Caught In Time Northwoods Wisconsin Memories and Gifts
Back to Northwoods
Fond Memories ...
"Through all his difficulties,
Bill Yeschek smiled.
And through all his troubles
he always found time to listen to
the troubles of others and to do
everything in his power to
help them out of their difficulties.
People in financial difficulties,
people in need of aid and people
in need of work found him a
man who would always give up
his own work and take the time
to attend to their needs."
His "Love Affair"
the pines fringe the water's brink.
comes down to drink.
black bass leaps and plays.
the pools are at still.
and at night the wailing loon.
ghostly harvest moon.
campfire's cheery gleam.
greedy of the endless fray.
Flambeau wends its way."
The above was published in the Minocqua Times in 1939...and it describes well the late Bill Yeschek's (Sr.) continuing love affair with the north.
Bill Yeschek had journeyed to Lac du Flambeau in August of 1922 to join the thousands who came for the Third Public Land Sale on the Indian Reservation. At that time he purchased hundreds of feet of frontage on Big Crawling Stone Lake and started construction of the Crawling Stone Lodge.
Bill and Elsie Yeschek became a legend of their own. To best describe Bill, we quote an article in The Minocqua Times of 1938 after Bill had announced his candidacy for the Wisconsin Assembly.
"Bill Yeschek has been a summer resorter in this section since 1922 when he came here from Chicago, after a contracting career, to build his resort--Crawling Stone Lodge. He was completely sold on the possibilities on this country and built accordingly.
"His career as a resort operator runs much the same as the average in this section. With a big investment on his hands, he was soon to be faced by a major depression. How he worked and planned and figured to save his business is a community legend.
"Through all his difficulties, Bill Yeschek smiled. And through all his troubles he always found time to listen to the troubles of others and to do everything in his power to help them out of their difficulties. People in financial difficulties, people in need of aid and people in need of work found him a man who would always give up his own work and take the time to attend to their needs.
"In order to be of greater help to the people of his community, five year ago he accepted the office of town chairman. The results which he obtained for his needy people during the five years has been the marvel of citizens throughout the north, and the valuable improvements which he was able to arrange with continue to be assets of his community and country for years to come.
"Bill Yeschek has lived a life into getting things done and most generally for the other fellow."
Incidentally, Bill won the primary "big" and went on to the State Assembly.
Bill and Elsie Yeschek were never really bothered by the ups and downs of their lives. They loved life, and lived it to its fullest, surrounded by resort guest friends in the summer and local friends in the winter.
Bill Yeschek was considered a millionaire in 1919 at the age of 23. That was the year he and Elsie were married in Chicago, where he owned and operated his own real estate and construction business.
Bill was an avid fisherman, and had long heard tales of the spectacular fishing in northern Wisconsin; so when he heard of the public land sale in 1922, he headed north. He bought and bought and bought, until he owned practically the entire frontage of Big Crawling Stone Lake.
He started constructions on the Crawling Stone Lodge that year, and subdivided additional property into single lots for sale.
Elsie remembers being very disappointed with her first sight of the land. Instead of the tall pines that she had expected, she found only the scrubby second-growth; for the lumber barons had also done their job well in La du Flambeau, leaving the land almost barren.
While they built the magnificent structure that was to become the lodge (it had great, long porches on two sides, a massive lobby and dining room, each with its own fireplace, plus kitchen and bath on the first floor and 22 guest rooms on the second floor and 11 guest cottages) Bill and Elsie continued to live in Chicago. The second season of their operation they moved to the north permanently.
At first Elsie missed her friends in Chicago, and couldn't seem to adjust, but "after I became involved, I loved it." And involved she became. Both Elsie and Grandma Yeschek felt that the chefs who had been hired were unstable (Elsie's polite way of saying they were drunk most of the time)...and decided to take over the cooking. Grandma taught Elsie to cook, and it was the beginning of a career that was to bring hundreds gastronomic joy and established Elsie as "the best cook in the north." (Our quote, not Elsie's.) Elsie keeps saying, "my cooking is over-rated." Now into her 82nd year, Elsie still loves to cook. In fact she cooked for the Tower Restaurant until last January, and still continues to cook the meals for "The Weasels" who meet monthly during the summer at The Tower.
