Coast Guard set for annual re-enactment, delivery of 1,200 Christmas trees for deserving families

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 on Dec. 6, at 8:30 a.m., for a two-day event re-enacting an annual Chicago tradition in the late 1800s and early 1900’s.

The Christmas trees, purchased by the Chicago’s Christmas Ship Committee, will be offloaded on the morning of Dec. 7 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. The first tree will be presented to a representative family. The remaining trees will then be loaded onto trucks for distribution by 18 local community organizations to more than 1,200 deserving families throughout Chicago. Ada S. McKinley Community Services coordinates the recipient organizations.

Crewmembers load more than 1,200 Christmas trees onto the Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw, Nov. 25, 2013. The Mackinaw, serving as this year's Christmas Ship, will help re-enact a tradition dating back to the late 1800s and early 1900s when the Rouse Simmons delivered trees to the people of Chicago for more than 30 years. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class John Filippone)

Crewmembers load more than 1,200 Christmas trees onto the Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw, Nov. 25, 2013. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class John Filippone)

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

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 landing of of the Rouse Simmons in Chicago for the past 14 years. The Chicago’s Christmas Ship Committee is comprised of and supported by all facets of the 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 in support of this ongoing tradition.

Chicago’s Christmas Ship Committee will also host educational programs for local area schools aboard the Mackinaw and Chicago’s Tall Ship Windy. More than 300 young 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 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 on Dec 7, from 1:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Schedule of Events:

Dec. 6, 2013

8:30 a.m. – Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw arrives at west end of Navy Pier near Captain at the Helm statue, escorted by Chicago Fire Department and Chicago Police boats; Rickover Naval Academy Band performs

9:05 a.m. – Decorating of Mackinaw commences

9:15 – noon – Students from Goodwin, St. Cornellius and Epiphany Schols tour Mackinaw and Tall Ship, Windy

Dec. 7, 2013

10 a.m. Opening ceremony, west end of Navy Pier; wreath laying at the Captain at the Helm Statue by Capt. Dave Truitt and the President of Chicago Shipmasters; wreath drop and fly-over by Chicago Fire Department helicopter; remarks by Capt. Matt Sibley, Commanding Officer, Coast Guard Sector Lake Michigan and Cmdr. Michael Davanzo, Commanding Officer of Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw; initial presentation of trees to representative families; music by the Taft high School Choir; folk singer Lee Murdock performs

Trees offloaded from Mackinaw following ceremony

1:30 – 5 p.m. – Free public tours of Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw

For more photos, click the picture.

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