On most days, Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw keeps Great Lakes channels and harbors open to navigation to meet the region’s winter shipping needs. Saturday was not like most days.
Mackinaw served once again as this year’s “Christmas Ship.” Loaded with more than 1,200 Christmas trees, the icebreaker played homage to an annual Chicago tradition from the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Herman Schuenemann, captain of the original Christmas Ship, delivered fresh evergreens and wreaths for the holiday season from Michigan to Chicago for more than 30 years. On Nov. 23, 1912, Schuenemann was at the helm of the fabled Christmas Ship the Rouse Simmons, transiting from Michigan. On that day, Schuenemann, the Rouse Simmons and 16 crew were lost in a storm between Kewaunee and Two Rivers, Wis.
During its transit to Chicago this year, the crew of Mackinaw held a solemn tribute and dropped a wreath into the waters near the resting place of the Rouse Simmons, which was located in 1971.
Chicago’s boating community has re-enacted the landing of the Rouse Simmons in Chicago for the past 14 years through Chicago’s Christmas Ship Committee.
Chicago’s Christmas Ship Committee is comprised of all facets of Chicago’s boating community, including: the International Shipmasters’ Association; Chicago Marine Heritage Society; Navy League of the United States; Chicago yacht clubs; Friends of the Marine Community; Chicago Yachting Association, Cruise Ship Mystic Blue; and others.
The trees, purchased by Chicago’s Christmas Ship Committee, were offloaded by members of the Coast Guard and local youth volunteers, including Sea Cadets, Venture Crews, Sea Scouts and Young Marines.
During a ceremony at the west end of Navy Pier, the first tree was presented to a representative family. The remaining trees were then loaded onto trucks for distribution by 18 local community organizations to more than 1,200 deserving families throughout Chicago.
With their Christmas Ship mission complete, Mackinaw sets out to keep commerce moving after moving the hearts of the Chicago community.