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Santa delivers via Coast Guard cutter

It’s that time of year again: the Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw (WLBB-30) delivered 1,000 Christmas trees to needy families Dec. 6 at the Navy Pier in Chicago, according to a recent press release.

The Mackinaw, a heavy duty icebreaker, was commissioned in 2006 and is in its third year as the Christmas Tree Ship, replacing its predecessor, WGAB-83. The crew hauls a load of trees from the woods of Wisconsin and Michigan’s upper peninsula for distribution, according to the report. A committee of 50 organizations in Chicago as well as individual community members make this event possible each year. Members of the Young Marines, Sea Cadets and Sea Explorer Scouts helped to unload the trees from the cutter this year.

The Christmas Tree Ship has a rich regional history. The first delivery of trees was made in 1896 via the Rouse Simmons, a three-masted wooden schooner captained by Herman Schenemann, who became known as Captain Santa to the local community, according to the report. Tragically, the Rouse Simmons disappeared in 1912 off the coast of Two Rivers, Wis., en route to Chicago and carrying 10,000 Christmas trees. No survivors were found. In 1971, her wreck was discovered in 165 feet of water, with remains of spruce trees still safe in her hold.

This year’s festivities included a welcoming ceremony, tours of the Mackinaw and the delivery of the trees. When she’s not being the Christmas Tree Ship, the Mackinaw removes seasonal aids to navigation in Lake Michigan to prevent damage from ice and severe weather, and assists in environmental protection and search-and-rescue, and maintains responsibilities for homeland security, according to the report.

— Elizabeth Ellis