In a tradition dating back to the late 1800’s, in late November the US Coast Guard's "Christmas ship" was loaded with more than 1,200 trees for delivery to families across Chicago. This year it was the turn of the USCG Cutter Mackinaw, which arrived in Chicago on December 6 for the two day community event. The Mackinaw was commissioned in 2006 and has a crew of 60. It is among the Coast Guard’s most technologically advanced cutters used for search-and-rescue, maritime law enforcement operations, and ice-breaking missions on the Great Lakes.
Built by Marinette Marine Corporaton
Commissioned June 2006
Propulsion ABB Azipod - Fixed Pitch, 10’ diameter, 9,119 shp (6.8 MW)
Speed 16 knots
By tradition, members of the Coast Guard present the first tree to a representative Chicago family leaving volunteers from various youth organizations, including the Sea Cadets, Sea Scouts and Young Marines to distribute the remainder. The re-enactment models when Captain Herman Schuenemann, Master of the schooner Rouse Simmons, the original Christmas ship, delivered fresh evergreens and wreaths from Michigan to Chicago for more than 30 years through the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. The Rouse Simmons was lost between Kewaunee and Two Rivers, Wisconsin, during a violent storm in November 1912. Captain Schuenemann and 16 crew members perished along with the vessel, which was eventually located in 1971. Marking tradition, the Mackinaw dropped a wreath into the waters near its resting place.
November 2013 was the 101st Anniversary of the loss of Rouse Simmons which even today is remembered as the "Christmas Tree Ship" of the Great Lakes. Captain Schuenemann was given the name Captain Santa due to his generosity in donating a trees to any family who couldn't afford one. Rouse Simmons itself was a three masted schooner that was built by the Allen, McCelland & Co. out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She was named after a Kenosha business man whose brother, Zalman Simmons had started a popular mattress company. The ship was launched on August 15, 1868 only three years after the birth of it final captain. Ironically, the Schuenemann family was no stranger to maritime tragedy. On November 9-10 in 1898, Captain Hermann lost his brother August when the Christmas Ship he was commanding, the S.Thal, went down in rough waters near Glencoe, Illinois when also carrying trees to the city of Chicago.
Mrs. Barbara Schuenemann, Captain Santa's wife, is buried at Acacia Park Cemetery in Norridge, IL and her stone also includes the name of her husband (his body was never recovered) along with an engraving of a simple evergreen tree on the stone.