A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

Special Introductory Offer!

The Saga of Chicago's "Christmas Tree" Ship

Wednesday, December 25, 2013


schooner rouse simmons-bw1CHICAGO, ILLINOIS—In November of 1912, the schooner "Rouse Simmons" set sail from Michigan's upper peninsula, bound for Chicago with a cargo of Christmas trees. The 44-year old ship was captained by Herman Schuenemann, who was known as "Captain Christmas" and was famous for giving trees away to the needy. It's possible the holiday cargo was too heavy for the vessel to safely transport. Though logs show the weather was clear, the schooner went down with all hands, perhaps hit by a rouge wave. Maritime archaeologist Tamara Thomsen has been to the site of the shipwreck, which in 1971 was discovered in 178 feet of water. “It’s just a beautiful site," said Thomsen. "And it’s very interesting that it’s completely loaded with Christmas trees even today. And if you look down below the top layer of Christmas treeChristmas trees still have needles on them." Every year the Coast Guard delivers free trees to Chicago's needy in memory of "Rouse Simmons."