Sunday, December 8, 2013

Rouse Simmons, The Christmas Tree Ship

watercolor and ink painting of a schooner

The Great Lakes are known for violent storms during the month of November, and they have claimed many ships and lives over the centuries as a result. The Edmund Fitzgerald, immortalized in song by Gordon Lightfoot, is one such very famous ship. Another is the Rouse Simmons which was famous in her day as The Christmas Tree Ship. 

The Rouse Simmons was a 123 foot three masted schooner which sailed the Great Lakes from its launch in 1868 until it sank in a violent storm on November 23, 1912. Known as The Christmas Tree Ship, it was one of several ships which annually carried Christmas trees from the northern Michigan woods down the length of Lake Michigan to Chicago where they would be sold and some distributed to the poor. 

It was on just such a trip that it last set sail from Thompson Harbor, Michigan on November 22, 1912. Despite warnings that a big storm was brewing, Captain Herman Scheunemann (known fondly as Captain Santa) hoped to make one last run to Chicago before the storm hit. It was a fateful decision that cost 17 men their lives. The blizzard soon caught the Rouse Simmons in the open waters of Lake Michigan where gale force winds blew and ice formed on the riggings and the Christmas trees stacked high on her deck. This made the ship top heavy, and she was lost off of Two Rivers, Wisconsin on the 23rd, or so it is believed. 

A rescue effort was made by the life saving station at Two Rivers Wisconsin, but the lake was too dangerous, and the Rouse Simmons couldn’t be found. She had last been seen at the Kewaunee Life Saving Station earlier in the day flying a distress flag, with her sails torn to shreds and lying low in the water as the wind and waves battered her about. 

The Rouse Simmons, The Christmas Tree Ship, is a legendary ship of the Great Lakes which faced the fierce gales of November and was lost with 17 lives. The wreckage was found in 1971 off Two Rivers, Wisconsin. 

It is rumored that her ghost still sails the waters of Lake Michigan. 

Many years ago at the beginning of my career, I did a series of drawings of Great Lakes ships which had been lost for a gentleman who was a big enthusiast. This painting is a version I did for myself. It is rather crude, but I intend to one day create another version of this great ship with the fascinating history. 

You can read more about the Rouse Simmons here;