Hey everyone. Welcome to the first Mystery Monday of the new year. Today’s story dates back almost 150 years and is one of the greatest maritime mysteries of all time.
The Mary Celeste was a 282-ton brigantine ship that left Staten Island, New York on November 7, 1872, bound for Genoa, Italy with a cargo of around 1700 barrels of crude alcohol.
On board were Captain Benjamin Spooner Briggs, his wife, Sarah, and their two-year-old daughter. Their seven-year-old son was left in the care of relatives. Also on board were seven crew members, all highly experienced and hand-picked by Captain Briggs.
On December 4, 1872, about 400 miles east of the Azores, the crew of the British ship Dei Gratia spotted a vessel adrift in choppy seas. The ship was seaworthy, her cargo intact, and had a six-month supply of food and staples. Not a single person was on board.
The Mary Celeste wasn’t leaking and had no structural damage. One lifeboat was missing, but the personal belongings and cargo remained on board. Of note, nine of the seventeen hundred barrels of alcohol were empty.
According to the ship’s log, the Mary Celeste battled howling winds and rough seas for approximately two weeks before reaching the Azores. The last entry was recorded at 0500 on November 25, but nothing out of the ordinary was reported.
Several theories abound about what happened. These range from pirates to mutiny, a natural disaster such as a waterspout, alcohol explosion, and alien abduction.
Piracy isn’t likely as the cargo, and personal belongings of the crew remained on board. The crew members had impeccable records, so mutiny seems unlikely.
Some theorize alcoholic fumes may have escaped, causing Captain Briggs to order everyone into the lifeboat until the danger had passed. The lifeboat could have drifted away from the main ship, and rough waters made it impossible for the crew to return.
A waterspout seems unlikely as the ship was intact and seaworthy. Alien abduction? I won’t even grace that theory with a response except to say, “Doesn’t someone always blame aliens for any unexplained event?”
The crew of the Dei Gratia sailed the Mary Celeste into Gibraltar. She eventually had a new owner and sailed another dozen years before her captain deliberately ran her aground off Haiti in what was believed to be part of an insurance fraud scheme.
Many believed the ship was cursed, so no one ever brought her back into the harbor. Over the years, she was allowed to drift in the sea, where she was finally swallowed up by the ocean, taking her secrets to a watery grave.