The Crawling Stone Lodge became not only one of the plushest resorts of the north, but the favorite of the Chicago politicians. In fact, one guest remarked, "we could call a Chicago City council meeting here and we'd have a quorum"
In one week in 1935, the Minocqua Times listed as among the guests at Crawling Stone: Martin J. O'Brien, Public Administrator of Cook County; Senator William Connors, Democratic Committeeman from the 42nd Ward; Edward Barrett, Illinois State Auditor; William Lynch, lifelong friend of Mayor Kelley; and Alderman Joseph Ross of the 46th Ward.
What was resort life like in those days: We sat and talked with not only Elsie Yeschek, but Lydia Wermich and Lorinda Paul, who had both worked for the Yescheks, and also Betsy Ross Judae, daughter of Dr. Joseph Ross, who vacationed at Crawling Stone each year for the entire summer.
As Lydia said, "every time I met someone who remembers the years of the Crawling Stone Lodge and the old Tower, they invariably say..."what ever became of the fun days?"...and fun days they were. These were the "roaring twenties" and the days of high living that preceded the great depression.
The rates at Crawling Stone were $25 a week...American Plan. Elsie cooked the meals and there was always homemade rolls, cakes, pies and other goodies. It was "all you could eat" and this even included late night snacks, for the refrigerators were always open to not only their guests, but their guests' friends. When explaining this policy; Elsie just said, "well that's the way it was in those days. We didn't wany anyone to go home with an empty stomach."
There was never any liquor or gambling at the lodge, but down near the shoreline they built the "Silver Rail," named after a bar in Chicago's loop that was owned by Harry Russell. This is where the action was for the adults. There was a bar, dance floor, slots, roulette, black jack, Chuck-a-Luck and a billiard room lined with white birch.
Although the children had their own areas of activities, they loved it down at the Silver Rail; for when those playing the slots became too tire to pull the handle, they would pay the youngsters to pull the handles for them.
The entire lodge was a children's paradise. They had stables for horseback riding; a complete playground with a long slide into the water, and tennis courts. Movies were shown once a week in the lodge lobby.
In addition to this, they held dances once a week, had wonderful costume parties, and those staying at the lodge were fortunate enough to watch the first Indian Pow Wows, for they were held on the lawns in front of the lodge around a great campfire; or in rainy weather, in the main lobby of the lodge.
Two events standout in Betsy's mind. She was allowed to travel by horseback each day to the Lac du Flambeau Post Office to pick up the mail for the lodge. "They would strap the saddle bag to the saddle and it had a lock and key. So after I carefully put the mail in, I would lock the bag, and run the horse back to the lodge. I felt is was a big responsibility to be carrying the United States mail."
The other event was the daily trip to the Dew Drop Inn. Betsy said, "you would rather die than not appear at the Inn for a sundae. All the young people from the area would meet there at 4 p.m. each day...and if you didn't go you were just out of the social whirl...and probably wouldn't have a date for that evening."
Dress at the lodge was something else. You dressed for meals, and you dressed formally. Betsy still remembers dressing to go boating with some young men. She always wore here blue angora sweater, her diamond watch and her cork sole platform shoes, it must have been spectacular.
Another woman who was a regular summer guest always dressed in riding clothes. She never rode, but when she would walk through the lobby, she would always kick the furniture to "scuff" her boots so that other guests would realize she was a true horsewoman.
Betsy also tells of one man whose daughter was afraid of minnows. Her father had a small area of the lake closed off with a fine mesh so that they couldn't get through...and it was here that his daughter played happily, never bothered by the minnows.
According to Betsy, "I could hardly wait to get up here every summer. It was better than home. I can still remember arriving with my father, who was active in his medical practice at that time, and the Indian women would be lined up waiting for him with their babies and any children that might have been ill. He and Dr. Torpy had been classmates and he pitched in and helped each summer." In later year Dr. Ross turned to politics, and after serving as alderman was the Illinois State Liquor Commissioner.
