Christmas tree ship

by Hans | December 30th, 2009

Delivering a holiday tradition

Among the many traditions of the holiday season is that of the Christmas tree. Most such trees purchased in urban areas are grown in rural areas and transported in quantity to the city. While most trees are transported by truck, in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, communities located on waterways had some Christmas trees delivered by ship. A well-loved tradition in Chicago developed around the turn of the century. Herman Schuenemann owned a small fleet of lumber ships operating between the forests of Wisconsin and the city of Chicago. One of his ships was the three-masted schooner Rouse Simmons. Each November, he would devote the final voyage of the season to carrying a load of Christmas trees to Chicago. Captain Schuenemann would sell the trees directly to the public from the ship tied up near the Clark Street Bridge in Chicago. A tree was tied to the top of the main mast and lights were strung in the rigging. He called his venture the “Christmas Tree Ship”. Trees were generally sold for about a dollar each, but Captain Santa, as he was affectionately called, also donated trees to poor families. In late November 1912, Captain Schuenemann and his crew departed Thompson Harbor, Wisconsin with a cargo of over 5,000 Christmas trees. On November 23, a surfman from the Kewaunee Life-Saving Station spotted the Rouse Simmons offshore flying the distress signal. A rescue tug was dispatched, but the ship was never seen again; it had sunk with all hands lost. The family continued the business for some years afterwards, mostly using a ship as a mere platform for the sale of trees brought to Chicago by truck. In 2000, the US Coast Guard icebreaker Mackinaw, in cooperation with a local charity, revived the tradition by bringing Christmas trees to Chicago for distribution to needy families at the beginning of each holiday season. That tradition lives on with the new Mackinaw, which replaced the original in 2006. Various coastal communities have their own Christmas tree ships, each of which are treasured parts of local traditions, but the most memorable of all was that operated by Captain Santa
By: Dennis Bryant – Maritime Professional

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