Christmas Tree Ship

Thompson "Christmas Tree Ship" Historical Marker

US Highway 2 - Thompson, Michigan

Herman Schuenemann loaded the Rouse Simmons schooner with 5,500 trees from Thompson Harbor near Manistique, Michigan on November 22, 1912 and planned to make the week-long journey to Chicago. Schuenemann, known as "Captain Santa" boarded the Simmons, which was loaded with trees from Thompson’s forests, and sailed into a fierce snowstorm that plunged the ship, and its crew and passengers, to the lake bottom.

Christmas Tree Ship
Thompson / Christmas Tree Ship Historical Marker

Lake Michigan Shoreline (Access Road off of US-2)
Thompson, MI (45.90672, -86.32462)

Along the Lake Michigan shoreline is a historical marker near the town of Thompson. It marks the spot where the “Christmas Tree Ship” sailed from with a load of pine trees for Chicago.

Thompson / Christmas Tree Ship

Michigan Registered Historic Site

The Delta Lumber Company of Detroit, headed by E. L. Thompson, platted the village of Thompson in 1888. Seven different lumber companies ran the mill in the village. By 1907 the population had reached 900. Three churches and four saloons served the residents, as did a general store, a hotel, and a hospital. Stagecoaches carried passengers twice daily to nearby Manistique, located along the Minneapolis, St. Paul & Sault Ste. Marie Railway. The Thompson Railroad, used primarily for hauling logs to the docks, also took tours to the Big Spring, Kitchi-ti-ki-pi. Lumbering activities in Thompson died out quickly, and by 1919 the town’s population had dropped to only 150. Thompson was the last port of call for the “Christmas Tree Ship”, Rouse Simmons, which sank in 1912.

The Rouse Simmons was one of the last schooners on the Great Lakes. Built in 1868 to carry lumber, the three-masted vessel became Chicago's "Christmas Tree Ship" when Herman Schuenemann purchased an interest in it in 1910. Around 1876 the Schuenemanns had begun transporting trees from northern Michigan and Wisconsin to Chicago. In November 1898 Hermann's brother August perished in the wreck of the schooner S. Thal, but Herman continued the business. Bound for Chicago on November 22, 1912, he boarded the Simmons, which was loaded with trees from Thompson's forests, and sailed into a fierce snowstorm that plunged the ship, and its crew and passengers, to the lake bottom. Herman's wife and daughters delivered trees to Chicago each Christmas until around 1934.

Manistique Kewadin Casino
Manistique Kewadin Casino
Manistique Kewadin Casino

Forty-seven years after the Rouse Simmons disappeared, on October 30, 1971 the wreck of the Christmas tree ship was finally discovered by Milwaukee scuba diver Kent Bellrichard. The Rouse Simmons was located north of Two Rivers, Wisconsin, lying on the bottom of the lake in 165 feet of water.

The story of the Christmas Ship has endured for nearly a century, due in part to the personality of her captain. Schuenemann sold thousands of Christmas trees each year, with the finest trees going to some of the most prominent businesses in the city.

Schuenemann (nicknamed Captain Santa) was much beloved in Chicago. He became known for his cheerful disposition and his many acts of kindness. Every holiday season Schuenemann presented gifts of Christmas trees, wreaths and garlands to both local churches and the orphan’s home. Trees were also given away to poor families.

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