Daily Archives: December 6, 2012

Finding Family: The Big Larceny Case


Meet Jeff, life-long Lansing area resident and amateur genealogist. Follow him as he enters his 19th year of researching his family’s path from the harsh copper mines of the Keeweenaw Peninsula to the conveniences of modern Lansing life. You’ll see the drive behind the long research hours, meet his family members and learn something about family life in the Upper Peninsula.

“According to Petlewski, a wallet containing $550 with which he intended to purchase a tombstone for his brother, the late Steve [Stanislaus] Petlewski, was stolen in his place of business.” – Calumet News, December 5, 1916.

After the death of his brother, Stanislaus, Joseph Petlewski took over the family saloon business.  Joseph had a rough start running  the saloon as he was victimized just one month after Stanislaus died in 1916. Joseph testified before the Justice of the Peace in Calumet Township after his nephew, Joseph Petlewski, Jr, “was duly sworn to interpret the English language into the Polish language and the Polish language into the English language.” In his words he claims the following is how it happened.

Well, I put the money in the pocket of my overcoat and I go and pay my beer bill after I hang the coat up, and the agent came and called me back again and he said, “You got plenty time, come in here”, and I hang my coat up but I do not take the money back.

I had the money in the home.  The old woman gave me one hundred fifty dollars and I had to put some money to that.

When I cleaned up and the money was gone and the bank book was gone, everything was empty, and the next day in the morning I could not find anything and the next day I find the book in the water closet. “

That Mike took the big fellow that was arrested and he say he is going home with him to sleep, and he take him along and the next day they come all three in the saloon again.

Later in the testimony.

Q. What did you do then.  Did you make any complaint?

I could not look for nobody because it was so late but the next day they come again there.

I did say to Gunderson and to another fellow, and I say, “You fellows take the money?”, and he say, “I was drunk, I do not know, maybe I did”.

The People of the State of Michigan v Arthur Gunderson was reported in the Daily Mining Gazette with the Headline “Big Larceny Case is Sent to High Court.”  Arthur Gunderson eventually plead guilty to stealing Joseph’s money.  Joseph’s money was returned and a tombstone for Stanislaus was erected at Lakeview Cemetery in Calumet.

The Headstone of Stanislaus, Mary, and Joseph Petlewski

Digging, Digging, Digging & More Digging

Sometimes genealogical records are very easy to find if you search in a strategic way. Sometimes you stumble upon new information by accident. As in the case of The Big Larceny Case there are times where you have to dig and corroborate with other resources and continue digging. The Big Larceny Case was discovered by accident as I was cranking through the microfilm of a Calumet newspaper at the Library of Michigan looking for information on Stanislaus’ death. Of course, as a genealogist I could not let it sit at one single newspaper article, whose information may or may not be correct. I arranged to travel 12 hours to the Calumet area a few years ago. During my time in the area, I visited the Michigan Tech Archives and asked their wonderful staff to locate the court case packet for The People of the State of Michigan vs. Arthur Gunderson. Of course, that lead me back to the newspapers for more clues. Genealogy is definitely a never-ending cycle!

The End of Petlewskis Bar

Unfortunately, I do not have any evidence of the demise of Petlewski’s Bar.  I can only estimate that it ended between 1927 and 1930 as Joseph Petlewski is listed as a “Soft Drinks” operator in the 1927-1928 Michigan State Gazetteer.   The Eighteenth Amendment to the US Constitution passed nine years earlier.  The amendment resulted in the ban of sale of alcohol in the United States and caused Petlewski’s Bar to become a soft drink shop.  In the 1930 US Census, Joseph is listed as retired at the age of 72. Five years later, Joseph was buried in an unmarked grave next to his brother Stanislaus.

Chief MacDonald found Petlewsky’s body in the cellar, just below an open trap door in the kitchen.  A pile of kindling was on the kitchen floor and it was believed that Petlewsky suffered a heart attack after getting this kindling from the cellar, falling back into the cellar. – The Daily Mining Gazette, March 2, 1935

Michigan Certificate of Death for Joseph Petlewski. Notice the cause of death states “Died from injuries received from falling down seller [sic] stairs.” This provides evidence for the newspaper’s account above.

My Next and Final Post: The Jailbreaker

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Resources Consulted

The People vs Arthur Gunderson. FIle. Houghton County Circuit Court.  Houghton County, MI. Accessed at the Michigan Tech Archives & Copper Country Historical Collections.
Joseph Petlewski. Certificate of Death. Department of Community Health, Lansing, MI.
1927-1928 Michigan State Gazetteer. Houghton County, MI.
“Goes to Circuit Court.” Calumet News. December 5, 1916
“The $555 Larceny Case.” Daily Mining Gazette. November 24, 1916
“Big Larceny Case is Sent to High Court.” Daily Mining Gazette. November 5, 1916
“Calumet Resident Found Dead at Home.” Daily Mining Gazette. March 2, 1935

(c) jantaya 2012