Christmas tree ship arrives at Navy Pier

December 2, 2011 9:49:49 AM PST
A Chicago holiday tradition played out Friday as a Coast Guard cutter filled with Christmas trees for needy families docked at Navy Pier.

This year, a new state-of-the-art ship was used to carry the trees, which will be handed out this weekend.

With the Chicago Fire Department shooting water cannons, to celebrate her arrival, the Coast Guard cutter Alder arrived at Navy Pier bearing the stacks of Christmas trees.

"The story of the Chicago Christmas Tree Ship is really an incredible story because it starts right here," said Capt. Dave Truitt, Chicago's Christmas Tree Ship Program chairman.

The Rouse Simmons was the original Christmas Tree Ship that came to Chicago at the beginning of the holiday season for over 30 years in the early 1900s. It could carry more than 5,000 trees, but in 1912, it never made it to Chicago. The ship sunk near the Wisconsin coast and the crew perished.

"Little Ruthie Fleswig was standing here, and it got to be dark and her father leaned over and said Ruthie, 'Why don't you go home?' And she looked up and said, 'Dad, you don't understand, for a little girl, without a Christmas tree, there is no Christmas,'" Truitt said.

Chicago always remembered the old ship, and the marine community brought the tradition back in 2000. This year's vessel came from Duluth, Minn., picked up 1,200 trees in Sault Saint Marie, Mich., then paid tribute over the site where the Rouse Simmons was last seen -- before heading to Chicago.

"This is an outstanding tremendous opportunity for the whole entire ship. All of the crew are excited," said Commander Mary Ellen Durley, Coast Guard Cutter "Alder." "As you can tell they hoisted one of the traditional Christmas trees -- as was the custom when they came here -- and we did that this morning in honor of the Rouse Simmons and the other ships before her. So, we are excited."

An official welcoming ceremony is scheduled Saturday with a live military band flyover by a Coast Guard helicopter. Then, the trees will be unloaded and delivered.

The ship departs on Sunday.

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