Murder at Grand Island’s North Point Lighthouse

Murder at Grand Island’s North Point Light

This is how the Grand Island North Lighthouse appeared around the time of the mystery.

Something washed ashore at Au Sable Point near Grand Marais. It was June 12, 1908. A man named Van Dusen spotted a small sailboat along the shore near the light station at Au Sable. The mast was broken and it appeared to have been through some rough weather. He went up to the boat and looked in. Inside was the body of a dead man!

It looked like the body had taken a beating. The head had been beaten almost beyond recognition and the shoulders and neck looked broken and battered. The dead man wore the uniform of the Lighthouse Service!

Au Sable Point Lighthouse Light Keeper, Thomas Irvine, recorded the incident, “2nd Asst ret. 9 A.M. Mr. Wm Van Dusen of Grand Marais reported a Light House boat ashore with a dead man in her about 9 mile W. of Station. I sent 1st Asst to report it to Life Saving Station. Crew arrived here 9 P.M. I went up with them and brought boat to station. They took body to Gd. Marais. Man apparently died from exposure, as he was lying under the forward deck, foremast gone, mainmast standing. Boat was in good shape, only one small hole in her. I think it is from Grand Island Light Station.”

The body was identified as assistant lighthouse keeper Edward Morrison from the north Grand Island Light Station. How he had come to Au Sable point was a mystery. He was identified by a tattoo on his arm.

This is a picture of light keeper Morrison, the victim found in the boat near Au Sable Point.

The body was taken back to Munising and tales were coming in that the north Grand Island light had been dark for a week. The idea that Morrison died from exposure faded quickly. A group of Munising residents went out there to investigate. What they found made everything even more mysterious. The head light keeper, George Genery had completely disappeared. The supplies he had brought back from Munising were still sitting on the dock. As they made a search of the light, they found nothing out of the ordinary, things were meticulously in place. Genery’s coat was hung on a hook in the boathouse. Morrison’s vest was hanging on the back of a chair with papers and his watch still in the pockets. Of the three boats that were normally left at the station, and the story differs here, one sources says one was missing and another source says there were two. No one could understand what had happened.

The authorities began a search for the missing Genery, but he was nowhere to be found. There were some that said that they had seen Genery around the local bars in Munising drinking heavily, but none of these could be substantiated. Genery’s wife who was living in town claimed she hadn’t seen him either, but those that talked to her claimed she seemed unconcerned. The reason for this could be that Genery had a reputation of having a temper and wasn’t easy to work with. He required a new assistant every season since his appointment. The domestic life could have been rocky to say the least.

There are three basic theories that came out at the time to try to explain the events. The first theory is that the pair were murdered. The north point of Grand Island was another very isolated light station. The nearest neighbor was the Grand Island game keeper who lived seven miles away. He was the caretaker for William Mather’s game preserve that featured exotic game. Mather was the president of the Cleveland Cliffs Mining Company. When Genery and Morrison had been in town to pick up supplies, they had been paid. The pair was going back to the lighthouse with full pockets. The north light would have been an ideal place for a robbery.  It was known that the gamekeeper was feuding with the lightkeepers, claiming they had been poaching some of the exotic game. This could have been a profitable opportunity for him. He disappeared into Canada not long after the lightkeepers disappeared.

Genery is pictured here with his children. He was known for his anger issues.

The second theory and the strongest, is that Genery killed him. The scenario goes as follows: Morrison brought the wheelbarrow down to the dock to help haul supplies back to the station. The evidence of this is the hung coat and vest which would have had both men in shirt sleeves, warm from the work. Because of Genery’s personality and reputation, Morrison probably said something that set Genery off. In a flash of rage, Genery grabbed something like an oar or a shovel and beat Morrison’s skull in. To hide the crime he put Morrison in a boat and sent it out into Lake Superior, probably hoping it would never be found and he could say his assistant had deserted. Or he was out in the boat and was hit with the boom from the sail. Whatever he thought, he next went into Munising and went on a several day drunk. He then probably went home and when news of the body found at Au Sable came in, he fled.

Strangely, before he died, Morrison had sent his wife a letter who lived in Flint, Michigan. She received it four days after he had died. In  the letter he wrote, “Do not be surprised if you hear of my body being found dead along the shores of Lake Superior. He goes on to say that Genery was of a quarrelsome disposition and he thought there might be an “accident” if he were to oppose him.

The third is that they were out in the boat and the waves got rough. Genery fell overboard and Morrison lost his footing and was knocked unconscious. The subsequent battering of the boat killed him. This one seems to not make a lot of sense with the facts. Supplies left on the dock, coat not taken, just doesn’t fit this.

Several months after the murder a body was found on the shore of Lake Superior. Accounts vary as to exactly where, but some claimed it was Genery’s though it was never identified. Bodies discovered on the lakeshore was not an unusual occurrence and it still remains unknown whether it was Genery or not.

To this day the mystery remains unsolved. No one really knows what happened to the dead man of Au Sable point. Thomas Irvine, the light keeper that discovered the body was transferred from Au Sable in 1908.

 

Historical Pictures – Mackinac National Park 1875-1895

When Mackinac Island was a National Park

by Mikel B. Classen. Photos from the Mikel Classen Historical Pictures Collection

Mackinac Island view from the fort during the National Park era.

