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‘Captain Santa’ delivers

DEC. 4 — A recent cargo of evergreen trees was not on its way to the lumberyard. Rather than being turned into furniture, these trees had a higher purpose.

On Saturday at 10 a.m., the 290-foot Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw arrived at the Navy Pier in downtown Chicago loaded with 1,000 Christmas trees for needy families, according to the Coast Guard. Festivities celebrating “The Christmas Tree Ship” kicked off at 8 a.m. Friday with a welcoming ceremony.

The trees came from the woods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and Wisconsin, hauled onto the cutter and distributed by the crew of the Mackinaw, according to the report. The trees were purchased by the Chicago Christmas Ship Committee, whose members represent the Coast Guard Auxiliary, International Shipmaster’s Association and the Chicago Yachting Association, according to the press release.

The Mackinaw is the most recent in a long line of vessels that have kept the “Christmas Tree Ship” tradition going since 1896 when Capt. Herman Schuenemann, fondly known as “Captain Santa” according to local lore, docked his schooner of evergreens the Rouse Simmons near the ClarkStreetBridge. In her second year, the Mackinaw replaces the WAGB-83, often called “The Big Mac,” who assisted in resurrecting the Christmas tree tradition in 2000.

After the trees were distributed with the help of volunteers from the Sea Cadets, Young Marines, and Sea Explorer Scouts, tours were held of the Mackinaw from 1 to 5 p.m. that day, according to the report. The Mackinaw is now bound for Northern Lake Michigan to continue her aids-to-navigation mission.

— Elizabeth Ellis