Coast Guard’s Christmas tree giveaway brings holiday spirit ashore

CHICAGO — On a warm December morning, the spirit of the holidays came ashore.

For 18 years, the Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw has delivered more than 21,000 trees from Michigan to Chicago.

"This remarkable accomplishment has undoubtably brought families closer together and made the holidays more meaningful for hundreds of thousands of residents," said U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Tom Stuhlreyer.

The tradition began in 2000, as a re-enactment of Chicago’s original Christmas tree ships from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The final journey was in November 1912, when the Rouse Simmons, under the command of "Captain Santa"Herman Schuenemann, sank to the bottom of Lake Michigan overloaded with trees. All souls on board were lost.

Each year, the Coast Guard Cutter lays a wreath at the spot where the ship sank near two rivers in Wisconsin, honoring the seamen who lost their lives.

Today, the occasion is meant to remember and to celebrate, unloading the 1,200 trees this year and giving them away to deserving families across Chicago.

"It represents faith, light and a promise of hope and peace," Stuhlreyer said. "It's become one of the most important symbols of the Christmas season."