An artists’s conception of the scene aboard the Rouse Simmons during the gale that destroyed one of Chicago’s last Christmas ships. Painted expressly for The Tribune by the Chicago artist, James M. Sessions. Published December 24, 1944.
The Inter-Ocean, December 5, 1876
The schooners Four Brothers and Reindeer (US No. 21194) cleared last night; the former with stone for the piers at St. Joseph, and the latter with 3,000 pieces of evergreen from Manitowoc.
The Inter-Ocean, December 14, 1877
The following vessels arrived here yesterday:
Schrs Oliver Culver, lumber, from Muskegon; E.R. Blaake, lumber, from Muskegon; Hattie Fisher, lumber, Muskegon; Magnolia, lumber, Muskegon; J.B. Penfield, lumber, Muskegon; S.M. Mason, lumber, Manistee; Jessie Phillips, lumber, Manistee; scow Lady Ellen (US No. 140208), evergreens, from Ahnaistee; schrs E.M. Portch, lumber, from Cheboygan; Evening Star, lumber, from Manistee; Eliza Day, limber, from Manistee.
Inter Ocean, December 8, 1882
The rigorous cold weather of Wednesday night (which continued yesterday and last night) caused the greatest anxiety for the fate of vessels caught outside.
Made The Harbor.
During the day yesterday several craft made the harbor as follows:
- Schooner F. H. Williams, Sturgeon Bay, Christmas trees.
Propeller Lawrence, Cheboygan, sundries.
Schooner Coaster, Sturgeon Bay, Christmas trees.
Propeller Lady Washington, Escanaba, sundries.
There were no sailings yesterday that the Custom House officials or the tugmen learned of. The wind was west.
The Williams and Coaster were at anchor under the breakwater from 6 o’clock Wednesday evening until brought in the harbor by tugs yesterday. They are completely covered with ice, which reaches up their masts. Their decks have solid blue ice upon them. The crews suffered untold hardship, and when they arrived in the harbor were worn out and nearly perished. The captain of the Williams had his face badly frozen, and the crews of both craft have frozen hands and feet and ears. When the Coaster towed past Wells street her colors were at half-mast, and the general conclusion was that one or more of her crew had been washed off the slippery deck and drowned, or had died aboard from freezing. This, fortunately, was not the case. The signal of distress had been hoisted while outside so that a tug would come to her, and was not taken down when towing the harbor because it could not be. It was frozen in position.
The propeller Lawrence and the small propeller Lady Washington are also iced up and report terrible passages.
Inter Ocean, December 24, 1887
Everything indicates the rapid approach of Christmas; the streets are lined from morn to eve with hordes of eager purchasers; stores are gaily bedecked with novelties and beautiful presents; the wheels of the city’s commerce revolve with infinite noise, and not one in the vast throng that does not look forward with more than ordinary interest to the universal holiday. Many are the drones that by their daily labor serve to propagate this general happiness of the multitude; numerous cases seen and appreciated, and in some instances unnoticed and unthought of; but amid them all there is a class of people, a class of busy workers who by their efforts do much to gladden the eye and make a dreary, dismal house a scene of unalloyed beauty; a class of people that rarely alluded to, as unobtrusive as they are a necessary adjunct to the well-regulated notion of what a Christmas-tide should be,
The Tree Dealers,
the men who handle the Christmas trees so prolific of presents for the young, have them them for sale, and bring them hither from north and south at this joyous carnival in conformity to the demand of the custom. A word or so concerning this branch of industry may not be amiss at this season.
Balsam trees and silver spruce, ground pine and holly comprise, for the most part, the Christmas decorations. The balsam and spruce trees are either shipped by rail or conveyed across the lake in schooners from Michigan and Wisconsin, whose woods are annually stripped to satiate the exorbitant demand. The man who first introduced these trees into Chicago by way of the lake is Captain Schuenemann, who, for the past thirteen years, has never neglected to bring three or four cargoes of the verdant boughs into port at this period of the year. About 9,000 branches can be stored away on a schooner of ordinary dimensions. An altitude of fifty feet is usually attained by the balsam and spruce trees, but only the smaller branches are lopped off for the trade, no market being available for the thicker growths. Captain Schuenemann claims to have the largest tree of this kind ever brought to Chicago. It stands about 30 feet and its butt spreads for 15 feet.
Not more than three vessels are engaged in the business this season, the competition from the railroads being so vigorous as to kill the mariner’s profit. Last year a little money was made, but this year the vesselmen say the time the expense of importation is derayed the profits are absolutely “nil.” The Water street dealers complain of the dullness of the tree business. A dozen trees of average dimensions can be purchased for $2. And here again comes the cry of competition. Where formerly one or two houses controlled the business, now everybody dabbles in it, and no longer is there any money in the venture. But aside from this, there is a larger and better paying side of this annual decoration. Evergreens—ground pine, trailing arbutus, and many other shrubs of a similar nature—are yearly finding more favor in the sight of the poublic, and in a large measure supplanting the use of trees at the Christmas festival.Into the factory where wreaths, emblems, festoons, and all the leafy garb that makes a room, a hall, or a sanctuary look like an arbor of loveliness, are dexterously fashioned, dodged The Inter Ocean reporter, and what was therein noted will carefully be reproduced.
Chicago Sunday Chronicle, December 12, 1897
If any doubt existed as to the fact that the merry Yuletide season was upon us it would be dispelled from the mind of anyone who takes a trip to the Clark Street bridge.
The Christmas tree schooners, those unfailing harbingers of peace on earth and Christmas presents and unrestrained joy, are tied to the docks, laden to the water’s edge with Wisconsin pines. They came to town last week, the boats which brought down the annual load of Christmas trees, to make glad the hearts of Chicago youngsters, and three old vessels which all summer have been idling at the wharves by the bridge were at once decked out in holiday attire.
Eight thousand trees and thousands of yards of lycopodium, the evergreen stuff which is made up into wreaths, were brought in on the stanch schooner Experiment (US No. 7523) and transferred to the decks of the Rising Star, and ancient and weather-beaten craft, which is rounding out its long years of service in the slimy waters of the river. Other schooners brought trees and greens for the A.J. Mowry and the Mary Collins, faithful mates, moored side by side west of the big bridge, fitted out with roofs above the decks, from which smoke curls hospitably when the fire is started in the galley.
Supply Running Short.
“Cap” Schuenemann, who brought the first load of Christmas trees into Chicago, and A. L. Schuenemann of the Experiment, who has been doing his humble share to provide Christmas cheer for twenty-one years by bringing them down from the fastnesses of Wisconsin every winter a load of trees, say the supply is running short up there, and there is a possibility there will be no more Christmas trees. Theis year he brought down only 8,000 trees against 20,000 last year. The market is just as good this year, there are just as many small boys and girls who want to dance around a Christmas tree as there ever were, but the captain says trees of the proper size and growth are very hard to get. Forest fires sweep through them every year or so and wipe out millions of feet of choice pine timber. The Christmas tree trade eats into the supply very deeply and the result is tht this year he had to work hard in gathering 8,000 trees of marketable quality.
It was twenty-one years ago that the scow Lady Ellen, Captain A. L. Schuenemann in command, with Captain Dow as his right bower, poked her nose into the mouth of the Chicago river and moved slowly up to one of the docks with 2,000 trees on board. Neither Schuenemann nor Dow knew how the experiment was going to turn out. They knew that Chicago families wanted Christmas trees and that the market should be brisk, but whether they could get enough out of 2,000 trees to pay for the trouble and expense of the Lady Ellen’s trip was a serious question. A little Christmas tree flew at the peak of the scow as she moved up the river, and when the stock of trees was set out along the dock and pedestrians on the bridges saw them piled up in profusion on the decks there was a rush to buy and the stock soon melted away. That settled the matter with Schuenemann. The Christmas tree business was a success. The next year he brought down a larger supply of trees and so the business has gradually increased until last year, when he reached the high-water mark and brought 20,000 trees. That, of course, does not represent the size of the entire market, as there are other people in the business.
Danger of a Corner.
When the Experiment was moored in this fall and the woodmen went into the forest in search of suitable trees for market they found them very scarce. It was only by dint of careful search and much work that Captain Schuenemann and his force were able to get 8,000 trees, where in former years there were trees to burn. As many more were brought by other dealers and several thousand will come by rail, but the fact remains that the market is short and those who want to light up the little candles Christmas night must hasten to get in on the ground floor before the mrket is cornered.
