I sent in my manuscript for my book American Madness which will be out August next year. I also have a little book out about a year from now called Wisconsin Legends & Lore, which is a collection of some classic Wisconsin folklore, ghost stories, and urban legends. One of the stories I read about while researching is the tragic story of the Rouse Simmons, also known as the Christmas Tree Ship, a nice Wisconsin Christmas ghost story for you this Friday the 13th.
Every holiday season, Chicagoans eagerly awaited the arrival of the Christmas Tree Ship, which would load up with evergreens in Michigan, then sail down to Chicago, where it would tie up to a dock. Families would head over, pick out a tree, and drag it back to their homes on a sled. The arrival of the Rouse Simmons meant the arrival of the holidays.
Captain Herman Schuenemann aka “Captain Santa” ran the business. He sold trees for fifty cents or a dollar, but he was known for generously donating trees to orphanages, hospitals, and poor families. His was not the only Christmas Tree Ship, but it would become the most famous. In November of 1912, Captain Schuenemann and his crew loaded 5,500 trees (imagine how piney that must have smelled!) into the Rouse Simmons, packing it as much as they could. There were supposedly bad omens, according to crew who declined to make the journey– rats seen abandoning ship, a crew totally an unlucky 13, and the ship leaving port on a Friday.
On November 23, 1912, the Rouse Simmons was sailing past Two Rivers, Wisconsin on route toward Chicago. A terrible storm hit Lake Michigan. The Rouse Simmons, already an old ship and overladen with thousands of trees, was thrashed in the wind, ice forming on the sails and ripping them. The Christmas Tree Ship (and a few other boats on the lake that night) and all hands were lost. Christmas trees from the boat washed ashore for years afterward.
Rather than be deterred by the lake that had claimed Captain Schuenemann’s life, his wife and daughters took over the business. The new Captain Schuenemann was his brave daughter, Elsie, who led the delivery of trees that same winter season of 1912. The family kept the business going until railroads and highways made the Christmas Trees ships obsolete in the 1920s and 30s..
The wreck of the Rouse Simmons was discovered by a scuba diver in 1971. They found that there were still needleless, skeleton-like trees in the cargo hold.
Legend says that you can see the ghost ship of the Rouse Simmons on Lake Michigan on stormy winter nights or on the anniversary of the night it sunk, struggling in the choppy waters to get south to Chicago.
A nice ending to this story is that a non-profit group called Chicago’s Christmas Ship, with the help of the Coast Guard, now continues the Christmas Tree Ship legacy. Using the sturdy Mackinaw, they’ve sailed to Navy Pier the last 20 years with a cargo of Christmas trees, where they work with community organizations to get trees to people who can’t afford them to make their holiday a little brighter.
You can find out more and donate here: http://christmasship.org/
More ghost stories! I host the Milwaukee Ghost Walk- Ghosts of Christmas Past tour tonight, tomorrow, and next weekend!: https://americanghostwalks.com/wisconsin/milwaukee-ghosts-of-christmas-past/
My latest book, Apocalypse Any Day Now makes a nice existential stocking stuffer: www.chicagoreviewpress.com/ApocalypseAnyDayNow
Today is the best holiday, Halloween (a snowy one here in Wisconsin) and I was trying to think of something appropriately eerie. This is “Tea’s Weird Week” after all. Then I thought about ghost tour season ending (but not really– I’m doing tours tonight, tomorrow, and Saturday and then a “Ghost of Christmas Past” tour in later November and December) and decided to reflect on being a tour guide for Milwaukee Ghost Walks. I’ve been running tours since June and here’s some of my favorite tour memories this year. Thanks to everyone who has joined me!
-The first stop on the tour includes a story of a ghostly antique telephone ringing. I’m explaining the bells, when a guy cruises by on his bike and rings his bike bell. Really well placed sound effect!
