The Tragedy of Daniel Dodge

by J-Mirabelli

Daniel Dodge, millionaire heir to the Dodge Motor Company fortune and Laurine Dodge on their honeymoon on Manitoulin Island where he was accidentally killed.

One of the lesser known millionaires of the thirties was Daniel Dodge, son of John Dodge, co-founder of the American Dodge Motor Company. Danny, as he was known to his family and friends, owned a luxury lodge at Maple Point, near Kagawong, overlooking the North Shore of Manitoulin Island, in Canada. While spending time at his secluded resort in 1938, he fell in love with the telephone operator in the nearby town of Gore Bay. She was 19 year old Laurine McDonald. Danny was seen in his sports car or his speedboat, making as many excuses as possible to go to Gore Bay and see Laurine. They dated, and after a two year period of courtship, Danny proposed to Laurine and made the announcement to the families.

The families were opposed to the marriage. Daniel’s mother was vocal in her opposition and considered Laurine to be a gold digger. Despite the family opposition, the two were married Aug. 2, 1938, at Meadow Brook Hall in Rochester Hills, Michigan, the estate home of the Dodge family.¬†They returned to the lodge on Manitoulin Island for their honeymoon.

During this time, Daniel and a caretaker were experimenting in the garage with a handful of old dynamite and caps that had been left from the construction of the lodge.¬†Being somewhat reckless, Danny lit one of the sticks and threw it out the garage door. The resulting explosion brought Laurine and another caretaker and his wife out to the garage to investigate. Danny was lighting a second stick of dynamite just as the trio arrived at the garage door. Unable to throw the dynamite through the garage door without injuring the three onlookers, Danny tried to toss the stick out one of the open windows. The stick hit the window frame and bounced back into the garage. The dynamite exploded in the garage, injuring Daniel, the two caretakers, and Laurine. The group managed to get into Daniel’s speedboat and headed for the hospital in Little Current. The trip would normally take 40 minutes, but today waves were high and the wind was strong. Halfway to the hospital, Daniel was last seen standing up on the boat, one foot on the seat and the other foot on the bulwarks. He then went overboard. Repeated attempts to rescue Daniel were hindered by 4 foot waves and high winds. He eventually sank out of sight. After realizing that saving Daniel was hopeless, the rest of the group continued to Little Current to get medical help.

Danny Dodge’s drowning was front-page news in Detroit and across the United States. His stepfather, Alfred G. Wilson, offered a $1,500 reward for finding the body. Scores of boats joined the search, including a two-person submarine from Detroit. Twenty-three days later, it was a pair of local fishermen, Wes Ryder and Albert Bateman, who finally found Danny Dodge, sharing the $1,500 reward for their grim discovery. The search had cost over $50,000 in total.

The death was ruled an accidental drowning, but questions lingered, and the settlement of the estate was bitterly contested. Matilda Dodge-Wilson, Danny’s mother, would never get over the loss of her only son, or condone the inheritance of an estimated $2 million awarded by the courts to Laurine.

Laurine would eventually sell the Maple Point property. No member of either family ever felt much like coming back to this haunted spot – let alone in the company of an in-law. She remarried briefly to Dr. William Lange, the plastic surgeon who treated her following the blast. After that marriage failed, she eventually married again, this time to Captain John Van Etten in Lafayette, Indiana, with whom she settled down and had a family.

The summer home of Daniel Dodge became known as the Dodge Lodge and was the scene of the accident that killed Daniel Dodge.

The lodge at Maple Point, known as the “Dodge Lodge”, was restored by owners Dave and Sandi Hurcomb, and looks remarkably true to its time. The Hurcombs operated a Bed and Breakfast business.

In 2009, Rick Nelson, curator of the Old Mill Heritage Centre in Kagawong, and Bernie Schwarzli, current owner of “Dodge Lodge”, organized the Dodge Invitational: an attempt to bring together descendants of Daniel Dodge and Laurine MacDonald, along with family members of former lodge caretakers. The main reason for the event was to fill out the historical picture and put some rumours to rest.

About three dozen people took up the invitation, including Judy Lavander, niece of Daniel Dodge and John Van Etten, the son of Laurine MacDonald.

For Ms. Lavander, knowledge of her uncle and his time on Manitoulin Island has been sketchy at best. The Dodge family spoke little about the tragic death and discussing Daniel’s death was a taboo subject.

About a decade ago, Judy indulged her curiosity about her uncle and his mysterious wife from Manitoulin Island. She found that Laurine had a son, John Van Etten Jr. She made initial contact with John and a relationship developed. That connection led to her actually visiting Laurine, in California, a few years before she passed away. And she’s extremely glad she did.

Daniel Dodge often sailed to his lodge with his yacht from his home in Detroit and anchored it in the bay in front of his lodge.

It was important for Judy and her son, Jim Bartlett, to discover more about Daniel. Up until this point, he only had vague stories about his great-uncle, and needed to come to Manitoulin Island to learn more about his heritage. Jim, who bears an uncanny resemblance to his great uncle Danny, has found it fascinating to see the rugged country in which his relative loved to come to hunt and fish, and mingle with the locals. He shares his great uncle’s love of adventure as a freelance photographer and writer who has covered stories in Iraq and other conflict areas around the world.

The circumstances that lead to the drowning of Daniel Dodge were a combination of too much curiosity, bad weather and bad luck. Judy Lavander, is inclined to share this view. She was very happy with her decision to come to Manitoulin and concluded that it was pretty clear that this was a young love story.

The Daniel Dodge Tragedy Exhibit is on display at the Old Mill Museum in Kagawong, Manitoulin Island, Canada. It is a compilation of pictures and video collected about the life and death of Daniel Dodge. Recently, Laurine’s son John, who is a decorated Vietnam Veteran, donated his military uniform to the museum. It is displayed next to a display of clothing worn by his mother in her younger days. A motion picture detailing the event is in production.

Read more:

Exhibits – Old Mill Heritage Centre | Daniel Dodge

Danny Dodge | Rootsweb

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