The Rising Star, partly dismantled and rather unfit for active service, has been all year lying within the shadow of the Clark street bridge. A little shanty of rough pine boards has afforded shelter to such of her men as were detailed to guard the property and the boat has been one of the picturesque sights of the river all year. As soon as the Experiment was unloaded and the cargo transferred to the Rising Star a force of men set to work arranging the trees to tastefully decorate the old hulk. Hundreds of them are arranged in rows around the rail and the dock beside the vessel is piled high with trees and wreaths of lycopodium. This is the peculiar evergreen plant which is made up into wreaths by nimble fingered girls. It grows close to the ground in the Wisconsin forests and is picked by the Indians for the market. Hundreds of crates of the stuff formed part of the cargo of the little vessels which got in last weel with the trees and a force of girls at once set to work making wreaths to decorate windows during Christmas week.
The commander of the Mary Collins, one of the old vessels lying to the west of the bridge, has trimmed his vessel gayly with the wreaths. From the top of the mast to the rail he has hung a chain of wreaths on a line, where they swing and sway in the wind, attracting the attention of everyone crossing the bridge. A glance at the vessels below shows the Christmas trees piled all over the decks ready for purchasers.
The A. J. Mowry has not sailed the lakes for many a day, but in her trimming of Christmas green she looks quite brave and attractive. On her deck is a little shanty like that on the Rising Star across the bridge, and from the stovepipe thrust through its roof a little wisp of blue smoke curls up into the wintry air. Christmas trees are everywhere, on the decks, against the rails, on the wharf and one even surmounts the vessel and switches feebly in the wind at the masthead.
Nearly every place of business along South Water street shows a bunch of evergreen wreaths hanging outside the door, some of them decorated with the red holly berries. Up three dark and narrow flights of stairs on the top floor of one of the big buildings on the street a force of girls works all day long making wreaths for Captain Schuenemann. The room is piled high with crates of lycopodium brought down on the Experiment and the girls have little time from their task of winding the evergreen with wire and binding it on hoops made of withes. As fast as the wreaths are completed they are tossed into crates for the market and some of the stuff isn prepared in long streamers for decorating churches and business houses which trim their windows with it during the season.
Holly Is Deficient.
There is no shortage of lycopodium, but the holly is not what it should be this year, and people who think Christmas is not what it should be without the brilliant dark green leaves and bright red berries hanging everywhere are likely to be disappointed. From Tennessee comes the best holly, although some of it comes from the eastern market, and it is said the eastern holly is in bad shape this season for various reasons of a climatic nature.
Very little mistletoe is seen in Chicago, and girls who expect to be kissed when caught under the mistketoe will have to hustle around to find it. There is, of course, a certain quantity sold every year, but the standards for trimming and decorating remain the common lycopodium and the holly.
Use of Evergreens.
The use of Christmas evergreens in the United States is less than fifty years old. The country ws too new to bother with decorative features, and up to 1850 the holly and mistletoe, the spruce and the pine, the hemlock and the fir were unknown.
The only people who decorated their homes with green were the Germans, who made long pilgrimages into the woods to get branches of pines for their homes. They were laughed at, but they bore their Christmas martyrdom good-naturedly, and made merry under the spreading green boughs.
The English wanted mistletoe, and they got little sprays of it from North Carolina now and then, but it had to be sent up in little paper boxes through the mail, and it was long in coming and the berries were oft-times shriveled.
Forty-six years ago this Christmas week Mark Carr, a woodchopper in the Catskill mountains, said to his wife:
“My dear, I am going to cut some hemlock boughs and take them down to New York to sell.”
The good woman laughed at him and told him that he would have “his labor for his pains.” But Mark Carr was a sturdy Dutchman, set in his way, and he remembered the Germans who had come up in the mountains year after year to get the greens, and recalled their delight at the sight of them.
“I believe,” said he, “that I can sell these green boughs to New Yorkers, and I am going to try it.”
Up to that time the Christmas tree had been an artificial product. It was made of wood, and there were hooks on which to hang the toys. The few real trees that were obtained came from the country and were very expensive. To get a tree a special messenger had to be sent to the woods a week before to fell a tree and bring it home. He in turn hired a woodchopper to cut it down for him, and all in all, the operation of procuring a Christmas tree was so long and so costkly that only the wealthy could afford it.
When Mark Carr appeared in Greenwich street with his load of Christmas trees he was looked upon as a curiosity and hailed with delight. His truckful was sold inside of an hour at prices ranging from $1 to $5 per tree, according to size, and when he took the train home at night he carried with him the happiest heart that ever beat beneath a woodman’s jacket. The next two days he was busy felling trees, and on the third day he started again for the station with his wagon piled with the young firs. For $1 he again secured the corner of Greenwich and Vessey streets, and as speedily sold his wares.
The following year, assisted by the now willing Mrs. Carr, he took a great many more to market, but this year he found competitors, and the prices fell. Meanwhile the Jerseymen were getting their carts of greens into the Philadelphia market.
That was the beginning of the Christmas green industry in the United States. If there are earlier records of it they have not been found.
Mistletoe is something that is highly prized in some regions and greatly despised in others. The mistletoe is in England a very much desired bit of decoration, but in France, where the mistletoe flourishes most, it is a pest. It overruns the poplars and it crushes the life out of the shade trees. It grows over the ground, scattering its seed where the crops should grow, and it is the fiercest agricultural pest that the Normandy farmers have to fight. A short time ago the French government ordered it stamped out, and the latest reports were that the mistletoe had been somewhat subdued.
In this country it grows in great profusion, but the berries are smaller and the leaves a little paler. The mistletoe here is still so rare in commerce that only enough of it is brought to hang from the chandelier over the table, but tghis year the mistletoe gatherers are at work and it will be cheaper, they say.
The novelties in Christmas decoration—and there are new greens every year—will be the gray-green moss from the Louisiana lowlands and the Florida everglades. The Virginia dismal swamp is now being robbed of its ever-hanging curtains for our Christmas use, and the moss will be sold here by the yard for our own windows.
Christmas would not be Christmas without holly, and the growth of it begins in Delaware and extends south, becoming at its height in Georgia, where holly sometimes grows as high as sixty feet in a veritable tree. English holly is the proper thing, but it is to be doubted if one spray that is sold in the streets actually comes from England. England cannot supply her own holly, and we would be at a loss, indeed, were we to depend upon the English supply.
Cuba has always sent ship loads of victory palms, but this year Cuba is weeping over the fall of her tropical beauty. Many of the palms come from the other islands of the West Indies, and we will not lack them. The wild smilax which grows along the lower Mississippi and in warmer spots on the borders of the Ohio is also being boxed for market, and florists promise other novelties.
By 1910, Herman Schuenemann established his own enterprise and named it the Northern Michigan Evergreen Nursery with the address given as “S.W. Corner Clark St. Bridge.” Other vendors sold their trees along South Water Street.
Sanborn Fire Insurance Map
Chicago Tribune, December 13, 1899
The Christmas tree farmers of the great burned woods of northern Wisconsin send disquieting reports to their Chicago agents. On account of the wet weather and the lack of snow they will not be able to harvest much more than half a crop for the Chicago market. Consequently, there is already somewhat of a shortage, and, instead of 150,000 trees, which is its regular holiday supply, Chicago will have to get along with not more than 100,000 at the most.
Prices for Christmas trees are correspondingly higher. Trees which sold last year at wholesale for from $8 to $10 a hundred are now bringing from $12 to $15, while at retail they command from 50 cents to $1 apiece.
Most of Chicago’s trees come from the vicinity of Hurly and Fifield, Wis., on what lumbermen call the Turtle and Flambeau waters. They are cut in the swampy woods in October and November and piled up to wait for the first snow. Then they are loaded on sledges and hauled for twenty or thirty miles over old logging roads to the nearest railroad station. There they are tied together in bundles containing from two to half a dozen trees and loaded on flat cars, each car carrying from 2,000 to 2,500 trees.
During October and November of this year it has rained so much in the big woods farmers have had to wade knee deep in the swamps to get out the trees, while the lack of snow has made it necessary to haul them to market in wagons over roads by comparison with which even the worst of Chicago streets is a boulevard.
