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Escape From Al Capone Gangsters: The Story of the Hibbard's Hideout Refuge in Ely, MN

I live in Houston and love writing reviews of the local restaurants and stores I visit with family and friends.

Looking across the lake at Hibbard's Lodge from Keithan's cabin.

Looking across the lake at Hibbard's Lodge from Keithan's cabin.

True Story

What do the State of Minnesota, the words escape and refuge, the gangster Al Capone and the City of Ely have in common? Stay tuned to hear about the spunkiness of two people that my grandparents first met and got to know many years ago.

This story all started back in the days when Al Capone's gang solicited payments from store owners in Chicago for "protection." It was sheer blackmail, and the store owners knew it, but most felt pressured to give in rather than incur the wrath and destruction that might occur if they refused.

George and Minn Hibbard were the proprietors of a store in Chicago, and when they were approached by Capone gang members and ordered to pay protection money, they refused!

One business day, some gang members came into their store and blasted them with bullets. This shooting was their first warning. Minn was injured, but George was pretty severely wounded. Often, gang members would start fires, and businesses would burn to the ground for stubborn business owners who refused to make payments.

When exiting the store, the shooters told the Hibbard's that if they testified against them in a court of law, they would not survive the experience. No one, even the Al Capone gangsters, could threaten this most spunky of couples! Testify they did, and the gangsters went to jail. But George and Minn Hibbard knew that their lives were now endangered, and they decided to leave Chicago behind them.

Their New Life Begins

Fleeing for their lives, the Hibbard's decided to get as far away into a remote area where gang members would probably not follow them for the threatened retribution of testifying against Capone and his gang.

According to what they told my grandparents and later us, they eventually made their way to Ely, Minnesota.

Gravel and dirt roads leading back into their place (as I got to see in 1967) did not yet exist back then. Supposedly they had to carry their belongings and do some portaging (walking overland with their canoe and possessions between waterways) and finally settled near a beautiful lakeside location that would later become their home and eventual business.

The first winter, they lived in a tent!

Fast Forward

One summer, between college sessions, I got to drive Minn Hibbard up to her home in Ely from McAllen, Texas. Looking at a map of the mid-section of the United States, this trip traversed roadways from about as far south (near Mexico) as one can get to the opposite northern extreme.

Primarily waterways and spits of land and islands separate Minnesota from Canada in this northern part of the country.

Her husband, George, had already died. Hibbard's Lodge, a deluxe fishing resort, had already been sold. What remained was the log cabin home built on the banks of Moose Lake.

Many "Finlanders," as Minn called them (people coming from Finland), did the construction work in years past, building and designing the log cabins, lodges, and many other structures using the native trees and rocks found in that part of the country.

Her home had the most unique and beautiful naturally curving wooden railing leading up to the second floor. It was crafted from one branch of a local tree. Sadly I no longer remember the type of wood but the beauty of it all polished up remains within my memory.

Naturally, I got to see the Lodge, and just like her log cabin home, the Lodge was of a similar design. The massive stone fireplace in the Lodge was gorgeous and would have warmed many bodies through the years when lit and glowing. The smaller one in her home was also inviting, and she was well supplied with wood for the warming and crackling fires.

During the days, I hiked in the woods. Sometimes I took her boat out onto the lake and rowed to my heart's content while singing.

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It was a lovely glimpse into the life of these folks who had worked hard and rebuilt their lives after their Chicago experience. They had developed a regular clientele for their Hibbard's Lodge.

Because of the seasonal nature of their work and the weather in Ely, Minnesota, they had winters to relax. While vacationing, that is where they had met my grandparents and other friends who were also vacationing in McAllen, Texas. When they all retired down there years later, they maintained their friendships.

Below is a photo from a brochure from Hibbard's Lodge.

You can tell from these prices just how old this brochure must have been when the Hibbard's were in business.

Today there are many Lodges in that part of the country, and most of them are probably still of a rustic nature that would blend in with the natural scenery found there.

