Things to Do in Fort Wayne and Beyond

Civic show celebrates Midwestern tradition

David Belew

Whatzup Features Writer

Published November 3, 2021

In 1876, the schooner Reindeer arrived in Chicago carrying Christmas trees from Manitowoc, Wisconsin. Thus began a tradition that continued for the next 45 years, with many schooners arriving in port cities all along Lake Michigan in early December carrying trees from further north. 

The voyage on the winter lake was dangerous but highly profitable for the captains and sailors willing to take the risk. The most famous of the “Christmas Schooner” captains was Herman Scheunemann, who was affectionately nicknamed Captain Santa by the people of Chicago. 

He used many different boats over the years, but the most famous was the Rouse Simmons, which Scheunemann and his brother purchased in the late 1800s. Captain Scheunemann brought great joy to the immigrant population of Chicago, who dearly missed the traditions of the Christmas tree in their native countries.

The Christmas Schooner is a musical written by Chicagoans Julie Shannon and John Reeger, and it has become a tradition in the Chicagoland area since it first premiered at the Bailiwick Theatre in Chicago in 1996. It tells a fictionalized version of the Christmas Schooner story but stays true to the spirit of the men and their families who risked everything to share the traditions of Christmas with families who would not otherwise have the chance to continue cherished family traditions.

First and foremost, this is a story about family, one family in particular that is willing to risk their own safety and security for the happiness of others. It’s about a community that supports each other and is willing to step out and do what is best for everyone — not just what’s best for their own self-interests. It’s a story about what we could be if we truly loved our neighbors and worked to serve others. It’s a story of love, joy, heartache, and tradition. 

I love the people whose story we tell, and I love these magnificent storytellers who will share this wonderful show with you this evening. After all,

We all have songs, we all have stories,

We all have good times and times when things go wrong.

And that’s life — the heartache and the glory.

The heartbeat of life is in our stories and our songs.

We hope that you enjoy our story, and I wish you and yours a beautiful holiday season.

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