My newest book, Faces, Places, & Days Gone By, is now available. The book contains over 100 historical pictures from my personal collection of Upper Peninsula images. The book is similar to what I’ve done over the years on this website with the historical pictures featured here. Each picture in the book features commentary and a look into Michigan’s past. Through the use of Stereoviews, cabinet cards, postcards and photo prints, there are photos from all corners the U.P. I will be carrying copies at my upcoming events including this weekend in Escanaba. This is one you won’t want to be without and it is suitable for all ages.
“With his book Faces, Places, and Days Gone By, historian Mikel B. Classen has achieved a work of monumental importance. Drawing from his collection of archival photographs, Classen takes readers on a journey in time that gives rare insight into a vanished world.” —Sue Harrison, international bestselling author of The Midwife’s Touch“
Mikel Classen’s Faces, Places, and Days Gone By provides a fascinating and nostalgic look at more than a century of Upper Michigan photography. From images of iron mines and logging to Sunday drives and palatial hotels, you are bound to be in awe of this chance to visit the past.” — Tyler R. Tichelaar, award-winning author of Kawbawgam: The Chief, The Legend, The Man
“Mikel Classen’s new book, Faces, Places, and Days Gone By, belongs in every library in Michigan. And when I say every library, I’m talking about every public, high school and college storehouse of knowledge.” — Michael Carrier, MA, New York University, author of the award-winning Jack Handler U.P. mystery series.
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.
The old buildings at the Whitefish Point Harbor are remains of an era gone by and a village that once was.
Whitefish Point in Chippewa County, Michigan, is known for a lot of things, not the least of which is the shipwrecks like the Edmund Fitzgerald that made the point famous. The lighthouse, which was one of the first on Lake Superior, houses the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum (For more on that, check out my book Points North). Whitefish Point also is the eastern boundary of the legendary Shipwreck Coast. All else seems to have gotten lost.
This is one of the old homesteads from Whitefish Point. One of the few remaining buildings.
Whitefish Point is actually one of the very early fishing villages on Lake Superior. As early as 1840, a small trading post and fish packing operation was set up by Peter Barbeau of Sault Ste. Marie. Barbeau had a general store where he would outfit hardy souls to establish posts along the shoreline on Lake Superior. They traded for furs and barrels of salted whitefish. Barbeau would then ship them out to places like Chicago and the east coast. Barbeau’s trading posts went as far as Minnesota. Whitefish Point was one he paid close attention to.
This old fishing boat sits next to the harbor another relic of the point’s past.
When the lighthouse was established in 1849, fishing here was going hard and heavy. Tons of barrel packed salted fish were being sent to the Sault every year from Whitefish Point. It was a very profitable enterprise. Occassionally the fish wouldn’t be packed right and the fish would spoil leaving Barbeau to smooth out relations and make amends.
This old band saw blade and belt are in the woods near Whitefish Point.
Though many have Whitefish Point’s beginnings at 1879, documents at the Sault plainly show that there was lots of activity here long before 1879, including some logging enterprises. Whitefish Point was used as a resupply point for the logging companies. There was a small population of approx. 60 people. There was a school and hotel. Also a general store and a post office was established. The population grew to 200.
The former Whitefish Point post office as it is today. It its earlier days it had a different front on the building.
One of the local commodities was cranberries. They grow wild in the region and eventually were cultivated. There were more than a dozen growers registered at Whitefish Point. There was a daily stagecoach that ran from there, south to Eckerman. It was a thriving community by all standards. But as time went on, it all faded.
Th Whitefish Point Lighthouse brings thousands of visitors to Whitefish Point and the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum which is housed in the lighthouse buildings.
Because of the Whitefish Point lighthouse and the life saving station, the village’s decline was a slow one. Fishing dwindled to one commercial fishery, Brown’s, which still is in operation. Most of the small town’s remains have disappeared but much of the property associated with the village is in private hands and still occupied as residential. But if one looks carefully, on the east side of Whitefish Point Road, between the harbor and the former post office, hiding in the trees, a few of the remaining relics of Whitefish Point can be seen.
An old fishing boat has seen better days as it sits being buried by the sands of Superior.
