullets. An FBI agent and a bar patron were killed and another FBI agent, a constable and two other guests were wounded. Dillinger and others jumped from a second-floor window and escaped through the woods.

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One of the few people still alive who was there is Emil Wanatka, 83, who now lives in Ashland, Wis. He was 8 when the six men and four women came to stay at his father's lodge and restaurant. He remembers playing catch with Dillinger and George "Baby Face" Nelson and having to end the game because Nelson threw too hard.

He said Dillinger gave him a quarter so he could buy everyone ice creams at an upcoming birthday party. He didn't realize the men's identities until he heard about the shootout the next day.

Wanatka, who later took over the business for 31 years before selling it, said the lodge's history helped business, with "Bullet hole customers" coming to see the holes — still visible today.

"All the other things that have happened in the world and .... this has just never died," he said.

"It's been part of my life ever since I can remember," he said.

He is mentioned in Burrough's book, but he doesn't know if he will make it into the movie. He was on set last summer and took a photo with Depp and other cast members.

Officials plan to go all out in Oshkosh, where tourists spent an estimated $3.5 million during more than three weeks of setup and filming, said Wendy K. Hielsberg of the Oshkosh Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The Oshkosh Public Museum will educate visitors about Depression-era crime with an exhibit called "The Era of Public Enemies: A Wave of Crime in a Troubled Time." Artifacts include Dillinger's death mask, a vintage Thompson submachine gun and a hat worn by Depp during filming. It runs June 27 through Oct. 18.

Crews filmed in two downtown buildings and in an airplane hangar at the EAA AirVenture Museum, Hielsberg said., Hielsberg said.

Hielsberg said a gallery walk on July 4 will include photos and artifacts from filming. Extras will dress in period costumes. They also will open the bank vault where crews filmed, and provide maps and spot markers showing visitors filming locations.

Other places with possible movie-related events:

  • The Biograph Theater in Chicago is now a live theater called Victory Gardens Biograph Theater. Spokesman Jay Kelly said they hope to run 1934's "Manhattan Melodrama" around the time "Public Enemies" opens. Dillinger was watching the film on July 22, 1934, at the Biograph before he walked out and FBI agents shot him to death.
  • Dillinger and others were arrested Jan. 22, 1934, after a fire at the Hotel Congress in Tucson, Ariz. They reportedly paid firefighters to get their guns and money but firefighters recognized them. David Slutes, entertainment director at Hotel Congress, said the hotel is having a Dillinger renactment, drink specials, a band and a tour of the hotel the day the movie opens.
  • The city of Crown Point, Ind. — where Dillinger broke out of jail in March 3, 1934 — is featuring films that star "Public Enemies" cast members during its "Movies In the Park" series this summer. Also, the old sheriff's house and jail, one of the film's locations, will be open for tours this summer.
  • At the Indiana State Library in Indianapolis, the Indiana State Archives and others are putting on "Dillinger! Forging a Hoosier Legend" after the movie opens. The exhibit will feature Department of Correction files, mug shots, investigative documents and information about the jail escape.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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