Coast Guard, Chicago Christmas Ship Committee to deliver of 1,200 Christmas trees

Seaman Jared S. Medina officially delivers the Christmas trees on behalf of U.S. Coast Guard cutter Mackinaw during a ceremony Dec. 3, 2016 at Navy Pier in Chicago. Loaded with 1,200 Christmas trees, Mackinaw arrived in Chicago to serve as this year's Christmas Ship. U.S. Coast Guard photo courtesy of USCGC Mackinaw

Seaman Jared S. Medina officially delivers the Christmas trees on behalf of U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw during the 2016 Christmas Ship event. U.S. Coast Guard photo courtesy of USCGC Mackinaw

CHICAGO — The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw and members of the Chicago Christmas Ship Committee will reenact a tradition dating back to the late 1800s, Friday and Saturday at Navy Pier.

The Mackinaw, serving once again as this year’s “Christmas Ship” and loaded with more than 1,200 Christmas trees, is scheduled to return to Chicago Friday at 8:30 a.m., for a two-day event.

The Christmas trees, purchased by the Chicago Christmas Ship Committee through private donations, will be offloaded Saturday 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 in Polk Brothers Park. The ceremonial first tree will be presented to a representative of Ada S. McKinley Community Services on behalf of more than 1,200 deserving families who will be given a tree. The remaining trees will then be loaded onto trucks for distribution by 18 local community organization chosen by the Christmas Ship Committee.

The Mackinaw’s reenactment continues a treasured piece of Chicago’s maritime tradition. Herman Schuenemann, the captain of the original Christmas Ship, 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 1900’s. Captain Schuenemann and the Rouse Simmons was lost in a storm on Lake Michigan and sank with a crew of 16 between Kewaunee and Two Rivers, Wis., November 23, 1912.

During the transit to Chicago, the crew of the Mackinaw held a solemn tribute and dropped 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 18 years. The Chicago Christmas Ship Committee is comprised of and supported by all facets of the Chicago’s boating community, which includes: 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 Committee, in conjunction with Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit Chicago and members of the Coast Guard Auxiliary, will also host educational programs for local area schools aboard the Mackinaw. More than 300 students from the Chicago area 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 Coast Guard Auxiliary. Members of the Mackinaw’s crew and volunteers from Chicago’s boating community will decorate the ship on Friday afternoon for the “Chicago’s Christmas Ship” event.

The Mackinaw, homeported in Cheboygan, Mich., 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, this weekend’s charitable activity takes place in conjunction with a scheduled aids to navigation mission in the southern region of Lake Michigan to remove seasonal buoys for winter maintenance and replace them with ice buoys 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 on Friday and Saturday from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

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