Grand Island North Light, photo by Jeff Shook
The photo above is from the Grand Island North Light page at Terry Pepper’s Seeing the Light. Head over there for all kinds of information about one of Michigan’s lonelier lighthouses.
As Halloween is tomorrow, I thought I’d share the tale of a mysterious murder at North Light from the Center for U.P. Studies at Northern Michigan University.
On June 12, 1908 the body of 30-year old Edward S. Morrison, the assistant lightkeeper at North Light, was discovered in a small sailboat near Au Sable Point. Although identification took a while, since few of the local people knew him, it was definite once made. Morrison had a distinctive tattoo of thirteen stars on his left arm, leaving no doubt as to the identity of the remains. Initial reports said his head had been “battered almost beyond recognition” and that “the head and shoulders were fearfully crushed, as if battered by a club.” Inexplicably though, a coroners jury concluded death was due to exposure, thought to be caused by the rough weather on the 7th. A reported second coroners jury also examined the evidence and returned a verdict that the members were not able to tell how he died, but they had a strong suspicion of murder!
Morrison had been assistant keeper only six weeks when he met his death. A native of Tecumseh, Michigan, he joined the Lighthouse Service on May 1, 1908 and secured the assistant keeper’s appointment at North Light. Friends claimed he had a “bright and sunny disposition” and that he “didn’t have an enemy in the world.”
The keeper of the light was George Genery, a long-time veteran of the Service. Appointed to North Light in 1893, he had been the assistant keeper at Menagerie Island, Isle Royale from 1887 until his posting to Grand Island. It was later claimed he had trouble keeping his assistants since none lasted longer than a season. Working with Genery was said to be difficult at best. The keeper was in Munising on June 6 to get supplies.
Baffled by the discovery of Morrison’s body and the knowledge that the beacon had been dark for nearly a week, a delegation from Munising went out to the light. They discovered the supplies Genery had brought back from Munising still piled on the dock. An empty wheel barrow stood nearby and his coat dangled undisturbed on a hook in the boathouse. Morrison’s vest was hanging carefully on the back of a chair, his watch and papers safe in a pocket. Of the three boats normally kept at the station, reports differed whether two or only one was missing. The last official log entry was made on June 5, while the slate entry for the 6th was made in Morrison’s hand. Neither gave a clue to anything being amiss. Other than the untended lamp, all else was normal, without evidence of any unusual occurrence. Local volunteers manned the light until the service send a replacement.
Authorities immediately started a search for the missing keeper, but he had completely dropped out of sight. There were reports that five different men had seen him at various times in Munising between June 9 and 12, and that he was drinking heavily. His wife, living in town, claimed no knowledge of his whereabouts and did not seem overly concerned with his strange disappearance.
There were several theories proffered to explain the case. One said the two men had gone out to lift nets and that Genery had fallen overboard and drowned. Morrison, unfamiliar with a sailboat, then drifted about helplessly until finally perishing from exposure. Friends, however doubted such reasoning. They considered Morrison an expert sailor, and in fact he had previously owned a 32-foot sailboat on the Detroit River.
Another theory is based on their having been paid on the 6th; that they were attacked by one or more unknown assailants on the island, murdered, robbed and the bodies dumped into the sailboats and cast adrift. Morrison’s eventually made shore. Genery’s never did. Lonely to distraction, no better location for such a crime could be imagined. No one else was in the area to witness such a heinous deed. The nearest other occupant on the island was the Cleveland Cliffs game keeper, whose house was seven miles to the south. There was a story that a body was later discovered in the east channel, but it was apparently never identified so whether it was the missing keeper is unknown. Finding “floaters” was not that unusual, so no definite link between it and Genery was possible.
The third theory was that Morrison was murdered by Genery…
The photographer is Jeff Shook of the Michigan Lighthouse Conservancy, an organization that does great work in the preservation of Michigan’s lighthouses.