Every year Mackinac Island is inundated with tourists. The island in St. Ignace Bay has always been a focus of attention. After being the hub of the fur trade, the island saw a decline as fortunes dissapated in the early 1800s.  Being on the shipping path of the Great Lakes kept it alive and cruise ships began hitting destinations throughout the lakes and one was Mackinac Island. People started coming just to see it. The natural beauty, the history, it all beaconed visitors to the region.

This is an engraving that shows a very early Mackinac Island.

Not long after the Civil War, a U.S. Senator from Mackinac Island, Thomas Ferry, realized how much potential Mackinac Island had and introduced a bill in 1874 to designate the island as a National Park! It passed. In 1875, Ulysses S. Grant signed the bill into law and Mackinac Island became the nation’s second National Park after Yellowstone.

What Mackinac Island is truly known for, relaxing and enjoying a day.

One of the interesting things about the bill is that it designated the fort an active facility, so, the Federal government retained the fort with full funding in case it was needed for war.  Active duty military at the time would run drills on the fort grounds. Mackinac Island was now a bonafide destination for travellers. In 1895 the fort was decommissioned and the Federal Government was going to pull out. Then, Michigan Governor, John T. Rich, petitioned the Feds to turn over the fort and park to the State of Michigan which they did, making Mackinac Island our first Michigan State Park which is what it is now.

Another “View of the National Park” from the road looking back towards the fort.

All of the photos used in this come from a series called “Views of the National Park.” They came in both cabinet cards and stereoviews. These are examples of the few I was able to find over the years. The engraving came from a History of Mackinac Island published by the National Park. They merchandised the place quite a bit for the time.

This is the view of Mission Point during the National Park era. It still looks the same.

Fort Bayard Historical Site- Bayard – Grant County – New Mexico

When I drove into Fort Bayard, I didn’t know what to expect. There are so many sites where old west forts used to be that nothing actually remains of them other than a couple of interpetive signs. Fort Bayard is different. A large portion of this historical site stands for all to see. Located east of Silver City just off New Mexico 180, the fort is in the town of Bayard.

Founded in 1866, Fort Bayard was commissioned to protect settlers from Apache raids. The fort was garrisoned with a company of “Buffalo” soldiers, a troop comprised of African Americans, the 25th United States Colored Infantry Regiment. The name of the fort is in honor of Brigadeer General George Dashiell Bayard who was killed at the battle of Fredricksburg. In 1877, Corporal Clinton Greaves, commander of the fort and the buffalo soldiers, received the medal of honor for his campaign against the Apaches. A monument was erected to the Buffalo Soldiers.

In the 1880’s General George Crook, a soldier that had distinguished himself against Native American uprisings and it was his mission to put an end to the “Apache Problem.” General Philip Sheridan, who was coordinating the campaign to capture Geronimo, placed New Mexico Territory in the Pacific division which tied it to Arizona creating a jurisdiction among the western territories. In 1889, a former army scout known as the “Apache Kid” escaped from a prison stage headed for yuma and hid out in New Mexico. Lt. Colonel Zenas Bliss, Fort Bayard’s longest serving commander, was given the order to bring in the Apache Kid. The “Kid” would never be captured.

It was during this time that a young “Blackjack” Pershing was assigned here. Once Geronimo surrendered, it seemed Fort Bayard’s purpose was done. But, Fort Bayard had built a highly reputable hospital. It was decided to establish the Army’s first tuberculosis sanitarium and research center. Back then a sanitarium wasn’t for the insane, it was a place of rest and recovery. The reputation of the hospital and its staff prompted the decision.

Housing here was comfortable. Above is the nurses quarters which was roomy with common rooms and private quarters. The fort remained busy and fully garrisoned.

The officers also had comfortable surroundings. Above is one of the duplexes that were officers quarters. They were efficient and private, though they didn’t have any central heating. They didn’t have basements so they had to rely on the fireplace.

The quarters for the enlisted men were much smaller, though again not uncomfortable. Fort Bayard was made as comfortable as possible. The world of the fort can still be pictured. The soldiers can still almost be seen drilling on the parade grounds.

The picture above is an old theater. It held live performances as well as movies when they came into being. When I first looked at it I thought it was a church, but I spoke with one of the folks working there and they set me straight.

This is one of the Doctor’s quarters. Another duplex, these two story buildings we quite spacious and had plenty of room to raise a family. There was also a school at the fort. It was established to teach the “3 Rs” to the children of former slaves. In 1888 there were 118 students. This was the brainchild of Chaplin Captain Allen Allensworth who also established a library at the same time.

During World War II Fort Bayard was converted to a German prison camp. About 100 POWs were sent there and employed as maintenance staff because they were short due to the U.S. war effort. The POWs were paid army wages at the level of a private. The fort was abandoned after World War II.

Pulling in and learning a bit about Fort Bayard is well worth the time spent here. Driving or walking around can give a good picture of what life was like at this outpost. Fort Bayard was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2004.

Writing and photography by Mikel B. Classen. Copyright by Mikel B. Classen 2020.

For more information about Mikel B. Classen or his writing and photography visit his website at www.mikelclassen.com