The Christmas Ship Rouse Simmons

The Christmas Ship Rouse Simmons is a historical event of holiday generosity and maritime tragedy.

In the early 20th century, Captain Herman Schuenemann, known as 'Captain Santa,' and his crew annually loaded their schooner, the Rouse Simmons, with evergreen Christmas trees and set sail across Lake Michigan to bring holiday cheer to the people of Chicago.

However, in 1912, the ship encountered a fierce winter storm and tragically sank, taking with it the cargo of Christmas trees and the lives of Captain Schuenemann and all his crew members.

The Story of Generosity and Tragedy

Herman Schuenemann
Herman Schuenemann

Herman Schuenemann, often referred to as "Captain Santa," was a German immigrant and a well-known figure in Chicago during the early 20th century. He and his brother, August Schuenemann, operated a successful family business involving a fleet of schooners that sailed the Great Lakes, transporting cargo like lumber, produce, and more.

One of the most cherished aspects of Herman Schuenemann's life and work was the annual tradition of bringing Christmas trees to the people of Chicago. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, he would load his schooner, the Rouse Simmons, with thousands of fresh-cut evergreen trees from the forests of Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

The Rouse Simmons
The Rouse Simmons

Each year, the Rouse Simmons would set sail, making its way across Lake Michigan to Chicago. The ship's cargo of fragrant evergreen trees was destined to be sold or, in many cases, given away to those who couldn't afford a tree of their own. Captain Schuenemann's mission was to bring the holiday spirit to every corner of Chicago.

However, in 1912, while on what would be its final journey, the Rouse Simmons encountered a powerful winter storm on Lake Michigan. The ship, loaded with Christmas trees and hope, struggled against the fierce winds and icy waters. Tragically, the storm overcame the vessel, causing it to sink beneath the frigid waves.

The loss of the Rouse Simmons and its cargo was a devastating blow to Chicago and its residents. Captain Herman Schuenemann and all his crew tragically perished in the disaster. The ship and its crew became legends, symbolizing the spirit of giving and the enduring tradition of sharing joy during the holiday season.

The Discovery

The Earth from Apollo 8
Wreck of the Rouse Simmons

In 1971, the wreck of the Rouse Simmons was discovered by divers, and it has since been explored and documented as part of Chicago's maritime history. To this day, the story of The Christmas Ship Rouse Simmons is commemorated through various events and reenactments in the city, serving as a poignant reminder of the power of holiday traditions, community, and the spirit of giving.

Back to Christmas Stories Back To Top

Contact Me

Santa's baby reindeer