Anatomy of a Murder

What’s the best thing next to independence?

Gathered at the edge of Lake Independence is Big Bay, Michigan. Big Bay is called “the best thing next to Independence.” The lake empties into and is separated from Lake Superior by a strip of land on the north. Independence laps up to the edge of Perkins Park – an RV park run by the county of Marquette. The town, the park, and the nearby Lumberjack Tavern reached the pinnacle of their fame when a murder happened in the bar and a local lawyer wrote a book about it called Anatomy of a Murder. 

The short version of the story is a soldier and his wife had a trailer in the park, and one night when the soldier was on duty the wife got bored and went to the Lumberjack Tavern for some entertainment. When she was ready to leave Barney said he would give her a ride back to her trailer. Instead, he took her into the woods and raped her. When her soldier husband got home and learned what had happened, he went to the bar and shot Barney Quill, BOOM! Dead.

The story then centers around the trial, and the setting changes to Marquette and the courthouse. The players in the drama are the soldier, his wife, the lawyer who defended the soldier, the lady who worked at the bar and lived with Barney, and various others who had connection to the crime or the state of mind of the defendant.

The lawyer, played by Jimmy Stewart, got the soldier off with a defense of temporary insanity or as the judge called it – irresistible impulse.

The movie came out in July of 1959 and put Big Bay on the map. 

The actual murder occurred at the Lumberjack Tavern, but the movie company built a new tavern in Big Bay for purposes of filming. The new place was only a block down the street, and attached to the Thunder Bay Inn. Both businesses now claim a connection to the movie in order to impress visitors.

The Lumberjack has memorabilia of the crime and more importantly the movie, and when they remodel they have been known to shoot new holes in the wall to show the evidence to new people to town that the crime actually happened there.

The Thunder Bay Inn has framed newspaper articles, and pictures of the stars: James Stewart, Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara, and George C. Scott. It was a pretty big deal at the time with these famous stars, but now anyone under the age of 50 would not recognize them.

To add to the trivia – Otto Preminger directed the movie, and the music score was by Duke Ellington.

That’s Jeopardy material right there.

As far as I know there has never been another murder in Big Bay. They are still making use of that one crime of passion from the 1950’s.

The campground has changed a lot since they filmed the last scene of the movie showing the caretakers house in the park. That building is still there, and provides a home for the seasonal manager.

The location of Big Bay and Perkins Park is what people might call off of the beaten path. You don’t decide to stay here because it is right off the highway on your way to somewhere. If you are camping at Perkins Park it is because that was your destination to begin with.

People who enjoy woodsy camping love Perkins Park. The park is wooded and the sites are for the most part large. There are trails to hike and walk the dog. The beach is nice white sand, and the lake is good for swimming, boating, and fishing. The town, the bars, and the churches, are within walking distance of the campground. Often people who find this little haven come back year after year.

The two bars in town have good food, adult beverages, and sometimes the Lumberjack has live entertainment. The two churches give balance. Visitors welcome.

If you want to experience the next best thing to independence you will need to make your reservations early – the choice sites fill up fast.

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