Fontana author pens 'Christmas Ship'

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Margaret Plevak | December 17, 2013

FONTANA  — A 19th-century schooner laden with Christmas trees, a brave sea captain, a terrifying blizzard on Lake Michigan in November 1912, shadowy images of a ghostly ship: the true account of the ship Rouse Simmons has all the makings of a classic holiday tale.  

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Fontana resident Diane French thought so years ago when she saw “The Christmas Schooner,” a musical based on the Rouse Simmons and its captain, Herman Schuenemann, at the Chicago Bailiwick Repertory Theater. Tickets to the play were a Christmas gift from her children, and the family liked “The Christmas Schooner” so much, they saw it again when the Door County Players performed it a few years later.

Over the decades, the Rouse Simmons was featured not only in a musical but countless newspaper, magazine and website articles, and Rochelle Pennington's comprehensive hardcover book, which sat on French's coffee table every holiday season for years. But French, a designer and former middle-school teacher, figured no one had an audience of middle-schoolers in mind when they told the story. So she tackled the job, piecing it together with research done online at the Wisconsin Historical Society and through back issues of Midwest magazine.

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