A turn into the Whitefish Point Harbor can be very rewarding. The harbor is shared by the State of Michigan and Brown’s Fisheries. There is a fence that divides the public land from the private. Brown’s Fisheries has old boats and buildings that date back to the early days of Whitefish Point and some of it can be seen from the parking lot of the Harbor. A couple of old fishing boats are beached on the shore and old storage barns are there too. It is a snapshot of not only Whitefish Point’s past but commercial fishing on the Great Lakes in general.
For a vision of the past, take a walk out towards the breakwall on the marina walkway. Go out as far as the last dock and turn around and look back. With the old fishing boats and storage buildings, the old dock, an image of the village of Whitefish Point appears, or a small part of it anyway.
The view of Brown’s Fisheries from the marina walkway showing what Whitefish Point would have looked like as a fishing village.
When visiting the lighthouse, it is good to note what was around it. A trip into the shipwreck museum leaves one with the idea that Whitefish Point is all about death and tragedy. It is so much more. It was a tiny place that provided food and lumber for the country in the harshest of conditions. It took people with tenacity and guts to face Lake Superior at its worst and create one of the earliest settlements. The village of Whitefish Point should be remembered alongside of its legendary lighthouse. It has its place in history too.
Sunset over Lac La Belle after a long evening of paddling. The air is still, the water is glass.
Lac La Belle/ Bete Grise – Keweenaw County – Michigan
A Point North
By Mikel B. Classen
The Keweenaw Peninsula in Michigan is a rough and rugged place. It is full of ghost towns, abandoned mines, lighthouses, waterfalls, and remarkable beauty. The discovery of copper there, turned it into a thriving region that made millionaires and then paupers of the same men. Communities were carved out of the Lake Superior wilderness and then died as quickly as they rose. Like many places in Copper Country, Lac La Belle rose as a community during the days of the copper rush.
But, long before the copper rush, the mineral had been mined and sought after. For thousands of years the natives had mined the soft metal, pulling it from the ground with their bare hands and then pounding it into ornaments and weapons. This early “copper culture” mined millions of tons throughout the Keweenaw Peninsula and Isle Royale. Near Lac La Belle, one of the largest archaeological finds of “copper culture” artifacts was discovered. Like those that came later, the copper of the Keweenaw was a commodity for the natives that gave them wealth and stature.
Lac, La Belle Marina. It is a public access for Lac La Belle and Lake Superior for the area.
Lac La Belle was dubbed “beautiful lake” by the early French trappers and lies south east of Copper Harbor on the Keweenaw Bay side of the peninsula. It is as far north as one can go on the east side of the Keweenaw Peninsula. The name “beautiful lake” still fits. Lac La Belle was probably long ago a part of Lake Superior because it sits so close the Beta Grise bay shoreline. It is overlooked by Mount Bohemia, one of the tallest of the Keweenaw mountains. Today the mountain supports a ski resort but over a century ago it supported much more.
A very grey Bete Grise bay on a very grey Lake Superior Day.
Bete Grise means “Grey Beast” and was supposedly given because of sightings of a strange unidentifiable grey creature that roamed the area. Another explanation for the name is that the Natives burned the blueberry bogs and the smoke hung over the lake and looked like a grey beast. My personal feelings are that it was given the name because on some days, Lake Superior can take on a dark grey look that can be frightening. I suspect that the “beast” is Lake Superior. Another legend of Bete Grise is that the sand at the beach here, “sings.” It is from a legend of a Native woman that lost her husband to Lake Superior and the noise from the sand is her calling to him. It is a kind of squeaking sound that the sand makes when you hit it hard with your hands or feet. I have noticed this phenomena along other parts of Lake Superior including Grand Sable Dunes and always thought it was pretty cool that you could make the sand squeak.
Lac La Belle is located on the east or “lee” side of the Keweenaw Peninsula. The west side, which includes Copper Harbor and Eagle Harbor, could see rough weather on a regular basis. It made it hard to ship copper from these ports due to Lake Superior’s unpredictability. Lac La Belle was connected to Lake Superior and Bete Grise bay by the Siby River, which no longer exists. A canal was dug and what used to be the river is now the Mendota Canal. It was an ideal port for shipping the riches of the Keweenaw.
Loading copper in the Keweenaw. This gives some idea of the amount that was being removed from the Peninsula. Though this wasn’t taken in Lac La Belle, it IS from Copper Country and Illustrates what Lac La Belle looked like at the time.