Most of these logging roads are simply winding trails through the thick forests of tall pines, twisting and turning in every direction to avoid the swamps. Where it has been possible to escape a soft place in the track a corduroy road, consisting of rough jows laid close together at right angles with the road, has been built. These logs soon rot and fall away, leaving a deep gap into which a wagon wheel may plunge up to the hub. A wind in the woods is likely at any time to blow a tangled mess of dead trees across the road, requiring a hard day’s work on the part of the axemen to clear the path.In wet weather, such as has prevailed during the last two months, they are simply a succession of tortuous mud holes, through which it is hard work for a good team to pull a light wagon unloaded.
From the Christmas tree country comes also ground pine, which woven into long festoons, is extensively used in the decoration of churches and private dwellings. But ground pine is too small game for the Christmas tree farmer. It is gathered by Lo, the poor Indian, who by a week’s work in the woods and swamps about his reservation manages to secure enough money to buy his Christmas supply of fire water. The ground pine is packed into bales like hay and is loaded into box cars, six tons a car. When it reaches Chicago it is put into the hands of nimble fingered workers who weave it into festoons on strands of wire.
This year the supply of ground pine is also small, and a roll containing twenty yards sells for 50 cents. Chicago will use up from twenty to thirty car loads of the raw material.
Christmas holly comes from the woods of Tennessee and Mississippi. It is packed in the wooden cases, running seventy-five to the car load, and sells at from $2 to $3 a case. Eastern holly, from Delaware, is not in great demand this year.
Your Christmas tree farmer is a picturesque character. He knows the woods and the waters thoroughly and lives all the year round in the open air. In April he goes to one of the hundreds of big lakes lying hid in the great burned pine forest and becomes a guide for fishermen. These fishermen go in constantly increasing numbers every year from Chicago, St. Louis, Cincinnati, and even from as far East as New York, to fish for the giant muskalunge, the tiger of the inland lakes, and the black bass, which is never so gamy as in these northern waters. “Pete” or “Andy,” as the case may be, has a certain number of city patrons whom he guides every year. He meets them at the little railroad station with an old democrat wagon, loads in their light baggage, and then starts back straight into the heart of the deep woods, mangled by careless lumbermen and seared and blackened by forest fires.
Beside him on the seat the guide carries an axe, a spade and a gun. He can never be sure what obstruction may have fallen across the road since he drove over it in the morning, so he must have his axe and his spade ready for emergencies. As for the gun, there are always “partridges” running across the road, and one may often get a shot at a deer, if the fear of the game warden be not too imminent. You get glimpses of black, dismal-looking lakes, hemmed in by walls of great dead pines, killed by fire, and at rare intervals you pass the log cabin of a settler, with a tiny clearing about it.
Far away in the woods, stretching unbroken for twenty miles in every direction, you come to a little log cabin on the shores of a lake. It is a deserted logging camp, now used as a fishing lodge by “pete” and his city friends. Here your Christmas tree farmer passes his summer, lazily rowing his boat from one to another of the endless chains of lakes, as pleases the capricious fancy of his fishermen. At night he will take the party down one of the winding creeks, which tie the lakes together, “shining” for deer, in utter defiance of the laws of the sovereign Commonwealth of Wisconsin. For the Christmas tree farmer is usually a law unto himself. He is apt to be quiet and even taciturn. There are no magpies in the great wods. He is a good cook, a capital shot, and an expert fisherman. Sometimes he gets howling drunk on raw wood alcohol, diluted with water. Then he may be dangerous, if a man attempts to interfere with what he considers his rights. But normally he is not quarrelsome and he is usually honest.
It costs the Christmas tree farmer practically nothing to live during the summer, so that when his last fisherman has gone home he usually has a decent sum of money buried in a tin bait box, the location of the plant being marked by the broken branch of tree. This money he digs up, starts for the nearest town of any size, and procedes to investigate pathological civilization as thoroughly as is possible for a week. At the end of that time he goes back to the woods and becomes a Christmas tree farmer in earnest. He and his “pardner” take their “grub,” guns, and axes and strike out for a place marked during the summer, where the young spruce trees grow thick and green. In the long evenings they hunt deer and partridges, even now and then getting a big brown bear to ship with the trees to Chicagp.
They devote most of their time to saplings from six to eight feet in height, though now and then a tree of twenty, or even a giant of thirty-five or forty frrt in height, is taken. The Chicago dealers make no distinction in the size of the trees they buy or sell. They go at so much a hundred “run of the car” at wholesale, and the consumer is the only one who sees any difference in the price.
Chicago people are partial to spruce Christmas trees. Balsams were at one time in favor, but it was found that the atmosphere of a furnace-heated house soon causes the long balsam needles to drop off and spoils the beauty of the trees.
When all the Christmas tree farmers have a good year they cut and send to Chicago 150,000 trees. If these trees were planted six feet apart and in rows they would make a grove of 123 acres which represents the amount of forest denuded annually to make a Chicago holiday.
Nurserymen in the vicinity of the city have made an effort to supply the demand with trees from their gardens, but the majority of people seem to prefer a spruce fresh from the big woods. A small supply is brought to town by the owners of a umber of small schooners, who, after the summer’s business in lumber, gravel, or slabs is over, run their boats up the west shore of the lake to a point north of Green Bay, go ashore with a couple of men andcut a lot of trees, which are brought back to the city by water and usually retailed from the decks of the schooners.
When the trees have been shipped and the money they brought is spent, the Christmas tree farmer goes back into the woods and becomes a “timber jack” for the winter. He joins a gang of lumbermen and goes with them to the primeval forest, where the giant pines tower up a hundred feet in height.
A few rough shacks or cabins are built, and a logging road is cut leading down to a swift running river which will carry the logs to the mill, or possibly to the Mississippi, and then on down to some of the Iowa lumber towns. After a heavy fall of snow in the woods the choppers work like mad, for unless there is snow on the ground it is extremely hard to get the big logs to the river. Sometimes they get up and go to work at 3 o’clock in the morning in order to get out their trees before a thaw.
Whether they celebrate the holidays or not depends chiefly on the weather. If it is cold and crisp on Christmas day and there is a good fall of snow on the ground the men who cut your Christmas tree is most likely to be sinking his ax into a big pine while you are eating plum pudding.
In the spring come the freshets and floods. The big booms of logs go driving down the swollen streams and the Christmas tree farmer is ready to go fishing again.
Chicago Tribune, November 11, 1898
The weather today will be fair and slightly warmer. The storm has blown itself out in the lake region. The highest velocity of the wind was sixty miles yesterday and the average about forty. Toward night the wind and the lake became quiet.
The roaring northeast wind that has swept across Lake Michigan for thirty-six hours accomplished the wrecking of two schooners on the shore in the immediate vicinity of Chicago. In the case of one, the Iron Cliff, the crew of seven men were rescued in spectacular fashion yesterday morning in plain view of the great lake front hotels, but the other vessel, the S. Thal, two masted, went down off Glencoe early in the morning with all hands on board.
The fate of the unlucky Thal is written along a rocky beach strewn with timbers, seaman’s chests, doors and Christmas trees, all the way from Ravinia to Winnetka. The vessel carried a cargo of trees intended for the Chicago holiday market.
The Thal was owned and commanded by Captain John Schutt. The names of the crew, three men, are not known.
No one saw the schooner sink. The exact time when it struck the bar, 300 feet east of the residence of Melville E. Stone, “Stone Haven,” is not known.
When the residents of the Village of Glencoe awoke they saw the wreckage being made sport of by the surf. They searched in vain for the bodies of the Captain and crew, and until nightfall they had not even a clew to the identity of the schooner.
On Wednesday those who had the hardihood to visit the shore saw two schooners, about three miles out, breasting the tremendous sea. One, a three-master, was scuddling along as if in a summer gale, but the smaller, a two-master, was evidently in distress. The larger of the two, and both were nearing the shore at a rapid rate, gained on the other and soon left it far in the rear. The schooner then dropped anchor and attempted to weather the storm. WIth its nose in the gale it withstood the battering of the waves for two hours, and if a tremendous wind had not arisen all would have been well.
Flying a Distress Signal.