-Another well-timed effect– at a stop by the river, I talk about Lake Monster sightings from 1890. I was telling this story one night, there had been a lot of rain so the river was moving quickly. I’m telling this story and everyone is laughing and pointing at the river. I turn around and there’s a big, monster shaped log cruising down the river. “Looks like we found it!” I told the group.
-Speaking of, that story also mentions a local newspaper ad from a saloon that offers a reward for the capture of the Lake Monster so they can serve it as a lunch special. That led to the most interesting question I got this year from someone on the tour: “What does a Lake Monster taste like?” I told her I did not have the answer.
-It was really fun to take two of my tour groups to the Under One Moon Fest in Catalano Square in August, celebrating the Apollo 11 mission. A giant replica moon hung over the square and we stopped for a few minutes to take pictures and enjoy some great music from Nineteen Thirteen.
-I always love hearing the noise people make when I tell a gruesome bit of a story, ha ha.
-My friends show up once in a while to take the tour. Always glad to see you!
-I bring along a copy of my book Monster Hunters with me to help introduce who I am and at the end of the tour mention I got that copy for sale. I sell a copy here and there. It’s always nice to sign a book for someone and send it to someone’s home instead of sitting in a box in my basement.
-Oh yeah and a special shout out to the guy cruising around Water Street over and over on his motorcycle this July blasting smooth jazz. “Who does this guy think he is, Kenny G?” I asked the tour. Big laughs.
-Max Mitchelson of the Shepherd Express wrote a nice article about the Milwaukee Ghost Walks. They interviewed Allison Jornlin (who founded and wrote the tour) and threw in a quote from Yours Truly for good measure. You can read it here: “Remembering Milwaukee History Through the Paranormal.”
Happy Halloween everyone! I hope your holiday is filled with witches, goblins, ghosts, demons, Chupacabras, Lake Monsters, Bigfoot, Count Dracula, Freddy Krueger, and a black cat riding a broomstick screeching “Happy Meow-loweeeeen!”
P.S. November is Conspiracy Month here at Tea’s Weird Week. You’ve been warned.
Hold out your hand and I’ll sprinkle some candy corn into it. This month sales of rubber spiders and bats and plastic fangs will reach an all time high for the year. Expect to see a lot of mutant works like SPOOPY and SPOOKTACULAR and GHOSTOBER. And for people in the paranormal biz, we are in the midst of what June is like for the wedding industry.
I first got a taste of the ghost biz while working on my book Monster Hunters. October is when the mainstream world wants to visit haunted houses, go on ghost tours, watch scary movies, drink pumpkin spice lattes, go on tag-along ghost investigations, and there is an industry there happy to oblige them.
You can make some money in the supernatural biz if you’ve got the chops. But you need a certain je ne GHOST quoi to succeed. Bad Halloween puns may or may not help.
Here’s 5 ways you can make money in the paranormal field.
(1.) Show off your expertise as a speaker. If you put in some work you can be expert on a story, incident, or entire field. This time of year libraries, conferences, and festivals often have guest speakers who do presentations on local lore, UFO sightings, ghost investigation techniques, etc. I have a few friends who have been successful doing this, but it takes a lot of work and you need to be a good public speaker (that’s an ability that can be learned. Being weird, though, isn’t.)
(2.) Run tours. This is something I do, and it’s fun. It can be repetitive doing the same tour over and over, but when you have a tour group that’s engaged in what you’re saying it’s a really good feeling to share the hidden history of your city.
(3.) Write books/ articles. There is some money to be made here (but don’t be unrealistic), but be sure you’re doing it cause you got a fire burning inside you to do it, not cause you’re looking for a quick paycheck. If you’re passionate about researching your subject it’ll show and word will spread and more people will buy your book. Some niche publications will pay to publish articles, but it’s going to take some work finding them. Regional publications are usually interested in spooky local lore this time of year.
