One hundred years ago this winter, Captain Herman
Schuenemann set off by boat from Michigan's Upper Peninsula to
bring Christmas trees to immigrant families in Chicago. On Nov. 23,
1912, a horrible storm sank the ship, taking the crew, along with
the 5,500 Christmas trees, to the bottom of Lake Michigan.
That bit of Chicago history became "The Christmas
Schooner," a play that dramatizes the bittersweet story of the
German family whose yearly tradition was to bring Christmas trees
to the people of Chicago. This year, Mercury Theater, which also is
celebrating its 100th anniversary in Chicago, will perform the show
for the second year.
"We took up the challenge of producing this work last year
and it was probably the biggest success," the director, Walter
Stearns, says. "So we're making it our annual holiday
Stearns says the best part about the play is that it's
based on actual local history. "This is Chicago's Christmas story,"
he says. "It's unlike others that are more European, like Charles
Dickens' `The Christmas Carol.' This is truly the story of our city
and the immigrants who helped to build our city."
The production uses elaborate scene, sound and costume
designs to tell the story. "The father in the family gets the idea
to bring this to the immigrants in Chicago," Stearns says.
"Chicago, at this time, had just suffered the great Chicago fire,
and to have a luxurious item like a Christmas tree delivered must
have been very magical to the immigrant population
And, while the ship does sink, Stearns says the ending is
actually very "bittersweet."
"There is kind of a redeeming feeling at the end of the
show, because the family who has this struggle gets more united,"
Stearns says. "There's just a greater feeling in the family for
having weathered the storm."
The 2-1/2 hour show is family-friendly, but definitely for
children with longer attention spans, Stearns says.
Liz DeCarlo is the senior editor at Chicago Parent.
See more of Liz's stories here.
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