The Christmas Tree Ship
Among the most fabled stories of Christmas, sailing, Michigan and Lake Michgian, are the stories of the Schuenemann family and the ill-fated, Christmas tree-laden schooner Rouse Simmons. The loss of the Simmons on November 23, 1912 marked the begining of the end of the seasonal schooner transport of Christmas trees from Michigan to Chicago. Having depared the U.P. of Michigan with more than 5000 trees, the ship was lost off of Two Rivers Point in Lake Michigan. The wreck was discovered in 1971 at a depth of 172 feet with Christmas trees still in her hold. An erie message found in a bottle on the shores of Sheboygan, WI, foretold the ship's demise.
No Michigan Christmas should be complete without telling the tale of the Schuenemann's many voyages and ultimate sacrifice. There are several accounts of the Rouse Simmons and biographies of Herman Schunemann (center in photo) which are worthy reading. There is even a play regarding the fabled ship.
There are several excellent books on the topic, among which Lives and Legends of the Christmas Tree Ships, provides a historical perpective on schooner life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These books are available below. The spirit of the Rouse Simmons still lives today through a non-profit organization and the Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw. The Mackinaw delivers thousands of Christmas trees to need families in Chicago.
Photo: DN-0006926, Chicago Daily News negatives collection, Chicago History Museum
Below are articles and accounts of the Christmas Tree Ships