In the late 1800 early 1900 it became fashionable to have Christmas trees. Ship owners and crews who normally ran lumber soon found out that making one last run on the lake made for a very nice profit. They started running fresh cut trees right before Christmas. It was most times the last run of the year on the lake as the gales of November became deadly.
The most famous Christmas crew was Captain Herman Schuenemann known to Chicago locals as Captain Santa, Master of the Schooner Rouse Simmons hailed by everyone ashore as the Christmas Tree ship. Every year Captain Santa would dock his schooner on the river in Chicago and sell his trees directly to his customers. He was the hit of the season loved by locals. Herman was known for providing the cheapest and freshest trees having a pleasant and distinctive smell. Captain Santa was known for giving away trees to families who could not afford the fifty cents to one dollar he charged. After a long season of hauling lumber it made for a nice Christmas bonus for him and his crew, and Christmas cheer for the folks of Chicago.
In the year 1912 Captain Santa told his wife this would be his last trip, as he was getting old, and so was his ship. Sailed to Michigan and loaded the Rouse Simmons with over 5000 trees and left the tree farm home bound for Chicago the moring of a light dusting of snow. Winds picked up that night to near 70 knots and the schooner, her crew and some passengers, a total of 16 were lost in the storm. Three other ships were lost that night as well. Captain Herman had lost his brother 14 years earlier on the shipwreck of the Schooner Thal. Yet carried on to bring joy to the citizens of Chicago.
The next year the city of Chicago erected it’s first City Christmas tree in honor of the Captain and his crew. Over 100,000 citizens attended.
Photo credits~ ( Schoolcraft County Historical Society Manistique, Michigan.)