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The Great Lakes Christmas Tree Ship

2012 December 4

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By Cameron Davis

On November 22, the Rouse Simmons listed badly, caked in ice from water and snow during one of storms for which the Great Lakes are known this time of year. Its cargo: more than 5,000 Christmas trees bound from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to Chicago.

Hermann Schuenemann had been part owner and captain of the Simmons for years. And he came from a sailing family. So it was still a surprise when the schooner went down off the coast of Two Rivers, Wisconsin, that fateful day, one hundred years ago.

Rallying, Herman’s wife Barbara and two daughters continued the business in Herman’s wake, bringing trees into the Chicago River for sale.

The tale is now legend in the Midwest, not only for the fate of Herman and his ship, but the tenacity of his wife and daughters. But today, the “Legend of the Christmas Tree Ship,” is more than an enthralling true story. It lives on in exhibits at the Rogers Street Fishing Village in Two Rivers.  It lives on through plays.  And it lives on through the U.S. Coast Guard’s cutter, Mackinac.

But most of all, it lives on through an appreciation of all the Great Lakes continue to deliver to us: water, jobs, recreation and an unparalleled quality of life.

Find out more about our Great Lakes restoration efforts at www.glri.us, or follow me on Twitter (@CameronDavisEPA). If you missed out on Great Lakes Week and still have questions, feel free to ask them in the comment box or send me a tweet.

About the author: Cameron Davis is Senior Advisor to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. He provides counsel on Great Lakes matters, including the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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176 Responses leave one →
  1. Arman.- permalink
    December 4, 2012

    A Sailing Family : To Try To Understand…….-

    And also dinner. And also Thanksgiving. And also, also….! Meeting with nucleus family it’s very important. Papa and mama could sharing for their child about the life, about the experiences for change of all. Merry Christmas…….!!!!

  2. Tamara Thomsen permalink
    December 4, 2012

    Interesting. Except the Rouse Simmons sank BEFORE the storm even started…wish people would actually do even a tiny bit of research instead of perpetuating a myth. If you access the Life Saving Service records of the time, you would know that if the Rouse Simmons was afloat at 4:20P on 23 Nov. 1912, the Two Rivers Life Saving crew would have spotted her when they rounded Rawley Point. If you plot out their course, they ran right over the spot where she is sitting today. The storm you speak of didn’t start until after 6:00P when the crew called off their search and headed back to the station. Fact is, that the Rouse Simmons was a old, ill-maintained vessel- and likely that is why she sank. The Rouse Simmons passed up a caulking the year before her sinking- probably to save money. She was left sitting at the pier for the entire season for the two last years of her life, the time she was partially (1/6) owned by Schuenemann, only to be taken out on the Lake for the run up to Thompson, Michigan, to pick up the Christmas trees. In fact Schuenemann was busy running a tavern for the rest of the year, so he probably didn’t want to invest further than he had to in the 46 year old ship that was only used once a year. Sorry if this ruins your Christmas fable, the truth isn’t ever as good as what really happened, is it?

  3. Tamara Thomsen permalink
    December 4, 2012

    Meant to say, the truth is as good as the fairy tale. Oops

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