The distressed vessel was first sighted by John Casey, who was working on the beach near the Stone residence. That was before the weight of the storm had reached the west shore of the lake, but appeared to be waging an up-hill battle with the waves and was flying a distress signal. The signal, Casey said, consisted of a flag lowered to half mast, and he claims to have seen five men on the deck of the boat apparently working at the pumps.
Arthur Lind, engineer at the Winnetka pumping station, saw the Thal at about the same time. He had finished his noon-day meal and stood in the doorway of his engine room looking out upon the lake, when he discovered two schooners some distance north, apparently off Fort Sheridan. To get a better view he secured a spy glass and climbed to the top of the water tower.
The larger schooner soon gained its heading and tried to run out into the lake, but the wind drove it continually inshore, and Lind watched it for nearly two hours to see if it could safely pass the Grosse Point sand bars.
When it had turned the point he again took a careful at the smaller boat, which proved to be, the Thal, and discovered that it had thrown out its anchors and was flying a flag at half-mast.
The engineer was not positive that the flag was meant for a signal of distress, and he hesitated to send for assistance until a mist and light fog broke over the lake and shut the boat from view.
Disappears in the Fog.
After an hour or so Lind noticed that the Thal was making preparations to again start on its way. Both sails were set and the anchor weighed, but no sooner had the boat started then a heavy gust tore the front foresail to shreds and tossed the vessel as if it were a mere log. The boat spun around and headed for the shore, then a fog came up and Lind lost sight if the ill-fated Thal.
John Casey was so close that he could see the men as they cut away the sail and made preparations, as he thinks, to again try to go on. The storm was rising and with each gust the fate of the boat became more and more evident to the crew. They raised the flag and twice the cannon boomed to tell any that happened on shore that the ill-fated craft was in peril.
Joe Brandle, coachman for Melville E. Stone, saw the boat about the same time and hastened to telegraph to the Evanston life-saving station, and on his way met Fred Larf, coachman of C. E. Dupee, who told him that the crew was already warned of the boat’s impending wreck.
The Evanston life-saving crew was not notified until too late, and then it was that there was a rumor to the effect that a boat had gone ashore the day before, and no attention wqas paid to it.
No word was sent to Fort Sheridan, although the accident happened within five miles of the station, and all crew might have been saved.
Although the home of Melville E. Stone was within sound, the sleepers were not disturbed. For that reason it is not believed the Thal was provided with signal guns or lights. Distress rockets would likely have been seen by the Glencoe night watchman, and even the booming of the surf could scarce have drowned the sound of a bomb fired to bring relief. Members of the household of Melville Stone felt the disaster keenly. Miss Jessie Stone had been among those who watched the boat on Wednesdat afternoon. The vessel was seen from Highland Park and from Winnetka.2
Engineer Lind inaugurated a search for the wreckage of the Thal yesterday morning. Suspicious at the absence of the schooner from the horizon, he swept the shore line with his glasses. He saw a planking floating along the beach at intervals for a mile, and gave a general alarm. A beach patrol, under the command of James C. Watson, was organized and began a systematic search for final proof. When the loss of the Thal was assured the patrol was divided, and its members spent the day in the effort to find bodies, but without success. Several seamen’s chests were dragged out of the surf, but no names appeared upon them.
The Glencoe sand bar where the S. Thal was wrecked.
Beached Yawl Is Found.
A fourteen-foot yawl was beached not far from the point opposite which the Thal is supposed to have gone to pieces. Portions of the stern were found further to the south. Splintered parts of the masts were later hauled onto the sand. Enough of different parts of the vessel were found to leave no doubt that the wreck had been complete. Scarce one timber was left on another. The strips bearing the name were discovered not far from the yawl, but for some reason were overlooked in the search of the early day. It is considered possible that they may not have been driven in until after noon.
The bar upon which the Thal probably struck is 300 feet out. The first theory was that the schooner held there until it went to pieces. Were this the case, however, it is believed that the bodies must have been found by this time. Many declare that the schooner must have gone down some distance from the shore and that the wreckage did not come ashore until the vessel apart far out. It is believed in any quarter, apparently, that the vessel sank because it sprang leaks. Whether it went down a distance out or close in it is believed the vessel broke and foundered in sections, owing to the rottenness of its frame.
The spot where the Thal was wrecked is one of the worst on the north shore. The shore is higher along Glencoe than anywhere else from Evanston to Racine. The coast line is rocky in formation, and a long bar runs along the entire front of Glencoe, Lakeside, and Winnetka.
The Thal is officially described as a small two-master schooner, its measurements being: Length 75 feet; beam 30 feet. It was listed in the marine registrar as a 32-ton boat, indicating a carrying capacity of about 100 tons.
The schooner Thal was owned and sailed by John Schuttmann of Chicago. The schooner was formerly owned by William Robinson of this city, but was seized for wages and sold by the United States Marshal in September to George Hantley of this city. He sold the boat to John Schuttmann a month ago and since then it has been running out of Chicago. It was bound from Jacksonport, Wis., to Chicago with a cargo of Christmas trees. Neither Robinson nor Hanley, the former owners, are here, and no one here knows anything about the crew except that Schuttman is the Captain. When Robinson sailed the boat it only carried a crew of three.
From the windows of the Auditorium Hotel and the Fine Arts Building hundreds of people were watching the struggle of the barge (Iron Cliff) and the tug (Rita McDonald) against the wind as they tried to beat away from the breakwater and the shallow water.
Chicago Tribune, November 12, 1898
The bodies of Captain August L. Schuenemann, 170 La Salle avenue; E. Turner Davis mate, and the four seamen of the schooner S. Thal are believed to be buried under the tangle of cables, ropes, masts, and rigging lying on the Glencoe beach. In his twenty-five years’ experience as a lake sailor Captain Schuenemann had been obliged many times to tie himself and crew to the rigging, and had said often to his family and friends that such a course gave the storm-beset sailor the best chance for his life. If he carried the theory into practice Wednesday night the bodies are either under the beached portion of the wreck or out 300 yards in the lake, where spars could be seen tossing, indicating that a portion of the rigging is there underneath the surface.
Dynamite will be used to day to free the wreckage from the sand, which already has buried a portion of it several feet deep. H. O. Dickinson, who lived with Captain Schuenemann, and was part owner of the Thal’s cargo, superintended the search made yesterday for the bodies.
Captain Schuenemann purchased the boat for $650 six weeks ago in Milwaukee. He did not try to place any insurance on the boat or the cargo, valued at $2,500. He put out from Manitowoc Tuesday night. when the storm was rising. He sent a postal card from Manitowoc to his wife, saying that he was on the last stretch homeward.
Mrs. Schuenemann did not worry, trusting to her husband’s skill, and the blow of his death came with terrible force. Captain Schuenemann was 46 years old and had sailed Lake Michigan since a boy. He left two children, Elma, 13 years old, and Arthur, aged 7. E. Turner Davis and his wife lived with Captain Schuenemann. Until recently Davis was the manager for the Erie restaurant. His first voyage was his last. He was 26 years old, and had no children. “Old John,” for several years an employe of the Captain, drowned with him. The three other men of the crew were shipped from Sturgeon Bay.
Chicago Inter Ocean November 29, 1899
On the deck of the Mary Collins, at a long, improvised table, fifty young girls yesterday bent over a wealth of fresh, green lycopodium, weaving it int wreaths and garlands for the holiday time. When they have completed their task an emerald cable long enough to reach from Chicago to New York will have been braided by their deft fingers.
The decks of Captain Schuenemann’s trim three-master are pulled high with bundles of these fairy trees, gathered by Chippewa squaws in the Lake Superior country.
For seven years past Captain Schuenemann has brought a big cargo of lycopodium, evergreen boughs, and Christmas trees to Chicago, and sold them direct to the people from his schooner. He employs half a hundred girls to prepare the wreaths and garlands ready for decorating churches, halls, and homes. They will be kept constantly at work from now until Christmas. Captain Schuenemann brought 12,000 Christmas trees, among them an evergreen thirty-four feet long and perfectly pear-shapped.
The schooner Mary Collins lies in the Chicago river, under the shadow of the Clark street bridge. All day yesterday her deck was thronged with men and women waiting to order wreaths and garlands. The industry will give employment to a large number of people for several weeks to come. Several other boats and the railways will also bring Christmas greens.