Ely, Minnesota

As a side note, when one of my brothers became an Eagle Scout, his boy scout troop went canoeing in the waters around Ely, Minnesota. This wonderland up there consists of the Superior National Forest and the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. There are multiple trail-heads and canoe portage sites.

Crystal clear waters and unpolluted air are a delight to the senses. There are over 1,500 miles in which one can canoe on waterways consisting of 1,000 lakes and streams. Numerous campsites are available. Wildlife is abundant. The population of people remains small.

It is no wonder to me that the Hibbard's not only sought refuge in Ely, Minnesota, to escape Al Capone's gangsters but that they fell in love with the place. If you are looking for a pristine area of the country to visit, this just might be the place you are seeking!

Ely, Minnesota


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2009 Peggy Woods

Comments are welcomed.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on October 10, 2020:

Hi Mike,

It would be fun to be able to see that video. Thank you for thinking of me. It is amazing how many people have viewed this article through the years. I hope you are faring well during this pandemic. Stay safe!

mhlong on October 10, 2020:

Hi again, Peggy. Unfortunately I can't answer Sarah's questions, but I just finished looking at a video on the internet, about 40 minutes discussing the history of Hibbard's Lodge and Moose Lake, I assume by a Kent Worley. It was made in 2015, 5 years ago, and it's a shame I didn't see it sooner. I'm sort in contact now with Kent through another person. It was interesting in that they got many things right about some of the history, but some things not quite how I was told by Art and Min, my grandparents, and my mother all who were there through a lot of it (and some actually written down in diaries that my grandfather kept). And it was sort of interesting that no mention of this website was made at the time. Anyway, I just got back a copy of that video I made back in 2011 (and had lost the master), so if you're interested (it's about 40 minutes with lots of pictures some of which have been used here), I'll send you a copy.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on January 26, 2019:

Hopefully, someone can answer these questions from Sarah who contacted me directly via HubPages. Here is what she wrote:

Do you know who currently owns the log cabin?

I own a liquor store in Ely that Big Tom Brown rented from my grandparents..from 1946 to 1952. I will be transforming it back to the era and making it a destination to visit. Do you know if the Hibbard's and Tom Brown were acquainted? Please let me know...thank you. I believe I've been in that cabin on Moose Lake. And have pictures...

Another question, have you ever heard of anyone talk of the lake called " gangster lake"? Out the Fernberg or up the Echo trail..?

And have you read the book Secret Partners... by Tim Mahoney..super good about the Mobsters coming north..from here to Crane Lk... Also the book John Dillinger Slept Here is excellent too.

If someone reading this can answer her questions, I am sure that she would appreciate it.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 04, 2018:

Hi Char,

I am glad that your question was answered by Mike. He was able to fill me in on information that I never knew and some of these photos also came from him with his permission to use them. Thanks for your interest in this article.

Char on July 04, 2018:

Thanks for Mike getting back in on the conversation. I'm sure this will answer my sister's question about Bob. This is the one she was asking about.

Thanks again and thanks for the memories restored.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on June 23, 2018:

Hi Mike,

I was hoping that you would check in and see this question from several people who wanted to know about Robert or Bob. Hopefully that answered the question for them as to what might have happened to him. Hope you are doing well.

mhlong from Southern Michigan on June 23, 2018:

Oh, I should also mention that I know of 6 children that George and his 1st wife had (he had none with Mina that I know of), none of them are named Robert. And I am in contact with one of George's grandchildren.

mhlong from Southern Michigan on June 23, 2018:

Hi, again, this is Mike Long (or rather Michael Hibbard Long), grandson of Lewis Hibbard. Both George (we called him Uncle Art) and Warren Hibbard were my grandfathers brothers. Warren was Robert's father . My mother called him Bobby and his sister Helen, Dodie, as she and they were cousins and spent time together as children. Bobby passed away around 2004 and his wife sometime later. They lived in the Cleveland area but Bobby moved to California in his later years. They had two children, Warren and Roberta. My mother kept up a correspondence with Roberta and I have a picture of two of her from about 15-20 years ago. My mother passed away 3 years ago and I contacted Roberta but I never heard back. I also contacted Dodie's daughter but I also never heard back. I hope that's the Robert being asked about, but I can't tell if it's also the 'Bob' in the later message. Best I can offer.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on June 21, 2018:

Hi Arlene Krause Childers,

Hopefully some of the people that experienced living, visiting or working up there and/or were related to George Hibbard will come back and see your question and be able to answer it. I hope you get an answer.

