The Mary Celeste (sometimes incorrectly spelled Marie Celeste) was a brigantine discovered in the Atlantic Ocean unmanned and under sail heading towards the Strait of Gibraltar in 1872. The fate of the crew is the subject of much speculation; theories range from alcoholic fumes to underwater earthquakes, along with a large number of fictional accounts. The Mary Celeste is often described as the archetypal ghost ship.
The ship was thought by some to have had bad luck due to numerous misadventures. Her first captain died at the very beginning of her maiden voyage and she also collided with another vessel in the English Channel. However, after this rough beginning, the brigantine had several profitable and uneventful years under her Nova Scotian owners until she was driven ashore in a storm in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia in 1867. She was salvaged and subsequently sold to American owners who made substantial changes and renamed her Mary Celeste in 1869.
On November 5, 1872, under the command of Captain Benjamin Briggs, the ship picked up a cargo of commercial alcohol shipped by Meissner Ackermann & Co. and set sail from Staten Island, New York to Genoa, Italy. In addition to the captain and a crew of seven, she carried two passengers, the captain's wife, Sarah E. Briggs (maiden name Cobb), and their two-year-old daughter, Sophia Matilda, making 10 people in total.
On December 4, 1872 (some reports give December 5, due to a lack of standard time zones in the 19th century), the Mary Celeste was sighted by the Dei Gratia, commanded by Captain David Reed Morehouse, who knew Captain Briggs. The Dei Gratia had left New York harbor only seven days after the Mary Celeste.
According to the account given by the crew of the Dei Gratia, the ship was observed for two hours, under full sail and heading toward the Strait of Gibraltar. They concluded that she was drifting, though she was flying no distress signals.
Oliver Deveau, the chief mate of the Dei Gratia, led a party in a small boat to board the Mary Celeste. He found the ship in generally good condition, though he reported that "the whole ship was a thoroughly wet mess". There was only one operational pump, with a lot of water between decks and three and a half feet (1.1 m) of water in the hold. The forehatch and the lazarette were both open, the clock was not functioning and the compass was destroyed. The sextant and marine chronometer were missing, and the only lifeboat appeared to have been intentionally launched rather than torn away, suggesting the ship had been deliberately abandoned. Popular stories of untouched breakfasts with cups of tea on the cabin table, washing hung out to dry, a cat found asleep on top of the gallery locker and a bowl of a half-eaten apple pie are wholly without substance.
The cargo of 1,701 barrels of alcohol was intact, although when it was eventually unloaded in Genoa, nine barrels were found to be empty. A six-month supply of food and water was aboard. All of the ship's papers, except the captain's logbook, were missing. The last log entry was dated November 24 and placed her 100 miles (160 km) west of the Portuguese islands of the Azores. The last entry on the ship's slate showed her as having reached the island of Santa Maria in the Azores on November 25.
Crewmen from the Dei Gratia sailed the Mary Celeste to Gibraltar where, during a hearing, the judge praised them for their courage and skill. However, admiralty court officer Frederick Solly Flood turned the hearings from a simple salvage claim into a de facto trial of the men of the Dei Gratia, whom Flood suspected of foul play. In the end, the court did award prize money to the crew, but the sum was much less than it should have been, as "punishment" for suspected, but unproved, wrongdoing. Captain Morehouse was awarded one fifth of the ship and cargo.
None of the Mary Celeste's crew or passengers were found, and it is unlikely that the events leading to their disappearance will ever be known with certainty.
The recovered ship was used for 12 years by a variety of owners.
During January 1885, she was loaded with an over-insured cargo of scrap, including boots and cat food, by her last captain who attempted to sink her to claim insurance money. The plan did not work as the ship refused to sink after having been run up on the Rochelois Reef in Haiti and an insurance investigation revealed the fraud.
On August 9, 2001, an expedition headed by author Clive Cussler (representing the National Underwater and Marine Agency) and Canadian film producer John Davis announced that they had found the remains of the brigantine off the Isle de Gonave in Haiti. Archaeologist James P. Delgado identified the wreck as Mary Celeste based on a survey of the large bay and by analyzing vessel fastenings, ballast, timber, and evidence of the fire that burned the stranded hulk. This evidence matched the wreck with historical accounts of Mary Celeste. Other researchers have, however, disputed this claim. Scott St George of the Geological Survey of Canada and the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research at the University of Arizona analyzed samples from wood fragments recovered from the site in an effort to reconstruct sufficient tree ring data for dating. Based on this, St. George felt that the wood was cut from trees still living at least a decade after the ship sank.
Many theories have been proposed to explain the mystery:
The Mary Celeste is notable in part for the amount of interest that it has generated as an icon for writers of fiction.