Inter Ocean December 20, 1908
LEFT TO RIGHT—Larry” the first mate, Elsie Schuenemann, Capt. H. Schuenemann, “Tom” Wheelman.
BY HAROLD C. BROWN.
With the appearance of a floating island forested with pine trees, two big ships, bearing Chicago’s annual supply of Christmas trees, are moored together in the Chicago river at the Clark street wharf. They are festooned from spar to deck with ropes of evergreen and Christmas moss. The decks are bristling with tall, slender saplings from the forests of northern Michigan, the tips of the trees rimming the ships’ rails like prim miniature church steeples.
They are the good ship George L. Wren (U.S. No. 10816) and the sister ship John Mee. The Wrenn for many years has brought Christmas trees to Chicago. It is now unloading its twenty-second cargo. The captain, Harry Schuenemann, is known to all buyers in Chicago. For weeks the question has been going up and down South Water street, “Where is old Cap Schuenemann? Something must be wrong. He has always been here before this. He has been selling Christmas trees every winter for twenty-two years.”
Well, there was something wrong this year. The Wrenn came near spending Christmas in Davy Jones’ locker. She was caught in the worst storm of her long and honorable career. More precious than gold was her cargo to the children of Chicago. If she had—it almost too awful to imagine—but if she had gone down there would have been but a twig or two for all the Christmas in Chicago. The Wrenn carries a mighty big proportion of the trees used here in the annual celebration.
But the Wrenn is not only wonderful as a Christmas boat. It has a most wonderful crew—most extraordinary—for out of the sixty at mess call fifty pipe “Aye, aye,” in very feminine voices. Yes, fifty of the crew are sailor ladies!
Do they climb masts?
Do they haul ropes?
Not exactly. They do a trick or two with the ropes. Not the hemp ropes, but the evergreen ropes. In fact, that is the principal thing that they do. They have learned the art of weaving fancy mossy, fringy ropes of Christmas drapes. All the way from Manistique, in the upper peninsula of Michigan, to Clark street they are busy, busy tying fibers and threads, snipping shears, raveling and unraveling, twining and untwining with quick nimble fingers.
Along the upper deck a long cabin has been constructed. Queer little smokestacks poke themselves obtrusively out of the long, low roof. Through the center of the cabin a long table, piled high with fragrant verdure of varying shades, gives the ship almost the appearance of as a whirring factory.
But the operatives are happy. It is work, but it is a pleasure trip for them. Some of them have taken the trip many times. Some of them have gone from the confusion of the city and found husbands in the Northern forests of Christmas trees. All the trip up the lake is a frolic for these women.
It takes just a week to get to Manistique from Chicago. All care and worry is thrown to the fresh lake breeze. Who cares what? Christmas is near and two weeks of vacation are at hand. The solemn bell of the ship tolls, the sails are furled and a noisy little tug runs out of the small Michigan harbor like a wary watch dog.
A cable is tossed. The launch churns and sputters, and all in a minute it seems the ship ties up and the sea ladies and the sea men frolic to shore. But the captain is a busy man. He is kind, but he attends to business. He steps out on the wharf and is met by a gang of Indians, all of whom solicit him to inspect the stock of Christmas trees they have brought sown to the shore. They knew he would come. He has come to them for twenty-two years. So with a cane in his hand he walks along the carefully corded trees. He picks out the freshest, the straightest, and the greenest. The red men, who adorn themselves in flaring colors, accompany him, looking picturesque as they tramp through the snow. Each is confident he has picked and brought the best. Each declares he has brought his trees from the farthest point, where no one has been before.
The captain knows them. He is patient. He buys some of this and some of that old man. He is careful to offend no one. The cargo is made up. The men go to work binding the limbs into compactness. The women journey through the forests.
It is a most invigorating week, that week on shore while Christmas is waiting for he Christmas trees. Some of the women who have made the trip many times take their new friends to the farm homes over long paths carpeted with poine needles. Lungs that for months have breathed nothing but smoke and foulness expand with healful balsam laden breezes. Bodies are filled with wholesome country food. There is a dance on the fifth day, and then preparations are made for the return.
Group of “lady sailors” who make wreaths and Christmas decorations on board the ship.
The day for the departure comes. Again the big bell tolls out its important signal. Again the audacious little tug runs its fearless nose over the little waves, hoarsely bellows, and leaves the ship to the mercy of Lake Michigan and its winter storms.
And so it was only this year. With the awful farewell of the little tug echoing from the pine hills a hundred hands commenced the business of making wreaths and ropes for Chicago Christmas festivities. For awhile there was only science. There seemed to be a common realization that life and work had resumed again. At first there was a titter from the farther end as some one of the younger girls told of a sweetheart who had begged her to write to him.
Then some one else had something just as funny and then another had something funnier. Never had fifty women been out on such a lark, and never had fifty women had such fun in telling it. Meanwhile their fingers, twined rebellious twigs, twisted stems and jerked strings, and the piles in the center of the table went down and down and piles of wreath went up and up.
On the second day things did not go so well. The sea was heavy. The ship would seem to be going up a hill steadily, then with an all-upsetting plunge drop into an abyss. After that the rain came and that was followed by snow. The masts creaked and groaned and the women became ill with terror. There were sneers and there was crying and the making of wreaths for waiting Chicago children ceased while some went on their knees in prayer.
In all its history the Wrenn had never had tro wrestle with such a storm. The spirit of Christmas that had settled down so delightfully a few hours before had suddenly turned into a hissing, freezing monster, seeking to wrench the ship asunder. The water fell into the hold. It caked about the bundle of trees. Frozen wreaths looked sadly out of place as they slid from one side of the little deck cabin to the other.
For a week the boat slipped and rolled, drunken and blind. All clew to course lost. Only the numb, persistent thought in the head of the steersman to keep away from the breakers kept the boat from smashing on the rocks a thousand times.
Christmas Tree Boat docked near 110 South Water Street, which was just east of the Dearborn Street Bridge.Photo taken looking west from State Street Bridge.
Then one morning the sun came out and winked over the sloughing waves. For all its brightness it looked cold and pitiless. The ship, wrenched, battered, and staggering, worked its way still carrying its burden of Christmas trees for the Chicago children., along the shore. As though wounded and tortured the masts wailed and howled in their fastenings. All day like this they crept along with the sand hills to be seen faintly in the distance. Then into the night. About 9 o’clock there was a tiny ray seen creeping up in the sky. It wavered and then swept along the horizon.
There was a shout on the ship. A curious shout it was, but it sounded full of heart and cheer. Chicago would have its Christmas trees and there was a refuge. A tug brought them into a small Wisconsin town, and for a week the boat kept close to the wharf. Carpenters were kept busy hammering and sawing and the South Water street merchants kept wondering and wondering.
While the boat was in the Wisconsin harbor the captain received a message and sent a message. All the towns on Lake Michigan had been watching and waiting for word from the Wren. In a Chicago telegraph office a pretty young girl with swollen eyes eagerly waited.
“Little Pet: All safe and sound—Father.” So said the operator to the little girl and in a frantic tantrum of joy she ran with the news to her mother.
Lashed to the sister boat (or brother, perhaps, from the name, John Mee), the Wren rocks gently in the tide of the Chicago river. All but a few of the lady sailors are still with her. They are making up for lost time in the making wreaths and garlands for Chicago Christmas decorations.
Many thousands of trees are being unloaded and hurried to all parts of the city by express wagons. Not one whit will Chicagoans miss by the adventure of the Wren, which really ought to be christened the “Reindeer.” Captain Schuenemann looked over his lady crew and the men who modestly stood in the background.
“They’re brave hearties,” he said. “Next time I’ll be able to put ’em in the riggin’, and they’ll be able to do as well as men.”
Chicago Inter Ocean December 9, 1909
“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.
“This is the twenty-third trip I’ve made up into pine country for Christmas trees, and it’s about the slimmest cargo I ever brought away. Many a poor little kiddo in Chicago will have to go without his Christmas tree this year because his Santa Claus won’t have the price to buy one.
Only 15,000 Christmas Trees.
“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. Trees were ice crusted and half bare. Also made it hard for the choppers and Indians. The Indian women, you know, depend on the Christmas trees for their pin money for the whole year.
