Monday, December 3, 2012

100th Anniversary- Wreck of the Christmas Ship


One hundred years ago Capt. Herman Schuenemann loaded his Lake Michigan schooner, the Rouse Simmons, with over 800 trees at the docks of Thompson, Mi (upper Michigan port) and began a journey to the Chicago River where he was known as Captain Santa.  As common on the Great Lakes in fall, a storm developed, distress flags were spotted off Wisconsin's Kewaunee, but by the time a rescue boat could be sent out, the ship had disappeared.  There were no survivors, so the exact happenings are not known; however, mariner experts expect that ice formed on the ship and on the holiday cargo, forcing the too heavy ship to the bottom.  The ship itself was found in 1971 in 170 feet of water mainly intact and with Christmas trees still onboard.

The Wisconsin State Journal featured an article about the ship yesterday and the Manitowoc Maritime Museum's current display to honor the Christmas tree ship.  Reading the article brought to mind two children's books we had in our elementary school library, both entitled The Christmas Tree Ship.
Jeanette Winter's book is an artistic gem. Wintry scenes created with simple illustrations and vivid contrasting colors capture young audience's attention.  The narration tells this tragic story simply and manages to end in an uplifting manner as the author shares that the captain's wife and children honored his memory by sailing another Christmas ship the following, succeeding in bringing trees to Chicago.  My idea of successful children's literature is exactly the same as successful adult literature - authors find or create unique stories told in a manner that captures the reader's imagination and emotions, widening our life experiences.  And of course, in children's literature illustrators add that wonderful visual dimension.
Rochelle Pennington's book is written for older, independent readers and tells a much more detailed version of the fateful voyage of the Lake Michigan schooner and its crew.  This book features the art of Charles Vickery, known for his maritime paintings. Despite being written for children, this would be a great read for anyone interested in Lake Michigan, the time period of the schooners, or shipwreck history buffs. 
I noticed that both of these books appear to be out of print.  Too bad, because they commemorate an interesting niche of our history.   If you're interested in them, be on the lookout at used book sales or in libraries.  

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