An Upper Peninsula Claim to Fame

Despite the size and rural location, the Upper Peninsula has its share of exciting stories that have put it on the map.  For example, did you know that the 1958 novel Anatomy of a Murder by Robert Traver (a.k.a. John D. Voelker) was based off a murder committed in Big Bay, Michigan?

The cast of Anatomy of a Murder

John Voelker with the “Anatomy of a Murder” cast in the Marquette Courthouse.

John Voelker grew up in the U.P. and attended Ishpeming High School and Northern Michigan University (Northern Normal School at the time). He served as prosecuting attorney for Marquette County from 1935-1950, during which time he was involved in a trial that greatly impacted his life.  In 1952 Voelker had to defend Army Lt. Coleman Peterson, the man accused of murdering Mike Chenoweth, the owner of the Lumberjack Tavern in Big Bay. Voelker used the events of this trial as inspiration for his best-selling novel Anatomy of a Murder. The book was later the inspiration for the 1963 movie by the same name, which was actually filmed in Marquette, Ishpeming, and Big Bay! The cast consisted of some of Hollywood’s biggest stars at the time, including the dreamy Jimmy Stewart in the lead role. For eight weeks, the cast and film crew occupied these U.P towns. Some of the local residents even got to be extras in the film!

The Central Upper Michigan and Northern Michigan University Archives is lucky enough to possess the complete papers of John D. Voelker. The collection includes journals, personal correspondence, legal papers, and photos of the making of the “Anatomy of a Murder” movie. You can get a glimpse of the fascinating 100 box collection by visiting our project website,, or coming to see us in room 126 of the Learning Resource Center on NMU’s campus. Stop by and check out the U.P.’s claim to fame!


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