Remembering the Christmas Tree Ship
It was a gale of November in 1912 that claimed the Rouse Simmons and her crew. The ship would lie undiscovered for almost six decades.
Piloted by Captain Herman Schuenemann, the three-masted schooner had left Thompson Harbor near Manistique, Michigan, and was bound for Chicago with its eagerly anticipated cargo of about 4,000 Christmas trees. For 30 years, Capt. Schuenemann had made the voyage, pulled dockside in Chicago, strung lights from bow to stern and invited citizens to board and select their trees. He was known for his altruism, often giving away trees to the poverty-stricken.
That November voyage would be his last, however. The Christmas Tree Ship was spotted about five miles out by the Kewaunee life station with its flag at half-mast—a distress signal. Two Rivers Station Keeper Capt. George E. Sogge was notified about the ship in distress, and he immediately ordered surfmen to launch the station’s powerboat. The boat reached the schooner’s approximate position shortly thereafter, but no trace of the Rouse Simmons and its crew could be found. The schooner had vanished.
She would remind us of her existence through the years: a farewell message in a bottle corked with a small piece of cut pine tree; occasional trees caught in fishing nets; the captain’s wallet, wrapped in oilskin and well preserved, hauled up by a fishing trawler. But she lay undiscovered until that day in 1971 when a diver searching for a steamer that had sunk in 1887 discovered instead the graveyard of the Christmas Tree Ship on the lake bed 172 feet below.
Some artifacts, including the ship’s wheel, are on display at Rogers Street Fishing Village. The museum, however, remains closed due to the pandemic.