Beneath the icy waters of Lake Michigan lies a tragic tale of Christmas past - the Rouse Simmons, also known as The Christmas Tree Ship. Once a maritime workhorse, this schooner spent its final days ferrying trees from Northern Michigan to Chicago, before being etched into the annals of Great Lakes maritime history.

Related: Michigan Careers in the 1870s: Your Job Prospects 150 Years Ago

It was a particularly frosty December day in 1912, when the Rouse Simmons, set sail from Thompson, Michigan on a mission to bring the joy of Christmas to countless homes. Some reports claim there was an 8-foot stack of trees on the deck 123-foot-long schooner.

The Last Voyage of Lake Michigan's Christmas Tree Ship


The ship, already navigating through the rough conditions December holds for mariners on Lake Michigan, found itself now dealing with an emerging winter storm. With a deck and cargo hold full of evergreens, ice began to build up on the trees.

99.1 WFMK logo
Get our free mobile app

Last seen by the Kewaunee Life-Saving Station in Wisconsin, it is said that the Rouse Simmons was flying a distress flag. The Kewaunee station then telephoned the Two Rivers’ Life-Saving Station, 25 miles south, who promptly set sail, but the Christmas Tree Ship would not be seen afloat again.


The crew battled the elements but eventually, it is thought that the Rouse Simmons was overtaken by a wave, sinking with its crew and cargo of northern Michigan evergreens, to the icy depths of Lake Michigan.

The Christmas Tree Ships Final Resting Place Under the Waves of Lake Michigan

It would be nearly 60 years after the 1912 sinking of the Rouse Simmons before the wreckage was found in 1971 about 12 miles northeast of Two Rivers, Wisconsin under 165 feet of water (44 degrees 16.640’ N, 087 degrees 24.863’ W). The collapsed deck reveals a cargo hold full of mostly needless Christmas Trees, but a select few have retained them.

Related: Discover REAL Michigan Christmas Magic: The North Pole Express

In the gallery below you'll see how sturdy the ship remains and get a close look at the ship's cargo hold.

The Christmas Tree Ship's Century-Long Rest in Lake Michigan

In December 1912, the Rouse Simmons sailed with a deck and cargo of evergreens from Thompson Michigan. But when a winter storm arose, the crew was unable to battle the waves and, the ship was lost to the depths of Lake Michigan.
See the Christmas Tree Ship today, where it rests, covered with Zebra mussels, about 12 miles northeast of Two Rivers, Wisconsin

Gallery Credit: Scott Clow

Engine Room of the Sunken Daniel J. Morrell Ship

Old Michigan Shipwrecks, Early 1900s

More From 99.1 WFMK