“Death at the Lighthouse” by Loren Graham (Arbutus Press, $29.95) is an unusual, intriguing look at an unsolved crime that took place in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula over a century ago.
“Subtitled: “A Grand Island Riddle”, the entertaining volume focuses on the 1908 murder of lighthouse keeper George Genry and his assistant, Edward Morrison.
This is a puzzling case rife with questions; there are no easy answers but many possible solutions.
The author and his wife bought the then-abandoned Old North Lighthouse on Grand Island in 1972, but they had no idea of the crimes that had taken place near the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
A yellowing 1908 newspaper article from the Detroit Free Press changed all that, when the new owners discovered it under an oil cloth in the crumbling kitchen.
It read “Grand Island Lighthouse keeper and his assistant are believed to be victims of brutal murder and robbery.”
Graham spent the next few decades looking into the crime, interviewing surviving family members, local townspeople and investigating rumors.
He also searched assorted archives, checking government documents related to the isolated lighthouse and other newspaper reports, trying to track down various clues as to what really happened.
The author provides an excellent background history of the area, examining attitudes toward the Chippewa Indians and policies of the government.
Graham explores three basic possibilities, including one that has Genry killing Morrison and then fleeing to Canada.
Another option, which the government preferred, has significantly different scenarios.
Many of the Munising townspeople have their doubts and feel the official explanation is not believable.
There’s a third possibility, which is directly related to economic issues and social attitudes of the times.
It’s an intriguing theory involving the Cleveland Cliffs Mining Co. and its incredibly wealthy owner, who may have believed that the lighthouse operators were poaching and sought to eliminate them.
Unfortunately, although many family members believe it, the theory can’t be easily substantiated, even though it may mean that somebody actually did get away with murder.
The author, who has taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and at Harvard University, provides relevant photographs, an index and detailed footnotes.
Graham’s well-researched book is a real gem for Michigan historians and those who enjoy true unsolved crimes.
Ray Walsh, owner of East Lansing’s Curious Book Shop, has
reviewed crime novels and Michigan books regularly since 1987.
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This review was published by the Lansing State Journal on Sunday, September 29, 2013.