Christmas Tree Ship Docks At Navy Pier

Rob Hart
December 06, 2019 - 6:12 pm

CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- A ship that docked at Navy Pier this morning is carrying precious cargo.

The Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw is the Christmas Tree Ship, a Great Lakes maritime tradition that dates back to the 19th Century.

Back then, a sailing ship stocked with Christmas Trees from the north woods of Wisconsin or Michigan would sail down the Chicago River to deliver the trees at Clark Street.

The original Christmas Tree Ship, the Rouse Simmons, sailed for 30 years before sinking in Lake Michigan off of Two Rivers, Wisconsin in November of 1912. 

The Coast Guard revived the tradition 20 years ago, and now the Christmas Tree Ship delivers hundreds of trees from northern Michigan to needy families in Chicago.

Coast Guard Commander John Stone is the commander of the Mackinaw.  He said the trees were picked up in Cheboygan, Mich. on Monday. After stopping in Manistique, Mich. for a memorial service held in honor of those who died on the Great Lakes, the Mackinaw set out for Chicago.

Along the way Stone said the Mackinaw retrieved navigation bouys that guide sailboats across the lake during the summer.

The Mackinaw arrived at Navy Pier this morning with a water cannon salute from a Chicago Fire Department Fireboat.  A choir from Taft High School greeted the Mackinaw as it pulled up to the dock.

"I love the fact there's a choir here, singing Christmas carols, getting you into the holiday spirit as we go into the weekend," Stone said.

The trees will be distributed to needy families tomorrow.  A crew of veterans of the Chicago to Mackinac sailboat race will drape the Mackinaw in Christmas decorations.