During the 1950s, soldiers camped out in the meadow and woods to the west of the [Big Bay Point] lighthouse while undergoing anti-aircraft artillery training. On the cliff, east of the lighthouse, they installed large guns used for target shooting over Lake Superior.
It was during this time, in the summer of 1952, that 38-year-old Lieutenant Coleman Peterson, a veteran of the Korean War and an active member of the 768th anti-aircraft battalion at Camp McCoy in Wisconsin, was temporarily stationed at Big Bay. While in town at the still-operating Lumberjack Tavern, he shot and killed the owner and bartender, Maurice “Mike” Chenoweth because he believed the bar keep had raped his wife, Charlotte Ann, earlier that evening.
Peterson was charged with murder in a well-publicized trial which today has become part of a self-guided tourist trail around the Marquette area. He was eventually found not guilty by reason of insanity after being represented by defense attorney John D. Voelker—who was later appointed by Governor G. Mennen Williams as Associate Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court from 1956 until 1960.
In addition to practicing law, Voelker was also an avid fisherman and author—writing under the name Robert Travers. It was under this pseudonym that he penned “Anatomy of a Murder” in 1958, based on the famous Marquette County case. That in turn became an award-winning movie in 1959, starring Jimmy Stewart, George C. Scott and Eve Arden, with music by Duke Ellington [who won a Grammy for the movie soundtrack].
Many of the scenes were filmed at what is now the Thunder Bay Inn, a downtown property said to be built for Henry Ford, his family, friends and colleagues. Ford had purchased Big Bay’s sawmill, power plant and nearly every other building in town in 1943—part of his Upper Peninsula portfolio which amassed more than 300,000 acres. At one point, the he owned more property in the U.P. than any other single individual.
In recent years, there has been a growing sector of “Film Tourism” – a branch of cultural tourism – in which people travel to locations which became popular due to their appearance in films, television series and even online blogs and websites.
In the Marquette area, the local visitors’ bureau promotes a self-guided tour of the sites associated with the filming of the movie: https://www.travelmarquettemichigan.com/anatomy-of-a-murder/ with a detailed multi-page brochure from the Michigan Film & Digital Media Office: https://www.michiganbusiness.org/499486/globalassets/documents/film/final_anatomy_murder_tour_2-1.pdf.
At least three days are recommended for those who wish to visit film locales in Marquette, Big Bay and Ishpeming (as well as other notable attractions in the area), including:
- Lumberjack Tavern – where the original murder took place and where a faux chalk outline of the body is one of RoadsideAmerica’s featured sites. Several of the bar scenes in the film were shot here.
- Thunder Bay Inn– where several scenes were filmed, still operating as a bar and inn.
- Big Bay Lighthouse – now a popular (and haunted) bed-and-breakfast, where the grounds are limited to overnight guests.
- Big Bay Jailhouse – where Peterson was held during the trial, today part of Big Bay Outfitters and Jailhouse Gallery.
- Marquette County Courthouse – where the legal scenes were filmed on the second floor. Displays in the lobby even depict courtroom scenes that were filmed on site.
- Landmark Inn Hotel– where cast and crew stayed while filming the courtroom scenes in town. There is even a room named after John Voelker!
- Cliff Shaft Museum – the opening highway scene was filmed nearby and the Cliffs Shaft Mine comes into view.
- Jack’s Teepee Bar – originally called Nault’s bar served as the opening scene of the movie when Jimmy Stewart’s character first learned of the murder.
- Ishpeming Carnegie Library – used in some interior film scenes.
- Mather Inn – where cast and crew stayed while filming in town and also where a press reception was held along with lunch with then Michigan governor G. Mennen Williams. Today, Cognition brewing is located inside this building and across the street is The Rainbow Bar, where Ellington was said to have entertained bar patrons during the filming.
- Globe Printing – formerly the Roosevelt Night Club, once known for its hospitality and fine supper club meals (where Ellington even celebrated his 60th birthday). Every member of the cast signed one of the interior walls, which has been preserved.
- John Voelker House – located at 205 Barnum Street near the Mather Inn and Carnegie Library. Voelker is even buried in the Ishpeming Cemetery.
- Butler Theatre – one of the venues for the world premier of the film (most recently noted as an antique shop).
- Congress Pizza – one of Voelker’s favorite local hangouts, decorated with memorabilia and photos from the film.
According to the Associated Press, “An exhibit of the 60th anniversary of the making of the film is on display at the Beaumier U.P. Heritage Center in Gries Hall at Northern Michigan University.” The exhibit was originally created to commemorate the 50th anniversary in 2009 and is only open until mid-September, 2019.
“Hollywood Comes to Marquette County: the making of Anatomy of a Murder” features rare images from the movie’s production; a timeline for the book, movie and life of author and Michigan Supreme Court justice and Ishpeming native John Voelker, who also served as Marquette County prosecuting attorney; and links to oral history interviews with participants in the real-life murder case that took place in Big Bay in 1952.”
Reprinted in part (paragraphs 1-5) from “Michigan’s Haunted Lighthouses” – chapter 6.
PHOTO CREDIT: LifeInMichigan.com