Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw set for delivery of 1,200 Christmas trees for deserving families

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CHICAGO – The Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw, serving once again as this year’s “Christmas Ship” and loaded with more than 1,200 Christmas trees, is returning to Chicago for a two-day event re-enacting what was an annual Chicago tradition in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

A welcoming for the Mackinaw, by the Chicago Christmas Ship Committee, is scheduled for Friday at 8 a.m. Chicago Fire and Police Department boats will be part of the welcome as live music is performed dockside by the Hubbard High School Band. Members of the Mackinaw’s crew and volunteers from Chicago’s boating community will begin decorating the ship Friday morning for the “Chicago’s Christmas Ship” event.

Chicago’s Christmas Ship Committee will also host educational programs aboard the Mackinaw and at the Columbia Yacht Club on Friday for students from Goodwin Elementary School in Cicero and Queen of All Saints School in Chicago. More than 150 students will learn about the role of the Coast Guard, the “Christmas Ship” tradition, observe a Sea Partners ecology presentation and experience a ship tour by the Coast Guard Auxiliary.

The Christmas trees, purchased by Chicago’s Christmas Ship Committee, will be offloaded Saturday morning by members of the Coast Guard and local youth volunteers including the Sea Cadets, Venture Crews, Sea Scouts and the Young Marines, following a brief, public ceremony beginning at 10 a.m.

The ceremony will take place at the west end of Navy Pier near the Captain at the Helm statue and will include the Lincolnway Central High School Air Force JROTC Color Guard and Drill Team, and the Taft High School Choir. The ceremony will conclude with the first tree being presented to a representative family. The remaining trees will be loaded onto trucks for distribution by 17 local community organizations to more than 1,200 deserving families throughout Chicago. Ada S. McKinley Community Services coordinates the recipient organizations.

The Mackinaw’s reenactment continues a treasured piece of Chicago’s maritime tradition. Herman Schuenemann was the captain of the original Christmas Ship. He came to Chicago from Michigan for more than 30 years with fresh evergreens and wreaths for the holiday season during the late 1800s and early 1900s. On Nov. 23, 1912, Captain Schuenemann was at the helm of the fabled Christmas Ship, the Rouse Simmons. On that day while transiting from Michigan, Captain Schuenemann and the Rouse Simmons was lost in a storm and sank with a crew of 16 between Kewaunee and Two Rivers, Wisconsin.

During its transit to Chicago this year, the crew of the Mackinaw will hold a solemn tribute and drop a wreath into the waters near the resting place of the Rouse Simmons, which was located in 1971.

Chicago’s boating community has been re-enacting the days of the Rouse Simmons landing in Chicago for the past 14 years. The Chicago’s Christmas Ship Committee is composed of, and supported by, many facets of Chicago’s boating community including: the International Shipmasters’ Association, Chicago Marine Heritage Society, the Navy League of the United States, Chicago yacht clubs, Friends of the Marine Community, the Chicago Yachting Association, the Cruise Ship Mystic Blue and others. Navy Pier hosts the event, while staff lends support to this ongoing tradition.

The Mackinaw, homeported in Cheboygan, Michigan, was commissioned in June 2006 and has a crew of 60. It is one of the Coast Guard’s most technologically advanced multi-missioned cutters. In addition to search-and-rescue and maritime law enforcement operations, the annual charitable activity takes place in conjunction with a scheduled aids-to-navigation mission in the southern region of Lake Michigan to remove buoys for winter maintenance and replacement with “winter marks” to protect them from ice damage. Additionally, regular underway crew training and drills are being conducted in preparation for the ship’s primary winter mission of ice-breaking to keep commerce moving through the Great Lakes.

Free, public tours of the Mackinaw will be available Saturday from 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m.

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