A State of Escape DVD

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Aired on Wisconsin Public Television, summer 2003...

Since people from Chicago and Milwaukee began vacationing in rural Wisconsin in the 1850s, presidents, entertainers, sports heroes, gangsters, and everyday people have traveled there, compelled by a basic human need to escape everyday realities. They've achieved "away-ness" by many different means in many different eras. And in their wake, Wisconsin has become a state of escape.

Beginning in the Wisconsin Dells, this one-hour documentary follows a century-and-a-half of escape from the cities. Large resorts like the ones at Devil's Lake in the latter 1800s were replaced by destinations further north like the Hotel Chequamegon in Ashland, the Big Sand Lake Club near Phelps, and remote fishing camps like Bent's Camp, north of Boulder Junction.We also learn that President Coolidge didn't spend his final months in the White House actually in the White House-he escaped to Wisconsin for the entire summer, mainly to trout fish on the Brule River.

Like Coolidge, we visit cottages on Lake Superior's Madeline Island where a group of Nebraskans have been escaping for over 100 years. We also see the magnificent getaway of Homer Galpin, a Chicago politician during the gangster era and hear about the gangsters who "escaped" to the northwoods in a very literal way.

Ninety-year-old Audrey Voss Dickerson, who's lived her entire life at the family resort near Manitowish Waters, recalls the wild northwoods of the 1920s and the halcyon days of King's Gateway, a Land O' Lakes resort where President Dwight Eisenhower, Bob Hope, Abbott and Costello, Sen. Joseph McCarthy and astronaut Jim Lovell relaxed.

Rare film footage from the early part of the 20th century and photos going back to the 1860s show us what life was like at Wisconsin resorts over the years. Home movies shot by Broadway greats Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne show how this avid fishing couple escaped north in the 1920s, '30s and '40s. African Americans from Chicago who've been escaping to their resort at Lake Ivanhoe since the 1920s tell us how much the open spaces mean to them. Finally, we see how escape from the cities has come full circle. In sports like sea kayaking on Lake Superior, snowshoeing and cross country skiing people seek out the rugged conditions that the first European visitors to the north were trying to escape from.