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The Christmas Tree Ship

DN-0006926, Chicago Daily News negatives collection, Chicago History Museum

     In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, regional schooner captains would earn a little extra seasonal income by transporting pine trees from northern Michigan and Wisconsin to the more southern metropolitan markets. No Michigan Christmas should be complete without telling the tale of the Schuenemann's many seasonal voyages delivering Christmas trees from Michigan to Chicago and their ultimate sacrifice in 1912. So loved was the ship and crew, that the honorary title of "Captain Santa" was bestowed upon its captain, Herman Schuenemann (center of photo courtesy of the Chicago History Museum).
     Having depared the U.P. of Michigan on November 23, 1912 with more than 5000 trees, the Schuenemann's ship (the Rouse Simmons) was lost off of Two Rivers Point in Lake Michigan during a fierce storm. There were several sightings of the distressed ship and several valient attempts (during the raging storm) to reach her. After the ship went down, regional fisherman would tell tales of catching "Christmas trees" in their nets for decades. 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.
      There are several accounts of the Rouse Simmons and biographies of Herman Schunemann which are worthy reading. There is even a play regarding the fabled ship. The book, Lives and Legends of the Christmas Tree Ships provides a historical perpective on schooner life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.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.
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