On June 12, 1908, a boat floating near the southern shore of Lake Superior aroused the curiosity of a couple of local hunters. They could see the broken mast of the yawl and the sail draped over the gunwale. They didn’t see anyone in the boat, so they waded out to see what was happening. The men looked in the boat to find a body face down in the water. Shocked and surprised with their discovery, they didn’t waste any time reporting what they had found to authorities.
Captain Benjamin Trudell of the Grand Marais Life Station came out to investigate. His first look at the boat revealed to him that it belonged to the U.S. Lighthouse Service, and Captain Trudell also knew that it was one belonging to the Old North Lighthouse on Grand Island. Further inspection of the contents of the boat established that the dead man wore the uniform of someone in the United States Lighthouse Service. Trudell knew the keeper at Old North Lighthouse, but when he lifted the man’s head and looked at his face, he knew it was not George Genry. They guessed that the body was of the Assistant Lighthouse Keeper at Old North Lighthouse on Grand Island, Edward Morrison.
The coroner of Grand Marais, where the body was found, impaneled a jury, and they determined the man “died of exposure and from injuries unknown to all here.”
Edward Morrison was from Flint, Michigan, and had only worked for George Genry one month before his untimely death and discovery of his body in a U. S. Lighthouse yawl 20 miles from his workstation.
Timothy Dee was the keeper of the other lighthouse on Grand Island, referred to as the south light. Dee reported that on June 13, he heard from a local fisherman that the north light was dark. The deputy sheriff of Alger County, along with some others, hiked up to the North Light and found no one there. Arriving at the North Light, Timothy Dee discovered that no one had operated the light in several days. He reported: “Indications show that the assistant keeper was in the workshop and on seeing Mr. Genry coming, took a wheelbarrow and went to the boathouse.” Neither one of them returned to the light. The groceries Mr. Genry brought from town on June 6 and the coat he wore that day were found in the boathouse.” What killed Edward Morrison, and where was George Genry?
All of this was fodder for newspapers and the local gossip mill. The story went statewide with as many scenarios as creative writing journalists could conjure. Maybe the two lighthouse keepers were robbed and killed. Genry couldn’t be found. Did he kill Morrison in a rage and then run to avoid the law? Genry’s wife didn’t seem concerned that he was missing – did she know something she was not telling?
A second autopsy was performed on Morrison, but the results of the second autopsy were also disputed. People wanted to believe there had been a murder, but the second verdict was also “death from exposure.” Newspapers in Detroit, Flint, and even New York were running stories sensationalizing the mystery on the south shore of Lake Superior. Fueling the fire was an article in Flint newspapers in which Lena Morrison, wife of the dead Edward Morrison, said she had received a letter from her husband saying he feared George Genry. Many then concluded that Genry must have killed Edward Morrison and escaped to some unknown location.
But then, on July 17, a body was found on Beaver Beach on Lake Superior. The coroner stated that the body had been on the beach for four or five days. It was decomposed but was identified as George Genry “by clothing and certain papers found on the body.” Mrs. Genry identified the body, and George Genry was buried the next day due to the degree of decomposition. Shortly after the discovery and burial of the body, Mrs. Genry collected a life insurance policy on her husband, which was more than three times his annual salary.
Grand Island in a bay of Lake Superior near Munising, Michigan, located between Sault Ste. Marie on the east and Marquette on the west. The stretch of Lake Superior from Whitehorse Point to Marquette can be difficult for mariners. The Old Grand Island Lighthouse is on the north edge of Grand Island on a tall cliff. The Old Grand Island Lighthouse no longer operates as a lighthouse, but there is currently a battery-operated light not far from the house.
The death of the Old Grand Lighthouse keepers was a mystery no matter what the coroner’s jury ruled. The answers to questions depended on perspective. George Genry was half Chippewa, and the native community had an idea about what had happened. Years of resentment due to the treatment Native Americans received from the government, land owners, corporate leaders, and other people who felt superior influenced how they perceived what had happened.
