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Captain Santa’s Last Sail: The Mysterious Fate of the Christmas Tree Ship

Captain Herman Schuenemann had a three-masted schooner named the Rouse Simmons, but people called him Captain Santa and they called his ship the Christmas Tree Ship. Every year, he would bring in a boatload of Christmas tree from Upper Michigan to Chicago and sell them at the dock. The decorated ship would light up the Clark Street dock and buying a Christmas tree there became a tradition among city residents. Until 1912.

Schuenemann moved hordes of the Michigan spruces annually from his dockside location and earned a reputation for generosity by donating trees to the poor. But in 1912, his own wallet may have been tightening. He had filed for bankruptcy a few years earlier and, likely operating under tight margins, he nixed having the 44-year-old Simmons re-caulked for the trip down Lake Michigan that year.

The boat’s seaworthiness didn’t appear to be of much concern to Schuenemann, nor did the bad omen of rats fleeing the ship faze him. Captain Santa would make his annual run to Chi-Town anyway, just in time for the holidays. The city, and presumably his bank account, were depending on it.

Schuenemann and his trees never made it to the Clark Street dock that year, or ever again. Read about the final voyage of the Christmas Tree Ship at Mental Floss.
(Image credit: Chicago Maritime Museum)

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