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Odd Wisconsin Archive

The Real Christmas Tree Ship


The Weather Channel is currently airing a half-hour movie about the Wisconsin schooner Rouse Simmons. Built in Milwaukee in 1868, for many years it brought Christmas trees from northern Wisconsin to Chicago each Thanksgiving. Its captain Herman Schuenemann even became affectionately known as "Captain Santa" and the arrival of the city's Christmas trees became an annual Chicago event. His voyage of 1912 was to be his last, however. Fully loaded with 10,000 trees, the Rouse Simmons set out for its final destination on the southern end of Lake Michigan only to encounter a brutal winter storm. Despite the crew's best efforts, the ship was unable to withstand the gales and disappeared without a trace. In 1971, it was discovered off the coast of Two Rivers, Wisconsin, in 165 feet of water with many skeletal spruce trees still in its hold. You can see contemporary photos of the Rouse Simmons at the Great Lakes Maritime History Project, a digital collection built by the Society, the University of Wisconsin, the Milwaukee Public Library, and other partners. You can also get the vital statistics on the Christmas tree ship, and see precisely where it now lies off Two Rivers, at our Maritime Trails site. And you can read more than 100 newspaper stories about Wisconsin ships during the age of sail and steam in our Local History & Biography Articles collection. These include interviews and memoirs by captains who plied the lakes alongside Capt. Schuenemann. The movie airs on TWC's "Storm Stories" show at 7:00, 7:30 and 10:00 CST most nights through Dec. 9th.
:: Posted in Strange Deaths on November 26, 2004
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