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Christmas Ship Delivers 1,200 Trees For Needy

Christmas Tree Ship

The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Mackinaw delivered 1,200 Christmas trees for the needy to Navy Pier on Dec. 3, 2010. (Credit: CBS)

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CHICAGO (CBS) – The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Mackinaw is moored at Navy Pier, after disgorging more than 1,200 Christmas trees for needy Chicago families.

The wind-whipped snow did little to dim the enthusiasm of those who took part in a Saturday morning ceremony, at the shipmaster’s statue just to the south of Navy Pier’s main entrance.

LISTEN: Newsradio 780’s Bob Roberts reports:

The Mackinaw was moored directly behind the statue.

The Mackinaw’s commander and the head of the Chicago Christmas Ship committee, Lloyd Karzen, laid a wreath at the statue, just as they did en route from Michigan to Chicago at the spot with the original Christmas ship, the Rouse Simmons, went down off Manitowoc, Wis., in 165 feet of water with all 17 aboard in 1912.

Karzen said it was an emotional moment, and one planned with care.

“The skipper changed the course because he didn’t want to do it at night,” he said. We did it at about 6:18 (a.m.) on Dec. 1, the two of us,” he said.

Historical data shows that the Rouse Simmons sank in part because of its load. Its skipper, Herman Schuenemann (SHOO’-neh-min), tried to bring 5,500 trees aboard the 127-foot schooner from Michigan to a pier on the Chicago River at Clark Street. Approximately 5,000 of the trees were in the aging schooner’s hold and another 500 were lashed to its decks.

The Mackinaw’s commander, Capt. Scott Smith, said the conditions the cutter faced en route to Chicago from Michigan were “similar” those those Schuenemann had faced in 1912, although the load was much more manageable.

Schuenemann had sold his trees for between 25 cents and $1, an amount that assured that his final voyage of the year would be profitable. His widow continued to bring Christmas trees to Chicago for sale for many years, later by rail, even though she often had them loaded from trains onto schooners already docked locally, from which the trees were sold.

This is the 11th consecutive year that a Coast Guard vessel has brought trees to Chicago for needy families. The trees hauled here by the Mackinaw this year will be distributed through Ada S. McKinley Community Services.

The Mackinaw will remain moored at Navy Pier through Sunday afternoon. At that time, it will resume its wintertime duties, picking up and setting out buoys at Calumet Harbor and breaking ice on Lake Michigan.