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Highlights Archives

Remembering the Rouse Simmons at 100 Years

A pair of divers explore the wreck of the Rouse Simmons, also know as the "Christmas Tree Ship" (photo by Tamara Thomsen)

Friday, November 23, 2012, marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Rouse Simmons in the waters of Lake Michigan offshore from Two Rivers, and many Wisconsin maritime organizations will commemorate the occasion with a variety of events. The ill-fated ship set sail from Thompson, Michigan, late in the day on Friday, November 22, 1912, with the ship heavily laden with a cargo of Christmas trees. The ship's captain, Hermann Schuenemann, had made a reputation for himself for his regular November voyages from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to Chicago, where he would turn his "Christmas tree ships" into festive, floating Christmas tree lots. But this November's voyage would turn to tragedy when the ship, battered by a fierce winter storm, sank in heavy seas with all hands on board.

Wreckage Not Discovered For Nearly Six Decades

The wreckage of the Rouse Simmons lay at the bottom of Lake Michigan for 59 years before Milwaukee diver Kent Bellrichard discovered the vessel's remains in 165 feet of water 12 miles northeast of Two Rivers. The discovery solved the mystery of where the Rouse Simmons sank, but additional questions remained — why did the ship sink, and what happened during its final moments? These questions provided the focus for a two-week archaeological survey by the Wisconsin Historical Society during the summer of 2006 that uncovered several clues that shed some light on what happened just before the ship slipped beneath the waves. By examining the historical and archaeological record, the Historical Society's divers pieced together a more complete story of what happened that fateful day in 1912.

Events Commemorating the Rouse Simmons at 100 Years

Several maritime history organizations will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Rouse Simmons.

  • Friday, November 23, 2 pm and 7 pm — The J.E. Hamilton Community House, 1520 17th Street, Two Rivers, will conduct a Christmas Schooner Musical (tickets $15 for adults, $5 for chilldren and students).
  • Saturday, November 24, 9 am–noon — Rogers Street Fishing Village, 2102 Jackson Street in Two Rivers, will host a public reception featuring Captain Schuenemann's grandson, William Ehling, Rochelle Pennington, author of 'Historic Christmas Tree Ship: A Story of Faith, Hope and Love' and maritime artist Eric Forsberg.
  • Saturday, November 24, 10 am — Rogers Street Fishing Village will present a U.S. Coat Guard Christmas Tree Ship Re-enactment.
  • Saturday, November 24, noon — The J.E. Hamilton Community House will host Fish Grub, a soup and sandwich lunch (tickets $5 per person).
  • Saturday, November 24, 1 pm — Rogers Street Fishing Village will host a ceremony honoring George Sogge, captain of the Two Rivers Lifesaving Station, who conducted a search for the Rouse Simmons after receiving reports that the ship was flying distress flags.
  • Saturday, November 24, 5:30 pm — Downtown Two Rivers will present a Christmas parade and the lighting of the Rouse Simmons Christmas Tree.
  • Friday, November 30, 7 pm — The Chicago History Museum, 1601 North Clark Street, Chicago, will host a Rouse Simmons Centennial Celebration featuring artifacts from the ship, authors and experts on the ship's history, and photos never before displayed (free to the first 300 guests).
  • Saturday, December 8, noon–1:45 pm — The Wisconsin Maritime Museum, 75 Maritime Drive, Manitowoc, will feature feature the ballads and tales of Great Lakes singer Lee Murdock. The morning will include the arrival of Santa Claus aboard his own ship with Christmas trees, crafts and youth choruses (free admission). For more information contact the museum toll free at 866-724-2356.

:: Posted November 21, 2012

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