Captain Herman Schuenemann (center) & two members of his crew
The Bertha Barnes (US No. 2935) was one of several vessels that Captain Herman E. Schuenemann (or another family member) used for his famous annual Christmas Tree runs. Every year from 1887 to the fateful last in 1912 Captain Schuenemann made the dangerous late November run from the Upper Peninsula to Chicago in order to sell Christmas trees along a Chicago River dock. In 1903 the ship had a tonnage change. Other Christmas Tree ships were Maggie Dal (US No. 17746), the Ida, the Jessie Phillips, the Truman Moss, and George L. Wren.
The Margaret Dall had attempted two Christmas Tree Ship runs during the turn of the century, although neither was under the leadership of Captain Schuenemann. The first was during the 1896 season which washed ashore near Glencoe, IL, with a load of Christmas Trees on 10 November. Her master was Charles Nelson. The second run was made in 1904 under the master of E. F. Ellifson.
In 1909 Captain Schuenemann chartered the Bertha Barnes for this season’s run. He was using the Wrenn, but the ship nearly chucked the captain and his crew into Davy Jones’ Locker. The photo on the right was taken after she arrived on the Clark Street dock in 1909.
The newspaper Chicago Inter Ocean on 7 December 1909 published the following article:
SCENES ABOARD THE BERTHA BARNES, THE CHRISTMAS TREE BOAT.
“Christmas trees are going to be high this year,” observed Captain Schuenemann as he stood on the bridge of the schooner Bertha Barnes yesterday and filled the bowl of his pipe with tobacco that he had been rolling in the palm of his hand. “It is about the slimmest cargo I ever brought away. Why, I’ve only got about 15,000 trees on the whole ship, and you know, of course, the Chicago market depends pretty much on my supply. It’s the bad weather that’s to blame. Say, I’m wondering if our poor luck in getting trees this year hasn’t something to do with our changing boats. We’re on the Bertha Barnes this year. It’s the first time she ever had this honor and she acts as if she’s mighty proud of it. But I can’t help feeling a mite sorry for the (George L.) Wrenn (US No. 10816).” The captain beamed his broadest smile as half a hundred girls and women came out of the cabin where they had been twining and weaving wreaths. “Hooray for Captain Schuenemann!” shouted some of the women as they waved their handkerchiefs at the jolly old skipper who resembles Santa Claus.
The following season, Capt. Schuenemann bought 1/8 interest in the ship Rouse Simmons (US No. 110087). The popular captain and his crew perished in a storm on the Rousse Simmons during the 1912 run.
Chicago Examiner December 5, 1912
The three-masted schooner known as tbe “Christmas ship” because she is loaded with Christmas trees, has been lost with all hands. All hope that the vessel is afloat was abandoned yesterday when storm-tossed wreckage and several trees were found on the beach near Pentwater, Mich. There were probably eighteen men on board the schooner.
The boat carried Chicago’s supply of Christmas trees. It sailed from Thompson’s pier, near Manistique, Mich., on the west shore of the lake, November 17.
Even under the most unfavorable conditions the boat should have docked at the Wells street bridge on November 20.
The Rouse Simmons carried no lifeboats. Just how many were aboard probably will never be known. Fourteen years ago the schooner S. Thai, then known as the “Santa Claus ship,” sank off Glencoe. Fourteen lives were lost and but two bodies recovered.
Tbe Rouse Simmons was last sighted between Kewaunee, Wis., and Two Rivers, Wis.
Eight Known on Board.
Among those known to have been on board the boat are:
SCHEUNEMANN, CAPTAIN HERMAN, 1688 North Clark Street, part owner,
NELSON, CAPTAIN CHARLES, 1834 Humboldt avenue, part owner, (pictured at right, with Mrs. Nelson and his two daughters)
NELSON, STEPHEN, first mate, .
NELSON, CHARLES, sailor, Chicago,
BOSWINK, PHILIP, sailor, Chicago,
LYKSTAD, ALBERT, cook, 420 North Desplaines street.
SWENSKN, GILBERT, tree cutter, home near Humboldt Park.
CARLSON, FRANK, tree cutter, Austin.
Stephen Nelson recently came to Chicago from Sweden. All the others are from Chicago, but their addresses could not be learned.
For over eighteen years Captain Scheunemann has made annual trips across the lake.
Each year he has returned with enough Christmas. trees to supply the entire city. He secured command of the Rouse Simmons when he dissolved partnership with his brother, Captain August Scheunemann, commander of the ill fated S. Thai.
Captain August Scheunemann and his crew perished with the S. Thai on November 12, 1898. He left a widow and two children, Ilma and Arthur. Captain Herman Scheunemann is survived by his widow aud three children, Hazel and Pearl, twins, aged ten years, and Elsie, aged seventeen.
The Rouse Simmons sailed from Chicago six weeks ago with a crew of seven men and seven tree cutters. The tree cutters and part of the crew were engaged a few hours before sailing. It is believed the crew was augmented for the return trip.
Almost from the moment the schooner left the Michigan dock It met with head winds and a heavy sea. Its progress was slow. A week after it sailed it was sighted off Kewaunee. Wis. At that time it was flying distress signals. The boat was scudding before a heavy northwest gale
under a single reefed sail and jib.
When they sighted the boat at Kewaunee Captain Nelson Craite and his life saving crew made a vain attempt to reach it.
Captain George Segge, in charge of the life saving crew at Two Rivers, twenty four miles south, was notified. Aided by Captain Charles Carlaud of the Chicago station he attempted to locate the vessel, but was unsuccessful.
T. A. Hanson, secretary of the Seamen’s Union in Chicago, yesterday appealed to Captain Berry, commander of the United States revenue cutter Tuscarora to attempt to locale the missing boat. The Tuscarora steamed out of Milwaukee, Wis., before noon and headed for Pentwater.
Captain M. R. W. Ewald. in charge of the Pentwater life saving station, found the fragments which pointed to the tragedy.
The wreckage consisted of a “booby” hatch, to which clung fragments of Christmas trees. Christmas trees were picked up along the beach.
It is believed the boat went down near Two Rivers a week ago Sunday night.
The Rouse Simmons
Length: 123.50; Beam: 27.60; Depth of Hold: 8.40; Hull Material: wood; Gross Tonnage: 205.26; Propulsion Type: sail; Rig Type: schooner
Registry Number: 110087; Builder: Allen, McClelland & Co.; Year Built: 1868; Location Built: Milwaukee, WI
The location of the Rouse Simmons wreck remained a mystery for 59 years. Christmas trees washed up along the coastline for years to follow; and, in 1923, Captain Schuenemann’s wallet came up in a fisherman’s net near Two Rivers, Wis. It was not until Milwaukee diver Kent Bellrichard discovered the vessel’s remains 12 miles northeast of Two Rivers, Wis., in 165 feet of water.
Considered by many to be a grave site, the wreck of the Rouse Simmons was added to the National Register of Historic Places On March 21, 2007. Each year in December the U.S. Coast Guard commemorates the final voyage of Captain Schuenemann and the Rouse Simmons by sending their Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw to makes the journey from northern Michigan delivering a shipment Christmas trees to be distributed to Chicago’s needy families.
Archaeological site plan of the Rouse Simmons
Photo by WHS, Maritime Preservation and Archaeology Program
Body of Water: Lake Michigan; County: Manitowoc; Nearest City: Two Rivers; Latitude: N 44° 16.640′; Longitude: W 087° 24.863′
Trees being loaded aboard ship.
Painting by Charles Vickery.
Fort Dearborn Magazine, December, 1922