“Interpretation was embedded in the history of Grand Island in the first decade of the last century. In 1900, the Cleveland Cliffs Iron Company purchased Grand Island – all of it except for two pieces of land that belonged to the U.S. government for lighthouses: Old North Light at the north end of the island and “East Channel Light,” often called “South Light” at the south end of the island. The iron company was not interested in mining on the island – there was no iron ore – but in converting it into a game preserve that could also serve as a playground for the company’s top executives, especially its president, William Mather.”
George Genry and his friends, Jimmy Kishketog and Timothy Dee, continued to hunt game on the island just as the Chippewa had done for many centuries. This angered William Mather. Mather had a vision of the whole island as a game preserve. The natives were “a constant thorn in the side” of the Cleveland Cliffs people as they were sure the natives were poaching on their land. Mather had imported game animals from around the world and wanted to protect them. The Cliffs’ men were so sure Genry was poaching that they would break into the lighthouse when he wasn’t there attempting to find poached game. They even fenced off the area owned by Cleveland Cliffs. “The fence failed to achieve its purpose. It had gates in it for the passage of the lighthouse personnel down to the beach, and the keepers frequently left the gates open so the game could approach the lighthouse. It was reported Mather had said, “Get Genry but don’t tell me how you did it.”
George Genry’s children offer a likely scenario. Genry went to town with the lighthouse boat, and when Edward Morrison saw him returning with supplies, he met him at the boathouse with a wheelbarrow to move supplies to the lighthouse. The two men hung their coats in the boathouse and started unloading supplies. Cleveland Cliffs men arrived at the boathouse, and an argument occurred, resulting in the death of both Edward Morrison and George Genry. They pushed Morrison off in one of the lighthouse boats and kept Genry’s body somewhere before the same men that killed him said they found his body on Beaver Beach. Cleveland Cliffs had such power and influence in the area the family of George Genry didn’t dare accuse them for fear of retaliation.
Another theory of what happened to the two men is that of the wife of Edward Morrison. She was sure that George Genry had killed her husband due to the letter she received from him, which she had received after his death, saying he was afraid of George Genry. She believed the body found on Beaver Beach was not that of George Genry. Mrs. Morrison believed Genry had murdered Morrison and then ran off – possibly to Canada.
Mrs. Morrison was not alone in this theory of what had happened. Many locals did not like George Genry and were ready to believe the worst.
Due to prejudice and fueled by newspaper stories, locals supported the story of George Genry, the town drunk who was a brawler and difficult to work for lighthouse keeper who had murdered Morrison and then ran from authorities. Some local people said they saw George Genry in town after the disappearance of Edward Morrison in local saloons. If true, it supports the story that Genry was involved in the murder of Morrison.
It is true that Genry had an explosive temper and was difficult to work for as he went through 12 assistants in the 15 years he was the lighthouse keeper. He would leave his assistants with all the responsibilities of keeping the light going all night long and then doing the upkeep of the light and house during the day while he was drinking in Munising.
There were additional accounts of what happened on the south shore of Lake Superior in 1908 printed in newspapers in Michigan and nearby states. Some of them gave false details in an effort to buoy up outrageous stories of murder and intrigue. The available evidence does not support any theories spread by newspapers or local people with preconceived notions based on their bias.
The idea that Cleveland Cliffs men killed both keepers and disposed of their bodies doesn’t make sense. There would be too many people involved to be able to keep it a secret. Additionally, there is no evidence that either man was murdered. Two rulings from three coroner investigations – two separate ones on Morrison and one on Genry – determined the men had died of exposure. The story that Genry killed Morrison and escaped to Canada cannot be supported because people identified the body of George Genry found days after the discovery of Edward Morrison. The inconvenient evidence of George Genry’s body discovered on Beaver Beach cannot be easily discounted.
Years after the event, people in Munising still maintained their own ideas of what occurred. It doesn’t matter where the facts go – it’s where the bias takes the mind convincing people of a story they want to believe. I can think of more current events in our history where facts did not matter, and people still are convinced something happened that did not.
I can only support the evidence presented in this case that the death of these men was accidental. The men were not murdered; they died of exposure. They had placed some fishing nets offshore and were likely in the boat pulling nets when there was an accident killing both of them. But you can believe whatever you want.
Graham, Loren. Death At The Lighthouse: A Grand Island Riddle. Arbutus Press, Traverse City, Michigan. 2013.