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Christmas Tree Ship Tradition Lives On



The Door Peninsula is dotted with numerous shipwrecks. In fact there are so many wrecks that the northern tip of the peninsula has the nickname “Death's Door.” There however is one shipwreck that stands out this time of the year.

The Rouse Simmons -- also known as the “Christmas tree ship” -- was picking up a load of 5,000 evergreens in Thompson, Michigan. With the cargo holds filled the 123-foot schooner departed for Chicago. On the afternoon of November 22, 1912, the Simmons encountered a strong northwest gale off the shores of Kewaunee. Spotters on shore noticed flags at half mast on the schooner. During this time this was the universal distress signal. Watchmen notified the Two Rivers rescue station of the distressed vessel and attempts were made at rescuing the ship and its crew, but they were unsuccessful. The schooner had vanished.

The exact location of the wreck was not found until October of 1971 when a Milwaukee dive team discovered the final resting location off of Two Rivers. In 2006 the Wisconsin Historical Society concluded that because of the heavy weight in the ship's holds it could not withstand the crushing November gale.

The tradition of bringing Christmas trees to Chicago continues even today. The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw brings a load of 1,500 evergreens to the less fortunate of Chicago, keeping the tradition of giving alive.

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