With its northern pine forests and immigrant German heritage, my adoptive home state is among the top Christmas tree producers in the U.S. Hundreds of small, family-run tree farms here are thriving during the pandemic. Want a Covid-safe, outdoor activity near home? Cut your own tree. Supply chain disruptions? No, this season’s crop was planted years ago.
Christmas trees also hold a place in the history of Wisconsin transportation and industry.
The wreck of the Rouse Simmons. The schooner Rouse Simmons made its last voyage each year in late fall, filled with Christmas trees from upper Michigan to sell in Chicago. On Nov. 23, 1912, the Two Rivers WI Lifesaving Station learned by phone of an approaching ship showing signs of distress. A powered lifeboat went out but found nothing. The Rouse Simmons lay at the bottom of Lake Michigan, complete with trees, crew, and lumberjacks who had hitched a ride home for the holidays.
“Get the biggest aluminum tree you can find, Charlie Brown, maybe painted pink.” Demand soared after the Aluminum Specialty Company in Manitowoc WI introduced Evergleam Christmas trees in 1959. Their glistening foil needles seemed to fit the spirit of the burgeoning space age. The fad collapsed in the mid-1960s after Charlie Brown’s Christmas made them a symbol of commercialization.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.