Tuesday, December 6, 2011


Oh, Papa, come look! Oh, Mama, can you see?
I've been waiting for so long for this to come to be.
Oh, Papa, come look! Oh, Mama, can you see?
Here comes the Christmas Ship with all the Christmas trees.
——Lee Murdock, "The Christmas Tree Ship"

Herman [Schuenemann] was taking the business of bringing trees to Chicago in a new direction…with his idea of locating a schooner in a central location and selling tress directly off the deck of the boat. 

A newspaper article from 1898 describes "a score of girls and women" busily employed in the garland "factory" under a temporary deck housing. "the girls on the starboard side make endless strings of green for decoration, weaving the lycomodium sprigs together with fine soft wire. They get for this 1 cent a yard and a good worker will make 200 to 250 yards a day. On the other, port, side of the table the girls are making the round rings of evergreen so common this time of year. These are built up  about a willow wreath and are more difficult to make, one not making more than five or six dozen a day. For this they get 2 cents a wreath."
——Fred Neuschel, Lives and Legends of the Christmas Tree Ships

However festive or sad the occasion, however gay or gloomy the streets may be, whatever our surroundings, the Christmas spirit is there. No one may say just wherein it lies. It is like an unseen halo that glorifies and makes holy every good thought and impulse, while it reveals in darker relief whatever is tragic, unworthy or vicious. A great disaster on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day shocks us as it does at no other season; a great joy comes in that sweet raiment of gladness that only Christmas brings.
——Detroit Free Press, December 13, 1903

I've collected Christmas books for years, and must have at least a couple hundred. Their contents range from anthologies of seasonal poetry, short stories, and novels, to histories of the holiday and its customs and traditions, sketches and narratives of remembered Christmases by various writers, cookbooks, even a craft book or two, though Myladylove collects the latter two categories and probably has upwards of a hundred Christmas volumes of her own.

This year, starting on the first day of December, I thought it might be fun to dip into a few of these works and share a quote or two from their pages—a few lines of poetry, a bit of prose, maybe even a recipe—on a daily basis, a sort of "Christmas Quotedown," which I'll put up in addition to my regular posts. I'll also include a photo of the book's cover, from which the day's quotes are taken—though a few, lacking a dust jacket or any sort of fancy cover design, might be decidedly non-photogenic. On the other hand, several of my favorite Christmas works are quotably rich troves, indeed, and thus might end up furnishing more than a day's worth of quotes—though I'm starting out with the notion of a different book each day. 

Along the way, I hope I select some things you enjoy. 


The Weaver of Grass said...

Pure unadulterated nostalgia - love it.

Gail said...

HI GRIZZ - this is fascinating and I so enjoyed learning of these amazing girls and women. Here's to the "power-of-women'!! :-0
Love Gail

Grizz………… said...


Indeed, wistful history of better times forever gone.

Grizz………… said...


The old Christmas-tree-carrying sailing ships of the Great Lakes are legendary, a prominent part of the history of these vast sweetwater seas. Yet they, like all the wind-powered vessels plying the five inland oceans, suffered their share of tragedies, regularly going down in raging storms with all hands on board—which is what the quote from the Detroit Free Press is alluding to…

KGMom said...

Well once again, you have added to my store of knowledge. This is something of which I knew nothing.

Grizz………… said...


I got into collecting Great Lakes books years and years ago when I began camping, fishing and poking around the U.P. country and Lake Superior—and wanted to learn as much as I could about the people and history of the Upper Great Lakes, from the old French Jesuit missionaries, to the fur traders and voyageurs. The ships and men who plied these inland seas were a big part of that, of course. I suppose I have four or five books on the Christmas tree ships of the Great Lakes. Their era encompassed the tall square-rigged clipper ships as appears on this book's cover, the short-haul sloopers (captained by men who actually lived and raised families in the communities along the shore of the big northern lakes), and later, various steam-powered vessels. The small crew would go and cut a load of Christmas trees from the northern forests, load the cut trees onto their ship, and bring them to a port city along the lake where they would sell the fresh trees and greenery to the public.

The history of the Great Lakes is quite fascinating, and I'd wager few who haven't read a lot of this stuff have any idea of the number of ships which went down, and the thousands of lives lost on these moody and dangerous waters. If you ever want to sample a bit, the books of Dwight Boyer are a good place to start.

Robin said...


I never knew this about Chicago but I looked it up and learned so much.

You probably know this, but...

Capt. Schuenemann's ship went down in 1912 around Two Rivers. Divers found it recently and took a video as they went. There are STILL Christmas trees with needles intact on the boat.

After his boat sank, they started bringing trees in by truck and rail... but his daughters kept his spirit alive by still selling trees from a boat on the Chicago River.

Thank you for the knowledge!


Robin said...


Re: Great Lakes History......

Back when I had a bedroom that looked northeast over Lake Michigan, I would sometimes see at night... and often in the dead, frigid cold of winter the lights of far ships in the distance.

I'd wonder about them... were they barges, what? Many times they were lit up like Christmas trees and just as often they had sentinel lights, front and back.

I've tried looking up what sort of vessels move up and down Lake Michigan these days, and either I'm searching incorrectly or there's not much moving any more.

Grizz………… said...

Robin x2…

Ahhhh, you lucky lady—you have so many wonderful things to learn about your own back yard, not the least of which is the colorful history surrounding that big old lake you live beside. I remember some of the first comments you ever made here at Riverdaze about walking along its shores, and how much I envied you that daily familiarity.

This particular book is largely about the history of the Schuenemanns, particularly Herman, or "Captain Santa" as he came to be known. Herman is by far the most colorful and best known of the Christmas tree ship captains.

You're correct that in Nov. 1912, Herman went down aboard the Rouse Simmons, with his shipload of Christmas tress, during the voyage back downlake from Manistique to Chicago, foundering between Kewaunee and Two Rivers. The painting on the book's cover, by Charles Vickery, is of the Rouse Simmons. Too, Herman also had a brother August with whom he owned and sailed many ships. August drowned in 1898 off Glencoe, Ill. in L. Michigan when his flat-bottomed schooner, the S. Thal, sank in a gale. He was also carrying a load of Christmas tree bound for Chicago. When selling trees, the Schuenemanns usually docked their ships near the Clark St. bridge. Herman had twin daughters, Hazel and Perl, who, along with their widowed mother, continued selling trees from a storfront near this dock after Herman died—at least up until the mother passed away.

I've read about the recent finding of the Rouse Simmons, and seen photos and a video. Much of the ship's fitting are now in variou collections. There were cut trees still aboard.

You wonder about the ships you see…there are publications and online resources which would help you to at least identify the general sort of vessel—freighter, ore carrier, etc. If I lived anywhere close I'd get into that I expect. Sort of like I.D.ing gigantic steel waterbirds. There is plenty of traffic plying the lake. In fact, the Soo Locks, at Sault Ste. Marie, pass more than 10,00o ships through each year, making them busier than the Panama, Suez, and one other canal lock whose name I've forgotten, combined. So, yeah, plenty of stuff still moving around the big lakes.

Hey, look up Vickery's paintings…


…and then click on the Christmas card icon and you'll see my favorite Christmas tree ship print of all, which I've been lusting over for years but, alas, will never own.

And now that I've bored you to tears with this overload info glut, I'm off to bed.