As early as the 1860’s Lac La Belle was looked at as an alternative harbor by the Mendota Mining Company which was mining copper and silver a few miles to the north. When it was dug, the lake became a hub of activity as a railroad was built connecting the area to mining throughout the Keweenaw. A smelting and stamp mill was built at the base of Mt. Bohemia and Lac La Belle soon filled with ships waiting to pick up loads of copper and lumber. Traffic was heavy enough that by 1870 a lighthouse had been established at the Canal mouth on Lake Superior marking the entrance to the harbor of refuge. The Mendota/ Bete Grise Lighthouse, it’s known by both names, still stands today. By the 1880s the region was thriving.
This is how the Mendota Lighthouse and and canal looked in its heyday. It still stands today with with a very different view.
Though mines were working in the surrounding hills, Lac La Belle was quietly being discovered for another reason. Fishing. The lake was teeming with perch, bass, pike, and walleye. Around the turn of the century, sportsmen became regular visitors to the area and as the mines played out and slowly died, Lac La Belle transformed. It became a place for sportsmen and tourists. Resorts grew up at the base of Mount Bohemia along the lake shore. It remains so today.
The tiny hidden community of Lac La Belle, is located in one of the most picturesque places in the Keweenaw peninsula. Nestled in the valleys of Mt. Bohemia and Mt. Houghton, the lake reaches towards Lake Superior. A channel allows the lake to flow out past the iconic Mendota Lighthouse located at Bete Grise harbor. Because there is no campground at Lac La Belle, few of the countless visitors to Copper Harbor venture down to this windswept point and see the eastern shore of the Keweenaw and of Lake Superior.
Outdoor Recreation Level: Expert. This pulled into the Gas pump at the Bear Belly Inn at Lac La Belle. I was impressed.
The small resorts surrounding the lake, some over a century old, are amazing places to stay. With private cabins and boat rentals, these places can provide a vacation that is comfortable and pleasant. I’ve found from experience, staying in these small resorts can be much less expensive than staying in a motel and in some cases less than a campground. Their comforts, most of them are fully functional cabins with baths, showers and dinettes, are those of a small home.
This is the cabin I stayin while in Lac La Belle. It’s a great place to come back to after a long day.
Haven Falls runs through the heart of the small community and is surrounded by a small but beautiful park. This little stop should be a part of any trip to the Keweenaw Peninsula. If nothing else, a picnic next to a waterfall and a lake is something you don’t get everywhere.
Haven Falls has a nice little park surrounding it that is an ideal place for a picnic.
Many of the resorts rent kayaks and boats. Lac La Belle is an incredible place to paddle. With both Mt. Bohemia and Mt. Houghton overlooking the lake, it is a sight only found in the Keweenaw. Through the canal and past the Mendota Lighthouse into Lake Superior is a memorable paddle. (Caution: the convergence into Lake Superior can be treacherous.) When I paddled it, there was little breeze and a calm sunny day. It was idyllic. I found myself periodically just floating, taking it all in.
Paddling Lac La Belle with Mt. Bohemia in the background.
When I got back into shore, I went to the Bear Belly Inn, next to where I was staying and had a cheeseburger and a beer. While I was in the area, I ate here a lot. An excellent place to eat and relax, it also sports a store and has gas. You can rent a boat or kayak here.
This is the interior to the Bear Belly Inn. Great food and beer here, especially their egg rolls.
The old railroad grades of the mining days are now ATV trails that crisscross through the peninsula taking riders into the depths of the Keweenaw wilderness through ghost towns and old mining ruins.
Instead of mining, Mt. Bohemia now supports a ski hill, resort, and an excellent restaurant. There is also a public beach along the Lake Superior shoreline. A drive to the end of the road, there is only one, will take you to the canal and face to face with the Mendota lighthouse on the other side.
The Mendota / Bete Grise Lighthouse as it appears today. Nearly enshrouded by pines it is now private property.
Lac La Belle has always been a favorite place of mine in the Keweenaw. The drive on the eastern shore of the Keweenaw, known as the Gay/Lac La Belle Road, is rarely traveled and reveals some of the nicest Lake Superior scenery of any drive. This tiny hidden place in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is one of the overlooked gems of Lake Superior.