From Cheboygan to Chicago, the Christmas Ship Brings Trees to Those in Need | Mitt messages

Santa’s red sleigh flies through the night with the strength of the reindeer. But Kris Kringle’s hot rod isn’t the only way to bring holiday cheer.

Every December, U.S. Coast Guard Mackinaw sails from Cheboygan to Chicago carrying hundreds of Christmas trees that are donated to families in need.

A light breeze blows over the Windy City as the morning sun illuminates Lake Michigan.

At the pier, the bright red Mackinaw is moored in silent majesty.

Measuring 240 feet and weighing 3,500 tonnes, it is the largest icebreaker on the Great Lakes.

The ship’s crew are busy tying long plastic slides to its starboard rail as a pile of crisp evergreens await their moment.

Next, the captain appears, decked out in his blue US Coast Guard uniform and a red Christmas cap.

Kevin Lavery

CAPT Kristen Serumgard greets the crowd at Navy Pier at the start of the 2021 Christmas Ship event.

“Hello ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the Christmas ship! Exclaims Captain Kristen Serumgard.

Like Santa Claus in the fireplace, bundles of trees slide smoothly into the eager arms of dozens of volunteers who quickly load them into waiting trucks.

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Kevin Lavery

USCGC Mackinaw crew members slide Christmas trees to waiting volunteers at Navy Pier in Chicago.

The Chicago Christmas Ship Committee is coordinating the event, soliciting donations to purchase trees for underprivileged residents of the city who would otherwise do without.

The trees come from various places.

This year they are from Dutchman Tree Farms in Manton, Michigan.

It’s kind of nice to do something good for others, especially after COVID. You felt like we were so isolated. So to go further and help someone is really nice.

Alexis Ortiz, JROTC student at Lincoln Way East High School

“When the trucks come to our home port of Cheboygan, we have a special tree conveyor belt that we hook up to the fantail, where we load the stern with 1,200 trees,” says Mackinaw’s deputy operations officer. , Lt. (jg) Patrick Buell. “We play Christmas music and generally have a good time. “

The festive mood at Navy Pier was a welcome change after 2020, when COVID-19 forced America to go on lockdown.

The Mackinaw still managed to vacation in December, but without a crowd of waiting to welcome the crew.

The mood in 2021 was decidedly different.

“It’s quite nice to do something good for others, especially after COVID,” said student Alexis Ortiz, a member of Lincoln Way East High Junior ROTC in Frankfort, Ill. “You felt like we were so isolated. So to go further and help someone is really nice.

The tradition of sending trees to Chicago dates back to the early 20e century.

The first “Christmas Ship” was the Rouse Simmons, a three-masted wooden schooner.


Kevin Lavery

A Chicago Fire Department helicopter flies low over downtown on its way to a point just offshore, where its crew laid a wreath in Lake Michigan to honor those who died at sea.

It was piloted by Herman Shuenemann, who is affectionately known as “Captain Santa Claus”.

The arrival of the ship had been a much anticipated event in Chicago for years.

In 1912, the usual crowds came to the pier… but the Rouse Simmons never did. Its crew was lost in a severe storm off the coast of Wisconsin. After the tragedy, Christmas trees stopped arriving in Chicago by boat for decades, until the Coast Guard resumed the tradition in 2000.

The trees are distributed throughout Chicago by community services nonprofit Ada S. McKinley.

“I want you to think of a time when you were happy, and a tree can have something to do with a memory,” CEO Jamal Malone said. “That feeling is what we did today by providing 1,200 trees, connecting them with families who may not have had a living Christmas tree. And so for that, thank you.

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Kevin Lavery

USCGC Mackinaw Commander Capt.Kristen Serumgard addresses the crowd at Navy Pier.

Then it was time for the trees to be on their way, sent by Mackinaw’s blaring horn.

As the trucks rolled out of sight, the crew greeted the crowds aboard their ship for a tour.

It was evident that the Mackinaw had missed the city’s welcome embrace of Big Shoulders the year before.

“To be a part of this tradition in the Great Lakes is pretty amazing,” said Captain Serumgard. “We were part of it last year, and our victory was just to be able to bring down the trees here. But being part of the celebration and all of that is really heartwarming. “

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