“Here, you little girls, climb off that cabin or you might fall into the water! Santa Claus won’t bring you any presents if you fall into the water.” The captain paused in his soliloquies to attend to half a dozen curious little schoolgirls who had come down to the Clark street bridge to see the Christmas boat and its burden of trees.
Children Vist Boat.
“I guess the kids are the gladdest of anybody to see us come pulling into the river every December, “he continued, when he saw the little girls were safe again within the rail of the bridge when she swings open for us, and they wave their hands and cheer, and we cheer back. Some of them think we are actually coming from the north pole.
“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. I took the Wrenn up there for the past twenty-two years.”
Cheers for Jolly Old Skipper.
“Last year she nearly chucked the captain and his crew into Davy Jones’ Locker, so we had to get a new boat. That’s her, back to stern of us—bare decks and weather beaten. Looks kind of heartbroken at her rival, doesn’t she. Well, here come the women. Ahoy, ladies!”
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 SAGA OF THE ROUTH SIMMONS.
Herman Schuenemann purchased a 1/8 interest into the Rouse Simmons in 1910.
Green Bay Press Gazette, October 6, 1910
Sturgeon Bay, Wis., Oct. 6.—John Olson, a sailor on the schooner Rouse Simmons (US No. 110087), was found dead in his bunk this morning when the watchman, who was to call the sailor, was unable to get any response from the sailor’s room.
The body is to be taken to Chicago, Ill., the deceased’s home, where he is survived by a wife and family.
The cause of death is given as heart failure from which the deceased has been ailing at times for over a year. Olson was one of the picked crew of Capt. Shurman (sic), and the schooner was on its way to Marquette, Mich., to take on a cargo of Christmas trees to be taken to the Chicago markets.
Olson was one of the survivors of the Pere Marquette US No. 150972 carferry wreck in Lake Michigan in which many lives were lost when the carferry sunk. (Sept. 9, 1910.
Chicago Examiner, November 29, 1912
Grave fears for the safety of the schooner Rouse Simmons, five days overdue from Constance, Mich., yesterday flamed into genuine alarm when a report was received that a sailing craft in distress sighted off Waukegan Saturday had disappeared before a life-saving crew could reach her.
Captain Hermann Schulemann (sic),with a crew of fourteen, and with Charles Nelson, an old sea captain, aboard as a guest, was making his annual trip from Constance, laden with Christmas trees.
Mrs. Schulemann received a message from her husband saying that he was starting home just one week before Thanksgiving. Ordinarily the trip has taken him about forty-eight hours, although he has frequently made it in less time. Mrs. Schulemann was not alarmed when the boat failed to come in on Saturday, nor did she permit herself to worry on Monday or Tuesday. But on Wednesday she became thoroughly uneasy and yesterday (Thursday) she was in communication with life saving stations all along the lake shore.
It is now feared that the vessel went down with all on board. Only report bearing a semblance of definiteness could be obtained yesterday, and that was the gloomy one from Waukegan.
The boat sighted by the life-saving crew there was so far out that no description of her could be obtained. But she must have been a large one, and the completeness of her disappearance left the life-savers only one theory—one that they did not care to dwell upon.
Captain Schulemann knew the lake as few men did. For thirty years he had been sailing it. For thirty years he had not failed to make his trip to the Michigan woods and return with Christmas trees for the Chicago trade. During the summer seasons he carred lumber.3
Mrs. Schulemann said:
- I am not abandoning hope or anything like that. My husband is an able officer, and if anuody could take care of himself and his boat he could. There has been a lot of weather, though, and what I fear is that his schooner may have been disabled somewhere in midlake. I a pretty badly worried.
The Chicago American ran the most sensational headlines during the saga of the Rouse Simmons.
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. Thal, then known as the “Santa Claus ship,” sank off Glencoe. Fourteen lives were lost and but two bodies recovered.
The 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:4
- Schuenemann, Captain Herman, 1688 North Clark Street, part owner,
Nelson, Captain Charles, 1834 Humboldt avenue, part owner, (pictured at left, 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. Thal.
Captain August Scheunemann and his crew perished with the S. Thal 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.
Captain Herman Schuenemann (center) & two members of his crew
Chicago Tribune, December 5, 1912
Frank (sic) Schuenemann and Oscar Nelson have been in the Christmas tree business for many years. Schuenemann himself has operated boats on the lake in that business for twenty-seven years. He and Nelson own two farms in Schoolcraft county, Michigan. They are saving the firs on these tracts, however, and were cutting their trees at a distance from their own lands under contract. Their average load of trees was from 300 to 400 tons.
The larger trees were stored on top of the deck in a boxlike structure and the hold was used for underbrush and material that was to be made into wreaths.
Schuenemann lost one boat before the Mary Cullen (Mary Collins, US No. 16394). The boat sank, but the crew was saved. He has sailed on his Christmas tree voyages in the Maggie Dall (US No. 17746), the Ida, the Jessie Phillips, the Truman Moss US No. 24457, and the George L. Wren.
Chicago Tribune, December 11, 1912
The sale of Christmas trees and wreaths heretofore held on the deck of the Rouse Simmons, which is thought to have gone down with all its crew, will be opened to-day. Miss Ellie Schuenemann, daughter of Capt. Herman Schuenemann of the Rouse Simmons and owner of the cargo, has taken charge of the business, with her mother.
The Oneda, a schooner similar in appearance to the Rouse Simmons,, except for the Christmas tree cabin, which Capt. Schuenemann had built, has been moored at the foot of Clark street. All day yesterday Christmas trees sent from the northern woods by rail and those picked up as wreckage along the lake shore were transferred to the Oseda. Mis Schuenemann had charge of seven girls making wreaths.
“We wil go on with the business,: she said. “The sale this year will no more than pay the debts caused by the loss of the schooner. Next year, however, we expect to make as good a profit as in the past. It seems strange so few trees have been picked up, when there must have been 35,000 trees on the ship. I still feel my father must have been saved in some miraculous manner. Otherwise there surely would have been something to tell the story. Perhaps he is on some island, with no means of getting away,”
Chicago Tribune, July 30, 1913
Sturgeon Bay, Wis., July 29—A message supposed to have been written by Capt. Charles Nelson of the Rouse Simmons, the “Christmas ship” which went down with all on board in Lake Michigan last November, was found today by Frank Lauscher, the son of a fisherman.
The message is dated Nov. 23, and reads as follows:
- These lines were written at 10:30 p.m. Schooner Rouse Simmons ready to go down about twenty miles southeast of Twin River Point, between fifteen and twenty miles off shore. All hands lashed to one line. Good by. Capt. Charles Nelson.
Young Lauscher was playing on the beach several miles north of Sturgeon bay when he found the bottle. The note, written roughly in pencil, was inside.
Local marine men are of the opinion the note is the lkast word from the ill-fated ship which sank during a terrific storm last winter when loaded with Christmas trees from the northern woods and bound for Chicago
Chicago Tribune, December 12, 1913
Mrs. Herman Schuenemann, widow of the captain of the ill-fated Christmas boat, Rouse Simmons, which Christmas trees and fourteen lives, believes the spirit of her husband is guiding her affairs and that he is really in command of the Christmas boat she has substituted for the Rouse Simmons, moored in the river at Clark street.
Mrs. Schuenemann has rented the schooner Taylor and stocked it with 2,500 trees, which she brought down from the north in freight cars. Miss Elsie Scheunemann, “the little captain,” helps her mother prepare the trees for sale.
Twin sisters Ruth and Pearl Schuenemann selling wreaths in 1917.
Kenosha Evening News, April 10, 1923
Several bundles of Christmas trees brought to shore in the nets of fishermen near Two River, Wis., late Monday may solve the mystery of locating the grave of the Christmas ship Rouse Simmons, named after a pioneer Kenosha merchant, which ship went to the the bottom in the fall of 1910 (sic).
The trappers, lumbermen and fishermen of the Two Rivers district believe the cargo lashed to the deck of the schooner of the schooner Rouse Simmons which went down with all on board in a lake gale. No trace of the ship, its crew or cargo had ever been recovered until these trees were found on Monday. It is believed that the ship must have gone down somewhere in the neighborhood of the Two Rivers harbor.
