Saturday, July 31, 2010
Mystery of The Mary Celeste
The Mary Celeste
On a wintry November morning in 1872, Captain Benjamin Briggs, his wife Sarah, their two-year-old daughter Sophia and a crew of seven set sail from New York Harbor on the Canadian-built brigantine Mary Celeste, bound for Genoa, Italy. The ship’s hold contained 1,700 barrels of industrial alcohol intended for fortifying Italian wines. Despite the late time of year and reports of bad weather across the Atlantic, Briggs had high expectations for the journey, writing in a letter to his mother, “Our vessel is in beautiful trim and I hope we shal [sic] have a fine passage.”
The “fine passage” quickly turned into one of history’s most chilling maritime mysteries. On December 4, some 600 miles west of Portugal, the helmsman of the Canadian merchant ship Dei Gratia spotted an odd sight through his spyglasses: a vessel with slightly torn sails that seemed to be careening out of control. The Dei Gratia’s captain, David Reed Morehouse, immediately identified the ship as the Mary Celeste; in a strange twist, he and Benjamin Briggs were old friends, and had dined together shortly before their respective departures from New York. When a crew from the Dei Gratia boarded the Mary Celeste, almost everything was present and accounted for, from the cargo in the hold to the sewing machine in the captain’s cabin. Missing, however, were the ship’s only lifeboat–and all of its passengers.
Where happened to the Briggs family and the Mary Celeste’s crew members? Some have suggested that pirates kidnapped them, while others have speculated that a sudden waterspout washed them away. Over the years, the search for a true answer to the Mary Celeste puzzle has come to center on the ship’s cargo. Industrial alcohol can emit highly potent fumes, which may have led the crew to fear an explosion and temporarily evacuate into the lifeboat. At that point, a gale may have swept the ship away, leaving its former passengers stranded and cementing the Mary Celeste’s reputation as the archetypal ghost ship.