Christmas Tree Ship arrives

Tribune Staff • Jul 21, 2015 at 11:52 AM

The Coast Guard cutter Mackinaw, serving as this year’s Christmas Ship and loaded with 1,300 Christmas trees, sailed into Chicago's port on Friday morning for a two-day event depicting what was an annual Chicago tradition in the early 1900s.

The re-enactment by the Mackinaw and Chicago’s Christmas Ship Committee continues a treasured piece of Chicago’s maritime tradition.

The schooner Rouse Simmons was the original Christmas Ship that came to Chicago from Michigan for more than 30 years with fresh evergreens and wreaths for the holiday season during the early 1900s. On Nov. 23, 1912, while transiting from Michigan, the Rouse Simmons was lost in a storm and sank with a crew of 16 between Kewaunee and Two Rivers, Wis.

The 1,300 Christmas trees, purchased by Chicago’s Christmas Ship Committee, will be off-loaded Saturday morning by members of the Coast Guard and local youth volunteers including the Sea Cadets, Venture Crews, Sea Explorer Scouts and the Young Marines. That will follow a brief public ceremony beginning at 10 a.m.

The ceremony will take place at the west end of Navy Pier near the Captain at the Helm Statue. The first three trees will be presented to three deserving families. The remaining trees will then be loaded onto trucks for distribution to more than 1,000 deserving families throughout Chicago, designated by Ada S. McKinley Community Services.

The ceremony will also include performances by a silent drill team and a rifle squad, both from the Coast Guard Ceremonial Honor Guard; a wreath laying at the Captain at the Helm Statue by Capt. Dave Truitt and the president of Chicago Shipmasters; a wreath drop and fly-over by a Coast Guard helicopter; and music by the Taft High School Choir.

During its transit from its homeport in Cheboygan to Chicago this year, the crew of the Mackinaw dropped a wreath into Lake Michigan near the resting place of the Rouse Simmons, which was located in 1971.

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