(4.) Get on one of those goofy reality shows. I don’t know what a deal like this entails and what sort of money is in it. I’ve been contacted by quite a few reality show production companies over the years, mostly regarding Real-Life Superheroes and couple for paranormal themes. In almost all of these situations, the companies are just trying to get me to hand over my contacts list and research and to guide them through a topic they know nothing about FOR FREE. This totally wastes time I could be spending writing ghost puns, you damn GHOULS!
(5.) Sell paranormal related product, like gadgets: Psst. Hey you. Yeah, you. You look like you could use the new Ghost-O-Meter T-1000 (patent pending). Yeah you just press this button and point and zoop! zop! zeep! look at all them green lights, wouldya! There’s definitely a ghost standing next to these electrical lines! Yes, we do take cards!
#ClownWatch2019: October 8, 2019: RED ALERT: there’s been tons of buzz on creepy clowns over the last month to tie in with the It:Chapter 2 and Joker (see my own take HERE) but here at #ClownWatch2019 we report on actual clown sightings or projected clown encounters. High probability for this Halloween season as an authority no less than Good Housekeeping reports that the number one Googled costume is…Pennywise, the killer clown from It. Be safe out there!
Read where all this ghost biz got started for me in Monster Hunters.
If you go on the Milwaukee Ghost Walk Third Ward tour, you can see “My Haunted Baseball Card Collection” in person.
FANGS to FangirlNation for a review I could sink my teeth into:
“It’s hard for the reader not to find themselves launching headlong in the book and coming out with either new or stronger opinions on the other side.”
Have a GHOULISHY GOOD time following me on:
There’s weird talk from Tea here every Friday.
My friends just come up with totally dope stuff, I’m beyond lucky to know such creative people. Take for example the Moonlight Retreat, which “offers arts, play, learning, fun, wonder, and a deeper connection with nature and community for all folks within a summer camp environment.” It’s like summer camp for creative adults. How cool is that?
I’m glad to say I’ll be a guest at this year’s Moonlight Retreat, leading a workshop about Wisconsin ghostlore, not in a conference room, but around a campfire, which is of course one of the best possible places to tell ghost stories. For the rest of the camp I’ll be enjoying the many cool workshops, reviewing drafts of my manuscripts, and just hanging out– “chillaxing” as those kids today say. Looking forward to it!
If you’d like more info on the Moonlight Retreat, here’s the link: https://www.naomishersty.net/moonlight-retreat
For a long list of other ghost related stuff I’m doing, check out the links section at the end of this column. But first…
Who can forget the Great Clown Scare of 2016? Clowns appeared all over the country, threatening people and sometimes participating in random acts of clowness, oops, I mean violence. Over the past couple weeks there’s been two incidents of clowns meeting law enforcement, which means I am officially opening up the hashtag #ClownWatch2019.
07/20/2019: Report and video footage of a Joker style clown that led California Highway Patrol on a wild goose chase for an hour, sometimes taunting them through the sunroof while a passenger steered the car. The clown eventually ditched the car on Venice Beach, and frolicked in the sand with people before being arrested for reckless driving.
07/26/2019: Man dressed as a clown that started a “mass brawl” on a British cruise ship off the coast of Norway. “There was blood everywhere,” a witness reported. “Passengers used furniture and plates as weapons.”
Is nowhere on earth safe from a clown induced brawl? We’ll keep track in this column.
