The Strange Death of Danny Dodge
An auto scion, an island girl, and an afternoon of playing with dynamite.
Mar 4, 2008 Gerald Volgenau
(page 3 of 3)
"I then heard Mrs. Bryant scream, and when I looked, Dan was going over the side of the boat," she testified. "We turned back and tried to rescue him, but could not. We searched for about 10 minutes." At that point, with the boat still bouncing in the waves, Lorraine and others made their best guess as to their location and then continued on to Little Current to try to save Bryant's life.
The drowning of Danny Dodge was front-page news in Detroit and across the nation. By some reports, Danny's stepfather, Alfred G. Wilson, offered a $1,500 reward to anyone who could find the body. Scores of boats, including a two-person submarine, converged on the waters off Honora Point. Days went by, and then weeks. Still, no one found the body. Searchers were giving up hope. But then, 23 days later, two fishermen pulled in the remains of young Dodge.
On October 24, 1938, a coroner's jury in Little Current handed down its verdict: "accidental death by drowning." But was it accidental? No one really knows except those who were in the boat that day. Some islanders speculate that the young bride, who might have been casting greedy eyes on the Dodge fortune, planned this apparent accident - or at least took advantage of the bizarre circumstances. One might suspect that the Dodge family - given their misgivings about the wedding in the first place - might have been given to such speculation.
Some agree with the coroner's jury that, in the rough waters, Danny simply slipped and fell. Others think that Danny Dodge stepped off into the water because he was crazed with the burning pain and was seeking the cool relief of the water. Lorraine, after a court battle, eventually inherited at least $1.25 million from young Dodge's estate.
In 1991, when I first happened on this story during a visit to Kagawong, two of the survivors were still alive. One was Lorraine; the other was Lloyd Bryant, the man whom everyone thought would die. Following the accident, Lorraine had a brief marriage to the plastic surgeon who helped her recover. Later, she married another doctor, lived in Indiana and then moved to California. Locals say that from time to time, this island girl would return home for a visit.
As for Bryant, I managed to find him after a bit of a search. And it was worth it. He put a new slant on those final minutes in the boat. Then pushing 90, he had been living in a Gore Bay nursing home. But while there he met and married another resident and they moved into their own house nearby.
When I knocked on his front door, he and his wife, Lillian, were just sitting down to lunch in the kitchen. Bryant invited me, offered a glass of juice, but said he would not talk about the Dodge incident. He indicated that the Dodge family had put some pressure on him to keep quiet. But Lillian, his wife of two years, urged him to open up a bit.
At that point, Bryant said, he did not blame Dodge for the explosion. "I can't say a bad thing about Danny," he said. "He was always good to me.
"But," he went on, "the newspapers had it wrong. They said he would have died anyway. But Danny wasn't hurt hardly at all. There weren't any cuts more than a half-inch long or a half-inch deep.
"I think he was scared," interjected Lillian, speaking of the young man who was responsible for the accident. "He thought Lloyd was going to die. And he just jumped overboard."
Bryant just nodded. The incident had happened 63 years before, but tears were welling up in his eyes.
Gerald Volgenau writes from Ann Arbor. "The Strange Death of Danny Dodge," is from his book, Islands: Great Lakes Stories,
available in bookstores and online.
Meredith Krell is a printmaker and painter from Charlevoix. Her work can be found in galleries throughout Michigan. merfnsteve.com