Saturday, December 24, 2016


    saw three ships come sailing in On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day; I saw three ships come sailing in On Christmas Day in the morning.OLD CAROL

Like the great multitudes of Galilee They crowd the slopes about the clustered Seas, Hearing his word through shining gladness And through the rain; Daily they grow in grace and strength, For God himself hath fashioned them. When the white stillness hushes all the Land, & Every sail is winter-folded from the tempest seas, Three ships embarking for a further shore Bear a great multitude, to where Towering, tumultuous, a City stands - Struggling with darkness, bondage, fears and pain - Open as Israel in Egypt. And as to Moses in the burning Bush. The voice of God decreed men's Liberty. So doth his message burn again; And like the Pentecostal flame his Sprig glows upon them. The Christmas Eve is come; Behold the Trees! Whose tongues of Living Fire Tell men and little children "The Christ of God IS Here."

   On November 25, the Rouse Simmons departed Thompson Harbor between Point Aux Barques and Manistique in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

Captain "Santa"
by Sandra Murzyn

   The barometer was falling as Captain Schuenemann entered the open water. The crew and ten lumberjacks brought on board to fell Christmas trees watched from inside the cabin as snow danced through the rigging. Those on duty pulled their collars up against a wind that blew with increasing strength. The spray of the rising seas lashed the Christmas trees on deck. There was nothing the crew could do as their cargo froze beneath a layer of ice. There was concern because any shifting of the frozen cargo could spell disaster.

The Rouse Simmons
by Charles Vickery
   Struggling along the eastern shore of the Door Peninsula, the Rouse Simmons was spotted by a tug and the brig Dutch Hoy. Sometime between November 25 and 26, Captain Schuenemann raised the distress flags. The following day, the Sturgeon Bay Coast Guard Station observed the Rouse Simmons. The Simmons was spotted once again, this final time by the United States Lifesaving Station at Two Rivers.

"Sailing Into Eternity" by Eric Forsberg
   Fighting the lake and a driving blizzard, the Simmons continued on. The distress flags still visible and tattered sails whipping in the wind, the Rouse Simmons refused to surrender without a battle of epic proportions.

   The snow closed in a final time and the Rouse Simmons vanished from view. Lost from sight of land, the Rouse Simmons slipped beneath the waves.

   None of her crew was ever found, but through the years, she kept calling for help. 

   Two weeks and six days after she went down, a fisherman came across a corked bottle. In it was a torn sheet from the captains log, with his farewell message. It read, “Friday…everybody goodbye. I guess we are all through. Sea washed over our deck load Thursday. During the night the small boat washed overboard. Leaking bad. Ingvald and Steve fell overboard Thursday. God help us.” It was signed Herman Schuenemann. 

   The next spring, trees weighted down nets hauled in by commercial fisherman. Twelve years after she sank a fishing trawler hauled up a wallet belonging to Captain Schuenemann. The wallet, well preserved because it was wrapped in oilskin, contained business cards, a newspaper clipping and an expense memorandum

Rouse Simmons
    The Rouse Simmons was what lake mariners called a "lumber hooker," a ship that engaged in repeated short-haul voyages, taking lumber from mill to market. The craft was named for a prominent Kenoshan whose family would give the world the Simmons Beautyrest mattress.

"Yuletide Cargo" by Eric Forsberg
Rouse Simmons arrives in Chicago at the Clark Street Bridge
    The vessel made an annual Christmastime voyage to Chicago loaded with evergreen trees from the woods around the tiny Upper Peninsula town of Thompson, on Lake Michigan near Manistique.

"Christmas Tree Schooner"
 by Charles Vickery
    From the late 1800's it became a yearly tradition for a crowd—including many excited kids—to gather at Chicago’s Clark Street docks to welcome “Captain Santa” and crew, and buy Christmas trees right off the ship.

Captain Schuenemann continued this holiday trade until the fatal foundering, during a winter gale, of his schooner, the Ross Simmons, in which the doughty captain and his crew lost their lives.

   For over eighteen years Captain Scheunemann made annual trips across the lake. Each year he returned with enough Christmas trees to supply the entire city.

Historic marker located in Thompson, Michigan.
   The Christmas Tree Ship remained lost until 1971, when the Rouse Simmons was discovered by a diver. The Rouse Simmons rests in 180 feet of water off Rawley Point, Two Rivers, Wisconsin. 

The largest artifact from the Rouse Simmons, its anchor, was raised in the 1970's and sits on permanent display in front of the Milwaukee Yacht Club.

   Various pieces of the wreck have be reclaimed and are on display at the Rogers Street Fishing Village Museum in Two Rivers and the Milwaukee Yacht Club.  

A key chain and cuff links, both carved from one of the initial Christmas trees raised from the sunken ship.

Capt. Schuenemann’s twin daughters, Hazel and Pearl Schuenemann, standing among Christmas trees for sale wearing garlands of greens around their necks.

   The tree business was continued by Schueneman's wife and daughters, but the practice of hauling by schooner was replaced by train and road by the 1920's.

U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw

  Today the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw continues the Christmas Ship tradition each December by carrying about 1,200 trees from northern Michigan to Navy Pier in Chicago, where they are distributed to needy families.

Follow the links listed below for more -

The Christmas Tree Ship: Captain Herman E. Schuenemann and the Schooner Rouse Simmons By Glenn V. Longacre -

Great Lakes  Chanteys -

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