Murder, Intrigue and Rape in the UP
As we RV around the country, we to expect to find breathtaking beauty, local color, and food which is different from our South Louisiana roots…but murder, intrigue and sex? We walked right into it in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The UP was everything we thought it would be – breathtaking, rural, hills, beaches, unbelievably clear lakes – the list goes on and on. What we did not expect to find was intrigue. But that is what we found in Big Bay, MI at the Lumberjack Tavern.
Big Bay is a small community with under 500 residents yet it is big on scenery, hiking, beaches and murder. Yes, murder. On July 31, 1952, First Lt. Coleman A. Peterson fired six shots point blank into Lumberjack Tavern owner and bartender Maurice (Mike) Chenoweth. Reason – Peterson believed Chenoweth raped his wife. The murder and trial may not have spread much passed the Big Bay area except defense attorney John D. Voelker, using the pen name Robert Traver, wrote a novel, Anatomy of a Murder, based on the murder and trial. In 1959 the novel was made into a movie of the same name directed by Otto Preminger and Big Bay, MI found its place in history.
Today Lumberjack Tavern is a museum of sorts. There is a scrapbook that chronicles not only the making of the movie but the actual events following the murder including the coroner’s report. There is the painted figure of Chenoweth exactly where he fell behind the bar. In fact, the bar has been moved so customers can see “the spot”. The walls are lined with more memorabilia both factual and movie based.
But the tavern is much more than a tourist attraction. It is a local gathering place serving food and cold brews. We decided to venture in one afternoon for pizza and beer. Someone mentioned we should not miss the homemade fries so we added those to our order. Upon entering we sat at the bar talking with the bartender/server. We were the only patrons at the time. After ordering, we decided to move to a table and chose one to our liking. As we enjoyed our fare more patrons arrived both local and tourist.
Two men arrived, chose a table and ordered beer. Then another man came and then another. When we left there were seven men having an afternoon brew. Okay that is not why we write this. The bartender told us that Tuesday was refuse day. Big Bay does not have home garbage collection. Every Tuesday, residents bring their garbage and trash to the collection site. After dropping off their refuse, many men come over to Lumberjack to cuss and discuss whatever is important that week. Even that is not so noteworthy. What is noteworthy is we were sitting at “their table”. We asked the bartender why she did not tell us when we sat down; she smiled and said they could sit somewhere else. We think she liked the idea of “their table” being occupied. We chatted with the guys before we left, ribbing each other and enjoying a good laugh.
Back to the food. The pizza was excellent. Our veggie pizza was loaded with vegetables and the crust was thick, crispy and lived up to its great local reputation. We had enough for a go box to be enjoyed later. As french fries go, Lumberjack has some of the best. Fresh, hot and just the right crispness. Overall the meal was just what we needed and the atmosphere was even better.
There has not been a murder at the tavern since 1952. We are not sure how many locals we spoke with even remember that night. One thing is for sure, Anatomy of a Murder put Big Bay on the map. That is not why we went to Big Bay but it is one of the things which makes traveling so interesting.