A sea-faring mystery
By JASON MARGOLIS
The name Mary Celeste has
become synonymous with concepts like "The ghost ship from Scooby
Doo," but it endures as a true and tragic tale of the sea. The story
begins on Nov. 4, 1872, with a friendly dinner engagement between old
Captain Morehouse and Captain Benjamin Spooner Briggs. Morehouse was
the English cargo ship Dei Gratia, while Briggs commanded the American
Mary Celeste. The two vessels happened to be moored at neighboring
piers on New York's East River
and the Mary Celeste was due to set sail the next day.
A month and a day later, the
Dei Gratia crew spotted a two-masted brig sailing rather erratically in
of the North Atlantic between the Azores and the coast of Portugal.
attempts at signaling the unknown vessel failed, Morehouse cautiously
his ship near the other to investigate. He was more than alarmed to
that the mystery ship was none other than the Mary Celeste.
Crew abandoned ship
Inspection revealed that the
Mary Celeste was deserted. Captain Briggs, his wife and daughter and
seven-member crew were nowhere to be found. The lifeboat was missing
the crew's belongings were still safely secured in their quarters,
rather hasty evacuation of the ship. Two of the ship's cargo hatches
ripped off and one cask of crude alcohol had been severely damaged. The
had taken on a great deal of water below deck and two sails were
it was still quite seaworthy.
The last entry in the
general log of the Mary Celeste was dated Nov. 25--it had sailed
for some nine days and managed to travel 700 miles northeast during
Morehouse's first mate
suggested that they might salvage the Mary Celeste and collect the
salvage fee as a result. Morehouse was somewhat apprehensive, but soon
The Mary Celeste was known
to be an unlucky ship. Her first captain passed away within 48 hours of
original dedication under the name Amazon. Her maiden voyage found the
suffering hull damage as a result of hitting a fishing weir. Although
survived fire and a collision in the Straits of Dover that sank the
vessel involved, her fourth captain accidentally grounded her on Cape Breton Island. Eventually, the boat was
repaired and renamed Mary Celeste.
The Mary Celeste arrived in Gibraltar under its own sails Dec. 13, 1872,
alongside the Dei Gratia. Unfortunately, British officials in Gibraltar
suspected some plot between American captains Morehouse and Briggs to
the Mary Celeste in order to claim the salvage fee. Another hypothesis
ship's condition was a crew mutiny following a night of drinking.
The British Admiralty Court
concluded both outcomes were unlikely. Briggs was a co-owner of the
Celeste and stood to lose money in a salvage plot. He was a well-liked
and as a New England Puritan, maintained a dry ship. The only alcohol
was the crude alcohol in cargo, which even hard-drinking sailors would
be rather unpleasant as a beverage. The Dei Gratia's owners were given
due reward for saving the Mary Celeste.
The cursed vessel survived
another 11 years, its history forever marked by superstition. A number
members subsequently died under mysterious circumstances. The boat was
abandoned in the West Indies, left to
apart on a reef.
There have been several
attempts to solve the riddle of the missing crew. Alien abduction is
bandied about and worth consideration--until one realizes that alien
in the Atlantic Ocean was quite limited in the 19th Century, with the
exception of a triangular shaped area west of Bermuda.
Famed mystery writer Sir Arthur
Conan Doyle first made his name with a story on the boat, titled "J.
Habakuk Jephson's Statement." His conclusion was that the boat had been
involved in some sort of racial war and was taken over by black-power
activists. It is worth noting that Doyle got several crucial facts
concerning the case, most notably the spelling of the ship which he
Marie Celeste. It can be assumed that his insight on the matter was as
as any notion of extraterrestrial involvement.
The best theory behind the
disappearing crew comes from the understanding that despite his years
sailing experience, Captain Briggs had never before shipped crude
puritanical nature obviously made him suspicious of his cargo.
the temperature change during the ship's voyage would have caused the
casks to sweat, leak and eventually pop their lids due to pressure.
explain the blown cargo hatches found on the vessel.
Panicked by the evil powers of alcohol and
fearing that the ship might soon explode, Briggs may have ordered his
and crew into the lifeboat. The sea was clearly calm when they boarded
lifeboat, so Briggs did not take care to rope the lifeboat to the
As evidenced by the torn and missing sails later encountered by
crew, the Mary Celeste soon encountered a storm or two. It is sad but
reasonable to conjecture that upon meeting with one of these storms at
lifeboat was cast hopelessly adrift towards a doomed fate.
However, because the mystery of the Mary
Celeste remains unsolved, it continues to haunt the dreams of
and women throughout the globe. Arrr. V