Many Kenoshans recall the strange disappearance of the Christmas tree ship. The schooner, named after the Kenoshan, had sailed the lake for many years and had frequently put in at the Kenosha harbor.
Nets Bring Up Trees.
Fishermen dropped their nets off Two Rivers several weeks ago, but were prevented by the prevailing rough weather from hauling them in. When at last they were able to recover them they found bits of unidentifiable wreckage and numbers of small spruce trees tied in bundles.
Capt. James (sic) Schuenemann, commander of the Christmas ship, had made the annual journey from Bailey’s Harbor to Chicago for a number of years prior to the storm of 1910 (sic). When the schooner failed to report that year, his widow, accepting her misfortune as the lot of a sailor’s wife, outfitted a new ship and sailed it herself until her children grew large enough to aid her.
Sailed Over Ship’s Grave.
More than a score of times she has sailed over the spot where the water-logged Christmas trees were brought to the surface on Monday. The fishing grounds of the Two Rivers fishermen are on the regular of long-shore traffic between the north woods and Chicago.
The route of the Rouse Simmons which started at Manistique, Michigan on November 21, 1912 to Two Rivers, Wisconsin, where remains of the ship were found.
Kenosha Evening News, April 5, 1924
Two Rivers, Wis.—Evidence was brought to this port Wednesday by members of the cre of the fish tug Reindeer to show that the mystery Christmas tree ship, Rouse Simmons, which floundered off the shore of Lake Michigan in November, 1913 (sic), carrying its crew to death, was wrecked near Two Rivers.
The evidence was in the form of a bill fold, personal belonging of Capt. Schuenemann, who was in charge of the ship. It contained personal cards and other data, which proves beyond a doubt that it was his property and that he had it with him when the boat sank.
Found in Fish Nets.
The bill fold was pulled up in the fishing nets of the Reindeer a short distance off the Two Rivers shore, and was discovered after the nets had been dumped.
Among other things, the bill fold contained clippings from a Thompson, Mich. newspaper, which told of the departure of the Rouse Simmons with a cargo of Christmas trees for Chicago. Memoranda of the captain’s expenses were also in it.
The contents of the fold were in a good state of preservation, having been firmly pressed together and having been tightly closed. A heavy rubber band or cord had been used in keeping it intact, it was evident, as there was a deep impression around the outside. Pieces of birch bark had been used to keep the cards from becoming soiled.
A receipted bill was among the contents, and portions of the memoranda give accounts of money paid for oilskins, provisions and other articles.
The Rouse Simmons’ disappearance has been one of the most profound Lake Michigan mysteries. No trace of any member of its crew or any of their personal belongings had been found until the bill fold was hauled up in the fishing nets at Two Rivers.
Reported traces of parts of the ship have been made from time to time since, but nothing has been definitely linked with the Rouse Simmons until the discovery of the bill fold by the Two Rivers fishermen.
The Reindeer, which brought in the nets, with the Rouse Simmons’ evidence, was in command of Capt. Norman Allie. The bill fold was discovered among the dumpings of the nets by Henry Gattie, lighthouse keeper. He and others to whom he reported it were immediately convinced that it was the property of Capt. Schuenemann.
In 1927, a real bottled message was washed up. it was a note signed “Nelson,” saying:
- These lines were written at 10:30 p.m. Schooner R.S. ready to go down about 20 miles southeast Two Rivers Point between 15 and 20 miles offshore. All hands lashed to one line. Good by.
Chicago Tribune, December 13, 1934
Old timers of the near north side who noted a sign: “Capt. and Mrs. H. Schuenemann’s daughters,” above a tiny store almost obscured by Christmas trees at 1641 North La Salle street yesterday, recalled the tragedy of 22 years ago when Capt. Schuenemann, pioneer in Chicago’s Christmas tree business, and his crew of 17 men went down in Lake Michigan while bringing home a cargo of Christmas trees on the captain’s boat, the Rouse Simmons.
They were reminded, too, of the heroic effort of Mother Schuenemann to carry on her husband’s business. But Mrs. Schuenemann dies two years ago, and now their three daughters, Mrs. Elsie Roberts, Mrs. Pearl Ehling, and Mrs. Hazel Gronemann, all of 158 Eugenie street, carry on in the Christmas tree business. They find, as did Mother Schuenemann, plenty of trees left over for the destitute homes west of Clark street.
Crew Survivor Tells of “Hunch.”
Yesterday Mrs. Ehling, bundled in heavy clothing, sat in the “office” of the Christmas tree shop making wreaths of balsam with her sister, Elsie. The third sister is a teacher at the Graham Stewart school. Helping the customers was “Big Bill” Sullivan, the only member of Capt. Schuenemann’s crew alive after the fateful trip. Had he not had “a hunch,” he would have drowned with the rest, he revealed yesterday.
- I went up with the crew, but when it came time to come back with the cargo of 15,000 trees, the lake was stormy. I simply had a hunch, that’s all. It looked bad, so I told the captain I would come back on the train. I did. Three days later the Butcher Boy, another boat, came in with the news that the Rouse Simmons had gone down with all on board.
I was afraid almost to tell Mrs. Schuenemann, but I got courage to go around—they lived just back of this store on Clark street. When Elsie, who was a little girl then, she backed away in fright, as if I were a ghost. They had heard the news and I waqs reported drowned with the rest.
I helped as best I could, because the Christmas tree business had to go on. We got more trees. The captain’s wife was plucky. She went after the trees herself. Every year, until during the war, when the government bought her boat, she brought the trees down in the vessel. She loved those trees.
Mrs. Roberts, since her mother’s death, has gone to northern Michigan woods to superintend the cutting of the trees, selecting the fullest and prettiest ones in the forest. She said:
- Few realize the hardships necessary to furnish Chicago with its Christmas trees. First there were two weeks of rain, then two and a half days of steady snow. Some of the trees were brought back with snow packed in their branches.
Capt. Schuenemann, with his brother, August, gave Chicago its first boatload of Christmas trees in 1887. In 1899 August and his crew lost their lives bringing the trees by boat. Thereafter Capt. Herman carried on the business until he suffered the same fate in 1912.5
Mrs. Pearl Schuenemann Ehling (left) and Mrs. Elsie Schuenemann Roberts, daughters of captain lost in Christmas tree boat wreck in 1912, selling trees at their stand, 1641 North La Salle street.
Ludington Daily News, December 24, 1971
The Ludington Coast Guard can close the books on that famous missing “Christmas tree ship”—the schooner Rouse Simmons—that anished from Lake Michigan on Nov. 23, 1912.
On that stormy day, when the three-masted schooner disappeared with all hands, its cargo hold was filled with Christmas trees en route from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to the Clark Street dock in Chicago.
The Ludington Coast Guard, along with Coast Guard stations elsewhere, were pressed into the search for the missing vessel.
But no trace of it was found. That is, until this fall when a Milwaukee diver, G. Kent Bellrichard, found the missing schooner along the Wisconsin coastline under 180 feet of water near the community of Two Rivers, 85 miles north of Milwaukee.
Two skeletal trees were removed from the ghostly hold and displayed this holiday season in Milwaukee.
The Milwaukee Journal this month recapped the unravelled mystery of the long lost Rouse Simmons, the circumstances of its disappearance, and the finding of its watery grave.
When the Rouse Simmons disappeared in 1912, it was a common practice for ships to pick up a load of trees in the Upper Peninsula, and haul them to dockside markets in Milwaukee and Chicago.
This was the mission on Nov. 22, 1912, when it sailed, with a cargo of Christmas trees, from the Michigan town of Thompson, seven miles southwest of Manistique.
In that year of 1912, the 127-foot wooden schooner was already 44 years old, most of those years spent hauling lumber.
When the schooner left on its final voyage, it was manned by a crew of seven, and carried about a dozen lumberjacks who were hitching a ride to Chicago.
The skipper of the Rouse Simmons was a 41-year-old Herman Schuenemann who had purchased the schooner in 1910.
Herman knew the perils of Lake Michigan weather. His brother, August, had gone down with a shipload pf trees just 12 years earlier.
Nevertheless, Herman ignored storm warnings that November day, and headed south for the five-day voyage to Chicago.
With a full spread of canvas blowing under gale winds, tje Rouse Simmons covered 100 miles by dawn of Nov. 23.
Veil of Mystery.