The Apocalypse Blog Book Club
While working on my book Apocalypse Any Day Now, I started a book club that reads dystopian fiction. A local group meets in Milwaukee and people from all over the world are part of the Facebook group. I’m keeping the club going and voting is now open for our end of summer selection. Join us, vote, and get a good end of the world book pick for your beach reading! Here’s the group page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1482975718409410/
More Links to Ghost Stuff
Milwaukee Paranormal Conference 2019— we just announced our speaker line-up. You can see that and get tickets here: https://milwaukeeparacon.com/2019/07/26/milwaukee-paranormal-conference-2019/
I lead the Milwaukee Ghost Walks Third Ward tour, which starting this week is every Friday and Saturday evening at 7:30pm (except Aug.16-17 cause I’ll be at the Moonlight Retreat!) Tickets here: https://americanghostwalks.com/wisconsin/milwaukee-ghost-walks/
I’ll be at the Old Baraboo Inn Sept.28 for the World’s Largest Ghost Hunt to talk about the Legend of Al Capone (including his ghost). See last week’s column for more info. The event link is here: https://www.facebook.com/events/379959039385127/
My book Monster Hunters (which made the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 2015 “100 Books for Your Summer Reading List”) has a lot of ghost material: CLICK HERE
Tune in every Friday to read about whatever weird stuff Tea is getting himself into.
Well, I’m on my way to visit Chicago twice in the next few days where I’ll be profiling legendary ghost experts Ursula Bielski (Chicago Hauntings) and Dale Kaczmarek (Ghost Research Society) for a magazine piece. Both are interesting people who have been in this ghost biz for a long time. The last time I saw them might have been at a panel I lead on Chicago Ghostlore at Wizard World Chicago a couple years ago, glad to be visiting Chicago and seeing them again.
I got an appropriate Chicago-themed book to read on the train by master level biographer Deirdre Bair titled Al Capone: His Life, Legacy, and Legend, research for an upcoming appearance I’ll be making in September at the Old Baraboo Inn.
I wrote an article for Cult of Weird titled “Chasing the Ghost of Al Capone” in 2016 that documented 5 places the ghost of the famous gangster is said to haunt. After reading it recently, my friends at the Old Baraboo Inn have asked me to join them in the World’s Largest Ghost Hunt there on September 28, as they’ve apparently heard whispers from Scarface himself.
I’m developing a presentation called “Legends of Al Capone.” It’ll premiere at Old Baraboo Inn and then entered into a roster of presentations called “Tea Talks” that I’m developing that will be available for library appearances, conferences, etc. See the Tea Talks page I’m developing here: https://teakrulos.com/teatalks
Here’s the event page for Old Baraboo Inn’s World’s Largest Ghost Hunt: https://www.facebook.com/events/379959039385127/
Unrelated to ghosts but much related to Al Capone, I’ve slowly been collecting some short stories about my life for an untitled book project. I don’t know when or where or how it might be published, but for now I’m just slowing adding to a Word doc whenever I have a memory I want to get down. I’m glad to share with you this short story I wrote about my overwhelming disappointment in Geraldo Rivera.
Al Capone’s Vaults
I can pinpoint my disenchantment date exactly. April 21, 1986, primetime, where you have found me, 9 years-old, excitedly sitting in front of a small but heavy television set in the living room, eating dinner at a TV table. This was a rarity—my parents insisted that dinner be at the dinner table except for Saturday nights, when we cooked frozen pizzas and watched movies in the living room. I was not allowed to watch more modern movies, so what we watched were a lot of old horror and sci fi movies—Dracula and Godzilla movies and old comedies starring the Marx Brothers and Abbot and Costello.
This was a special occasion, though, as my parents recognized my extreme excitement to see a two-hour Geraldo Rivera television special, THE MYSTERY OF AL CAPONE’S VAULTS. Wikipedia says about 30 million other people were also watching that night. I sat there eating maybe frozen pizza or fish sticks and French fries, with milk or orange soda.
Oh boy! Al fragging Capone, I knew who that was! [Breaking into a cartoon gangster impression] Yeah, see, I bet he had a lot of treasure in those secret vaults, see! I bet he had literal treasure chests filled with gold, see! Dead bodies—tommy guns—a stash of Cuban cigars—pictures of naked women! Who knows?! But we’ll find out soon as a construction crew behind Geraldo slowly worked to tantalizingly chisel through the wall to [TV announcer] AL CAPONE’S VAULTS!
I also knew who Geraldo was. My grandpa had angrily waved his hand in dismissal and said “ahhh, he’s just a ham,” which does actually sum up his career nicely.
