CHEBOYGAN, Mich. – The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw visited the final resting site of the schooner Rouse Simmons, the original Christmas Ship, during a brief break from their Aids to Navigation mission in western Lake Michigan, Tuesday.
Crewmembers gathered on the buoy deck of the Mackinaw, which is serving as this year’s Christmas Ship, for a special ceremony honoring the fallen crew of the schooner Rouse Simmons for starting a tradition of delivering Christmas trees to deserving families in Chicago.
During this 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Rouse Simmons, two wreaths were tossed overboard into Lake Michigan to commemorate those lives which were lost just north of Two Rivers, Wis., during a November gale in 1912. The ship was on its way to Chicago to deliver 5,500 Christmas trees.
Each year, the Chicago’s Christmas Ship Committee donates a wreath which is tossed overboard at the closest point of approach to the wreckage by a Coast Guard cutter. This year, a special wreath was also donated by the Thompson Historical Society which was tossed overboard, and 100 hand-cut trees, from the same area where the crew of the Rouse Simmons obtained their trees, which will be among the 1,300 trees offloaded in Chicago.
Cmdr. Michael Davanzo, Mackinaw’s commanding officer, addressed the crew on the buoy deck amid howling winds and freezing temperatures, drawing comparisons to the weather the crew of the Rouse Simmons must have experienced. He talked with the crew of 60 about the importance of continuing and honoring traditions established by vessels on the Great Lakes.
“Although the Coast Guard and the committee conduct a wreath toss each year near the wreckage site, this year was significant because of the historic anniversary, “said George Lisner of the Chicago’s Christmas Ship Committee. “The ceremony was a solemn, respectful moment taken in by the entire crew.”
Lisner has been aboard with the Coast Guard each of the 13 years during the transit to Chicago.
Leading the ceremony was Petty Officer 2nd Class Nichol Billow, a food service specialist. In an effort to teach the crew of the Mackinaw the history of the Rouse Simmons, she developed a history lesson and taught her fellow shipmates about the schooner and its mission. During the ceremony, she read the names of those lost, and rang the ship’s bell for each name. The ceremony concluded with a final bell for good luck after a moment of silence from the crew.