After the lodge was well established, Bill started construction of The Tower. It was begun in 1929 and completed in 1930. It included a bar, restaurant, information booth, garage, little store and a couple of gas pumps outside. Its popularity was immediate. They had the usual gambling devices and live entertainment.
Lydia Wermich started to cook for the Yescheks at The Tower in 1936, and confirmed that it was a busy, bustling place. "It was fun; but even more fun was the social life of all those who worked in the various resorts and restaurants, particularly in the winter. We all had an arrangement that on Saturday night we would all close but one. Then we would all gather in the one that was open and what fun we had. We'd go to Villa Venise on Squaw Lake, or Musky Jack's or the Illinois Tavern (now Mama's) or to The Tower to dance the night away. Some of us had worked 24 hours straight through, but we still went to the Saturday night parties."
Don't think all the action of the day was out of Minocqua. For from all accounts, Minocqua was also a booming town. Betsy can remember when the streets were so crowded between Curley's and the Belle Isle that you were knocked off the sidewalks half a dozen times. The Belle Isle was the main place to play the horses, and many a carload raced in from Crawling Stone Lodge to check their bets.
It wasn't only the politicians who visited the area in those days...the gangsters and syndicate men were here too. In fact, a famous Chicago mobster checked in a the lodge under an assumed name; and it wasn't until the Chicago Tribune ran a feature on him a few days after he left that they realized they had been in his company.
And Elsie remembered the night two seemingly nice young men came into The Tower, and Bill got to talking with them and became quite friendly. When he went to introduce them to a police captain from Chicago, they left immediately. They were apprehended the next day, and they learned that they were two kidnappers on the run from Chicago.
They were exciting times...and even prohibition didn't stop them. During prohibition the liquor came in from the Crandon area with no problem, gambling continued, and somehow everyone seemed to know when the federal agents were going to stage a raid.
Not everyone danced, drank and gambled the time away. Those who visited Crawling Stone Lodge were serious fishermen. Bill Yeschek Jr. acted as guide for many of them when he was a young man; but in the early years of the lodge Jack St. Germaine was the favorite guide. In a 1938 account of the Minocqua Times, Joseph Meyer, who was president of the Federal Fire Proof Storage company in Chicago, had caught 306 musky keepers in Big Crawling Stone in the 16 years the lodge had been open. Even more amazing is that he had thrown back 626 which were undersize.
It was definitely the good life, and though they both worked hard, Bill and Elsie were caught up in it. They felt, as did the rest of the country, that these times could go on forever.
It was not to be. The depression came, and the hard times eventually hit. Bill Yeschek lost most of his land on Big Crawling Stone, including the Crawling Stone Lodge. One can only image the heartbreak they felt; but Bill was forced into receivership and was forced to sell in order to be able to salvage anything.
The man who bought the lodge was unable to resell it, did not want to run it, and one day lit a match to it, and all that remained of Bill and Elsie's dream and hard work was a puff of smoke.
They remained undaunted, continued contributing their time to their community and their remaining money to any and all who were in need or trouble. It's the way they were built. "It was each come, easy go," according to Elsie, "but the pleasure it gave us couldn't be estimated in dollars."
And that was their life in the north. Giving...giving...Bill served as town chairman for nine years. He served in the State Assembly and he was friend and confidante to the entire Chippewa Band, and fought for them and their well being always.
Tragedy kept dogging Bill and Elsie, and in February of 1958 The Tower burned to the ground. Although it was eventually rebuilt, Bill never ran it again; even though Elsie returned again to her kitchen domain; and as we said, continued into January of 1977.
In 1967, Bill was killed in an auto accident, but his legacy remains...for Bill Yeschek became a legend. A legend of faith, courage and optimism, but most of all love.
He and Elsie had a love affair that never dimmed in their 58 years together, but Bill also had a love affair with his country, his community and his fellow man; and though he may not have left riches as most would describe them, he left a wealth of memories for Elsie, a heritage, and example for his son's Bob and Bill Jr., that few are fortunate enough to inherit.
All one has to do is watch the sparkle in Elsie's eyes as she talks of Bill to know their life together was truly beautiful, and she continues to live as Bill taught her--welcoming the world to her bosom.