Arlene Krause Childers on June 21, 2018:

Hi there I worked there in 1945. 46 and 47 and I know the girls from Alexandria. I was wondering if you know the whereabouts of Bob? Thank you

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on June 20, 2018:

Hi Char G,

Growing up in Ely must have been wonderful. It is such a beautiful area! That appleless apple pie recipe is an old one. I remember eating it and it really did taste a lot like apple pie. If you want the recipe just Google Ritz Mock Apple Pie. It is easy to make.

Char G on June 20, 2018:

Born and raised in Ely. It was a wonderful place to grow up. I am the youngest of 6 with 4 of us still living. The one recipe I recall hearing about was an appleless apple pie. The Hibbards did a great job of this recipe. I don't recall ever having it. I would get to go with my dad to visit Mom on Sundays. There was a strike in the mines so that is why Mom was working there.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on June 20, 2018:

Hi Char,

The fact that so many of your family members worked at the Hibbard's Lodge is interesting. Did you live in Ely, Minnesota or somewhere nearby?

Char G. on June 19, 2018:

I just found out that one of my 4 brothers also did work there. He of course took care of boats, etc.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on June 17, 2018:

Hello Char G,

That is interesting that both your sister and mother worked for the Hibbards at their lodge in the 1940s. I am glad that they enjoyed the people and the food. As to knowing what happened to Robert Hibbard, I have no idea as I never knew him. Perhaps other people reading this might be able to help you.

Char G on June 17, 2018:

Both my sister and mother worked for the Hibbards in the 40s. They loved working there meeting so many great people and the food was wonderful. Does anyone know what ever happened to Robert Hibbard, the son?

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on June 10, 2018:

Hi Lynn Keck,

That is interesting that your grandmother was Minn's sister. I know the Hibbard's Lodge was sold but I am assuming that their home might still be there. It was a beauty! Nice to hear from you.

Lynn Keck on June 10, 2018:

What a great article. Growing up I heard this story a lot from my parents and aunt and uncle. My Grandmother was Minnie’s sister and she lived in Alexandria, MN. The pics are great, too bad nothing remains, I never did get to go there. I had forgotten a lot of the details until I read your article. I now live in NM and happen to have some Capone descendents in my town!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 07, 2017:

Hi Colleen,

I contacted Mike Long and gave him your email address. George Hibbard was his great uncle. He also has a distant cousin who was a grandson of George Hibbard. Mike told me that he would be contacting you as well as his cousin regarding your request. Hopefully this will help in your search. Thanks for leaving a comment. Please let me know if this works. Best wishes!

Colleen L. on November 06, 2017:

My mother worked at Hibbard's Lodge around 1947 as a teenager. She has many memories and many photographs of visitors to the lodge and other young men and women she worked with there. My mother and I would love to get in touch with some other former employees (families) or relatives of the Hibbards. Thanks for your post.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on August 12, 2015:

Hi Au fait,

Interesting that you grew up living so near one of Al Capone's lieutenants and that your dad was once offered a job. Good thing that he was not lured by money alone and turned it down. All of your lives may have turned out very different had he accepted that offer! Of course he may have ended up dead or in jail!

Wisconsin and Minnesota are both beautiful states among others. This country of ours is jam packed with beauty! Thanks for the shares.

C E Clark from North Texas on August 11, 2015:

Gorgeous photos! I grew up in central Wisconsin not that far from the north and it's similar in WI as it is in MN. Well, you lived not far from me, so you know what I'm talking about.