Geraldo yakked on about Capone and his crime career and how you never know what’s just on the other side of this wall and wow maybe it’s filled with gold and cash! Each commercial break was an agonizing step closer.
Finally, after building suspense for two hours, the construction machinery burst through the wall of Al Capone’s vault! And there, Geraldo discovered the lost treasures of Al Capone—a few dusty, empty bottles. Trying to save face he commented that the bottles were antiques and might be worth something. A bitter smartass even at that age, I was like “yeah buddy, they’re worth 5 cents in Michigan.”
What a huge disappointment! It severely killed my expectation of things for life, which I suppose is kind of a good thing… life will let you down, get used to it.
But I’m glad to say those hard moments made the good ones all that much better.
Throughout my life there were also times of enchantment—moments where I believed in magic and ghosts and the wonders of the universe. But that goddamn Geraldo gave me this curse of a skeptical arched eyebrow, one that will expect a pile of dusty beer bottles in your alleged magical treasure vault.
Here’s some links!
RIP Rosemary Ellen Guiley, paranormal author and speaker. I met her briefly at a conference in Rockford and she signed one of her books, which is one of the favorites in my library– The Encyclopedia of Demons and Demonology. Loren Coleman wrote an excellent retrospect of her career here: http://copycateffect.blogspot.com/2019/07/Guiley-obit.html
My book Apocalypse Any Day Now is available here: www.chicagoreviewpress.com/ApocalypseAnyDayNow
Speaking of, the Apocalypse Blog Book Club, which selects dystopian fiction to read will have a poll on a new title next week. You can find the club here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1482975718409410/
I really had fun this weekend. A lot of the time writing (for me, anyway) involves me being anti-social, staying at home at the desk. So when I have a weekend of getting to see friends, old and new, it is a hella cool time for me. My girlfriend Wendy (a talented photographer, who took the photos below– her website is HERE) and I hit the road and visited West Bend and Chicago for a couple of events I was invited to participate in.
Friday, I participated in the Museum Of Wisconsin Art‘s member show, which was superhero themed. I judged a costume contest along with Real Life Superhero The Watchman (one of the subjects of my book Heroes in the Night, available HERE) and fashion designer Miranda Kay Levy, who you might have seen on Project Runway. She asked me to help judge and you know when an acclaimed designer like Miranda asks me for my fashion opinions, we’re in for a rare situation. There were about 10 or 12 entries in the contest and they were all great, very creative.
I had some waves of nostalgia rolling in to town, as I was briefly a resident of West Bend in 1996. I finished my Senior year of high school there. More importantly, it’s where I met an incredibly unique group of individuals who became my friends. I think my life adventures really began in West Bend.
In addition to the costume contest, I tabled with Heroes in the Night, sold a few copies, and talked with a few people who were genuinely interested in what I was up to. People got to talk with The Watchman, who was there with two of his kids– Wonder Boy and Guardian Girl.
The next morning, we headed down to the Chicago Ghost Conference. Real Life Superhero Razorhawk (of Minneapolis) had been invited to do a panel on what being a RLSH is all about and he had Chicago RLSH Citizen Prime and Wraith as well as myself as guests. Attendance was low, but we didn’t let it get us down. I got to chat with a couple people I’ve met over the last year or two who will be featured in my next book, Monster Hunters (out in June 2015, you can pre-order HERE).
I also met a few new people involved with the field of paranormal investigation. I did an interview with second generation ghost hunter Alexandra Holzer, which will make for a great future article somewhere. I even got my photo taken with B movie host icon Svengoolie.
I am planning a one day Milwaukee Paranormal Conference for June 6 (see website HERE), so perhaps the best thing I got from the conference was taking a look firsthand at things I thought worked and things I thought did not.
A fun weekend hanging out with a lot of great people I’ve had the fortune of meeting, and in many cases, writing about.