From Prohibition-era brothel to 1950s lake resort to 1970s summer camp for the children of Latvian Catholics, Camp Wandawega’s been working its woodsy magic on all kinds of folk for almost ninety years now.
In its current incarnation, Wandawega’s the semi-private playground of two Chicago-area advertising execs who open up their Moonrise-y Kingdom for wedding parties, clothing catalog shoots, and corporate retreats. Lower-key kids like me just looking for some outdoorsy fun in a Pinterest-worthy paradise can book left-over nights/cabins/beds through AirBnB.
Hurly and I and our niece/honorary daughter Kaya booked a Wednesday through Friday stay in the three bedroom “Raccoon” cabin.
But we were the only guests at the camp the first night, so our host Joe took us on a lengthy historical tour of every cabin, every guest room, every tree house, every pup tent and every tepee on the site and said we were welcome to sleep wherever we wanted.
We ended up sleeping in our assigned cabin both nights, but we napped indulgently one afternoon in the American Indian tepee, and Kaya helped herself to what we goofily called a “hooker’s bath” in the women’s restroom at the old brothel, and we wandered all around Wandawega freely, wowed by the wall-to-wall antiques which were just begging to become the backdrops for photoshoot after faux-catalog-style photoshoot.
We enjoyed plenty of un-posed fun too, scout’s honor. From shuffleboard to board games, hatchet throwing to canoe rides, we did everything the spirits in Lake Wandawega could’ve wanted us to.
Everyone’s favorite activity was swooping over the lake on the two rope swings. One had a wooden plank on which you could sit and sorta relax. The other was Tarzan-style, set-up for shooting yourself out and into the sorta scarily shallow waters.
From the fonts on the front gate, to the travel-sized soaps set atop your beach towels, every aspect of Camp Wandawega resurrects the retro charm and hospitality honed during the golden age of American road-tripping and long since lost.
There’s even an old-school souvenir vending machine from which I picked out a Wandawega motor-lodgey keychain and Hurly and Kaya selected an Indian arrowhead necklace.
By artfully assembling in one place all the Kodachrome-y, memory-building traditions that family vacations should be made of, as Camp counselor/curators David and Tereasa have, my little troop’s settled on making summer trips to Wandawega a tradition of our own.
Next time I hopefully won’t travel three hours back toward Minneapolis before realizing I’ve left my military duffel bag full of Teva’s and T’s from Hickorees back on the bunk beds at our Wisconsin summer home-away-from-home. (D’oh!)