No one is sure of the sequence of events after that.
Some believe that Skipper Schuenemann realized he’d made a mistake and tried to reach safety at Bailey Harbor, 20 miles north of Sturgeon Bay.
Schuenemann never made it. A snowstorm ripped across the lake. Waves dashed over the schooner, water freezing to the rees lashed to the deck, adding greatly to the ship’s weight.
Later, the Rouse Simmons was sighted off Kewaunee, 105 miles north of Milwaukee, with distress signals flying.
The Coast Guard at Two Rivers, 20 miles south of Kewaunee, dispatched a rescue crew in a 34-foot power launch. The Coast Guard Guardsmen searched five hours.
When the storm slackened, they spotted the Rouse Simmons in the distance.
It was a sight to remember.
The schooner was staggering low in the water under an overload of ice, its sails torn to ribbons.
Blizzard Closed In.
The Coast Guard tried to reach the schooner. But the blizzard closed in. And the Rouse Simmons was never seen again.
One false report said the Rouse Simmons had washed ashore near Ludington. And that’s when the Ludington Coast Guard was pressed into the fruitless hunt.
Bellrichard located the wrecked hull through a combination of skill, experienceand the memory of an elderly fisherman.
Rellrichard had heard of the Rouse Simmons from Albert Lee, a retired fisherman who lives at Two Rivers. Lee remembered tales of how Christmas trees from the wreck of the schooner had occasionally clogged the fishermen’s nets along a certain part of the coastline near Two Rivers.
From Lee and others, Bellrichard had some notion where the hull of the Rouse Simmons might be.
Late in October, he borrowed a boat with sonar gear and combed the area where the trees had long ago fouled the nets.
When Bellrichard’s sonar sounded “Bingo!” he put down grappling hooks, descended into the murky water and came upon am unidentified hull.
Returning days later, he and another diver shined their underwater lights on the back of the ship. Above the gunwales, on the quarter-board, their lights picked out the lettered word, “Rouse Simmons.”
And the search for the lost ship was ended.
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 (1913-1998).
The great bulk of Christmas trees coming into Chicago are consigned to commission merchants on South Water Street, who, in turn, sell them to retail dealers throughout the city. They come in car-load lots at the depots serving the northern and eastern roads. There are about 500 bundles of the smaller sized trees to a carload, and the bundles average four trees each, varying the number with the size of the trees. The largest trees, those measuring from twenty-five to thirty feet, come in lots of two or three only on one flat car, and often there is a train-load of these fiat cars, bearing Christmas trees. One such load is nicely portrayed in the frontispiece of this issue, in the yards at the Lake Front.6
MENTIONED CHRISTMAS TREE SCHOONERS SPECIFICATIONS
Length: 151.50; Beam: 30.00; Depth of Hold: 10.40; Hull Material: Wood; Gross Tonnage: 330.91; Propulsion Type: Sail; Rig Type: Schooner; Registry Number: 2935; Builder: John Gregory; Year Built: 1872; Last Year: 1920 Location Built: Sheboygan, WI
Length: 64.50; Beam: 17.00; Depth of Hold: 5.50; Hull Material: Wood; Gross Tonnage: 49.91; Propulsion Type: Sail; Rig Type: Schooner; Registry Number: 7523; Builder: Aurelius McMillan; Year Built: 1857; Last Year: 1902; Location Built: St. Joseph, MI
Length: 55.00; Beam: 18.00; Depth of Hold: 4.00; Hull Material: Wood; Gross Tonnage: 49.91; Propulsion Type: Sail; Rig Type: Schooner; Registry Number: 1028; Builder: H. Farmer & Co.; Year Built: 1866; Last Year: 1902; Location Built: Ahnapee (Algoma today), WI
Length: 115.00; Beam: 25.70; Depth of Hold: 8.10; Hull Material: Wood; Gross Tonnage: 149.87; Propulsion Type: Sail; Rig Type: Schooner; Registry Number: 17746; Builder: John Gregory; Year Built: 1867; Last Year: 1906 Location Built: Michigan City, IN
W. H. HINSDALE
Length: 67.00; Beam: 17.50; Depth of Hold: 5.75; Hull Material: Wood; Gross Tonnage: TBD; Propulsion Type: Sail; Rig Type: Schooner; Registry Number: 26360; Builder: Henry C. Daputy; Year Built: 1866; Last Year: 1848; Location Built: Michigan City, IN
The W. H. Hinsdale floundered on August 8, 1875, near Holland, MI. In the fall, August Schuenemann purchased a share of the boat. The boat was wrecked in 1877.
A. J. MOWRY
Length: 138.00; Beam: 23.70; Depth of Hold: 6.80; Hull Material: Wood; Gross Tonnage: 207.64; Propulsion Type: Sail; Rig Type: Schooner; Registry Number: 140208; Builder: William Irving Henry; Year Built: 1866; Last Year: 1896; Location Built: Milan, OH
Length: 111.00; Beam: 24.40; Depth of Hold: 10.70; Hull Material: Wood; Gross Tonnage: 233.00; Propulsion Type: Sail; Rig Type: Schooner; Registry Number: 21194; Builder: John Oades; Year Built: 1865; Last Year: 1895; Location Built: Clayton, Jefferson Co., NY
Length: 132,00; Beam: 26.00; Depth of Hold: 11.50; Hull Material: Wood; Gross Tonnage: 233.00; Propulsion Type: Sail; Rig Type: Schooner; Registry Number: 21474; Builder: B. Morgan; Year Built: 1847; Last Year: 1899; Location Built: Oswego, WI
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; Last Year: 1912 Location Built: Milwaukee, WI
Semi-Weekly Wisconsin, December 23, 1868
Schr. Rouse Simmons, built at Milwaukee by Allen, McClelland & Co. for Kenosha parties; tonnage 248.
Length: 75.00; Beam: 20.00; Depth of Hold: 4.00; Hull Material: wood; Gross Tonnage: 55.00; Propulsion Type: sail; Rig Type: schooner
Registry Number: 115781; Builder: B. Johnson; Year Built: 1867; Last Year: 1898 Location Built: Osh Kosh, WI
Length: 125.60; Beam: 27.70; Depth of Hold: 8.00; Hull Material: Wood; Gross Tonnage: 219.13; Propulsion Type: Sail; Rig Type: Schooner; Registry Number: 24457; Builder: G. Fordham; Year Built: 1867; Last Year: 1911 Location Built: Sandusky, OH
GEORGE L. WREN
Length: 129.20; Beam: 26.00; Depth of Hold: 9.60; Hull Material: Wood; Gross Tonnage: 214.10; Propulsion Type: Sail; Rig Type: Schooner
Registry Number: 10816; Builder: Christianson; Year Built: 1868; Last Year: 1911 Location Built: Fort Howard, WI
Fort Dearborn Magazine
1 Chicago Tribune, Nov 11, 2012.
2 Melville Elijah Stone (August 22, 1848 – February 15, 1929) was an American newspaper publisher, the founder of the Chicago Daily News, and was the general manager of the reorganized Associated Press.
3 It is believed that Schuenemann refused to get the Rouse Simmons caulked before this run and instead paid off creditors. As reported in the Chicago Tribune on December 5, 1912:
“There were rumors along the river front that the Rouse Simmons was unseaworthy.It was said that last summer the schooner got into such bad condition the rats deserted it. No definite information as to the craft’s condition was obtainable yesterday. It was said, however, it had made similar voyages for years and had shown itself tough enough to withstand the worst of the fall storms.”
4 The complete list of those on board is Capt. Herman Schuenenmann, Captain Oscar Nelson and his wife, Alex Johnson (first mate), Edward Minogue (sailor), Frank Sobata (sailor), George Watson (sailor), Ray Davis (sailor), Conrad Griffon (sailor), George Quinn (sailor), Edward Murphy (sailor), John Morwauski (sailor), “Stump” Morris (sailor), Greely Peterson (sailor), Frank Faul (sailor), Edward Hogan (sailor), Philip Bausewein (sailor)—Inter Ocean, December 6, 1912
5The ship Butcher Boy arrived twenty-four days late by weathering the storm. Also there is some concern whether Sullivan’s story was embellished to sell more trees.
6 “A Million Christmas Trees” by Mabel McIlvane, 1922