A Tragedy in the Indian Crossing Casino’s Early History

Postcard of the Indian Crossing Casino, c. 1930 (Author’s Collection)

On the afternoon of Friday, April 12, 1929, Louis Wendell accidentally drove his automobile off the road into a telephone pole near West Bend, Wisconsin. He was driving to the Waupaca Chain o’ Lakes with Otto Wendell, his brother, and William Arnold, the former owner of the Indian Crossing Casino. Arnold had sold the business to Louis Wendell two months prior, and the three men drove to the Casino together on that April day. Both Otto Wendell and William Arnold died in the crash, while Louis Wendell survived.

This tragedy was a sorrowful incident in the Indian Crossing Casino’s otherwise joyous early history. William R. Arnold, a Chicago electrician, constructed the white and tangerine dance pavilion on the Indian Crossing channel in 1925 and operated it along with rental cottages, a boat landing, and swimming dock on Columbia Lake. Today, the word “casino” mostly refers to a gambling facility, but, historically, the word was used to describe any building intended for meetings, dancing, and/or entertainment.

The Casino instantly became the Chain o’ Lakes’ most popular attraction when it opened on July 4, 1925. Between 5,000 and 10,000 people attended the opening day festivities, which consisted of swimming and boat races, diving contests, and dancing accompanied by the Arabian Knights Broadcasting Orchestra of Chicago.

Arnold and his wife, Harriet, operated the Casino for four seasons, originally holding dances every night except Sunday the first summer, and then only a few nights a week during the following three summers. Arnold sold the Indian Crossing Casino to Louis Wendell and Paul Asplund, both residents of Chicago, on February 28, 1929.

On the day of the automobile accident, Louis Wendell, Otto Wendell, and William Arnold were traveling to the Chain o’ Lakes to transfer possession of the Casino and begin remodeling it for the summer season. Louis lost control of the car and crashed into a telephone pole after he hit a patch of dirt at the edge of the concrete highway. Arnold died on the way to the hospital and Otto died shortly after arriving at the hospital. 

Clipping from the Stevens Point Journal, April 19, 1929

Although being from Chicago, Otto Wendell’s funeral took place at the Holy Ghost Lutheran Church in Waupaca and he was buried in Lakeside Cemetery. William Arnold’s funeral was held in Chicago and several Waupaca residents traveled to attend. Arnold was buried at the Oak Woods Cemetery in Chicago. 

There is little evidence regarding Louis Wendell’s life after the crash. He continued operating the Indian Crossing Casino with Paul Asplund until October 14, 1930, when he sold his share in the business to John Martin. The Indian Crossing Casino went on to become a premier entertainment venue in Wisconsin until the 1970s, hosting the likes of Louis Armstrong and the Beach Boys.

Learn more about the Waupaca Chain o’ Lakes’ history of tourism by reading The Waupaca Chain o’ Lakes by Zachary Bishop that is available now! See the Publications page for more information.

6 thoughts on “A Tragedy in the Indian Crossing Casino’s Early History”

  1. Where will be able to purchase your book? As a Casino attendee in the 1970s, I’d love to have this book. As a side note, my parents met at the Casino in the early 50s!

  2. This sounds really intriguing. My family owned it in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s as part of Ding’s Dock. My dad is Joe Leean. I have fond memories of playing in the Casino and still enjoy the nostalgia of walking in their today even though my “ties” are long broken…

    1. Hi Miriam,

      Thanks for sharing your connection with the Casino! Your family actually provided me with great photos of Ding’s Dock, the Chief Waupaca, and other Chain attractions for my book. I am very grateful.

  3. My grandfather, Frank S. Hyer (former President University Wisconsin Sstevens Point and Whitewater)and my father, Frank P. Hyer owned the Red Cottage (shoredge) on Rainbow Lake then Sunset Lake. I spent at least 50 summers at the Chain, loving every minute. So familiar with the Casino with sooooo many memories. Nelsen’s, Ding’s Dock, Edmund’s, fireworks on Rainbow Lake, Esther Williams island, Camp Onoway, and so many “lake friends”. We remember JR’s sportsman Bar – I could go on and on.

    1. Hi Jayne,

      Thanks for sharing some of yours and your family’s connections to the Chain o’ Lakes!

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