The fictional depiction by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is credited as creating the Mary Celeste myth. In 1884, Conan Doyle published a story entitled "J. Habakuk Jephson's Statement", part of the book The Captain of the Polestar.
Doyle's story drew very heavily on the original incident, but included a considerable amount of fiction and called the ship the Marie Céleste. Much of this story's fictional content, and the incorrect name, have come to dominate popular accounts of the incident, and were even published as fact by several newspapers.
There is a possibility that Doyle made reference to the mystery in one of the Sherlock Holmes stories. In "The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire" (in "The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes"), Watson notes that Holmes reference files mention one "Mathilda Briggs". Holmes explains that this name is the name of a ship involved in the case of "the Giant Rat of Sumatra", which the detective feels the world is not ready to know about. The name of Captain and Mrs. Briggs infant daughter was "Sophia Matilda Briggs". This can be a reference. However, in the 1889 poisoning trial of Florence Maybrick in Liverpool, England, one of the witnesses against her was also named "Mathilda Briggs". Conan Doyle, an avid student of crime, might have been refering to the latter, not the former.
Fosdyk's story was published in Strand Magazine, a monthly publication of works of fiction. It does not match the known facts regarding the Mary Celeste.
Howard Pease's 1934 Tod Moran mystery, The Ship Without a Crew, was inspired by the story of the Mary Celeste.
In 1949, the comic book Adventures Into the Unknown!, No. 5, June-July, by Edvard Moritz, Charlie Sultan and various, published by B. & I. Publishing Co., Inc., featured a story based on the Mary Celeste entitled "The Ghostly Crew," currently available through the Wowio book service.
The December 27, 1955 broadcast of the radio program Suspense presented a fictionalized account of the disappearance where the crew disappeared leaving one man behind (a criminal played by John Dehner). In the epilogue, the host suggests the main character's story was discovered in a bottle washed ashore years later. They also suggest he may have hidden aboard after the ship was found by hanging off the ship by a rope tied to his belt and that the rope and belt (still attached) was later found but it had broken in the middle. Alternatively, the host puts forward a theory that the ship may have beached on a rare and very temporary island that forms from the outflows of an African river. These islands wash away as quickly as they surface.
The 1956 book The Wreck of the Mary Deare, by Hammond Innes, drew inspiration from the Mary Celeste story.
Numerous episodes of the Star Trek series recycled the central Mary Celeste myth of an abandoned ship found with no crew aboard.
In 1973, science-fiction author Philip José Farmer penned a novel, The Other Log of Phileas Fogg, in which he has two of Jules Verne's most famous characters, Phileas Fogg and Captain Nemo, square off against one another in a scene on board the Mary Celeste.
The 1970s British sci-fi serial Sapphire & Steel suggested in Adventure 1 that, in unseen events set prior to the story, the inter-dimensional operatives were assigned to deal with a time break aboard the Mary Celeste (according to Sapphire, the trigger was an out-of-date ship's log—a nautical souvenir belonging to the Captain), which would have caused the end of time itself. Steel had been forced to send the original ship and crew out of time (and presumably to their deaths); although he left behind a replica of the ship, he unfortunately forgot to replicate the bodies.
The 1973 Thomas Pynchon novel Gravity's Rainbow briefly mentions the ship—though as the "Marie-Celeste"—comparing it to the tunnels of Mittelwerke: "Though found adrift and haunted, full of signs of recent human tenancy, this is not the legendary ship Marie-Celeste—it isn't bounded so neatly..."
In Greg Bear's book Eon, published in 1985, there is a reference to the Mary Celeste. "The Stone", a mysterious and empty asteroid (possibly an object from another dimension), arrives in Earth's atmosphere, found to be empty yet references a once-advanced society. A character, Patricia Vasquez, comments that she "feels like she is on the Mary Celeste" when the first exploratory mission is undertaken.
In the 1990 horror-film remake of Night of the Living Dead, a plaque outside the front door of the farmhouse reads "M. Celeste". Director Tom Savini states on the DVD's commentary that this is a reference to the Mary Celeste. Further details include scenes of still-smoldering cigarettes in ashtrays and food still cooking on the stoves, but the residents are missing.
In the 1994 science-fiction novel The Woman Between the Worlds, by F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre, an Englishman in the year 1898 enters a portal connecting London to an alien world that exists in the same space as Earth but in another dimension. One of the human prisoners on this planet is a European sailor named Volkert; in real life, one crewman who vanished from the Mary Celeste on its final voyage was a Dutchman named Volkert Lorenzen.
An episode of the 1996 series The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest titled "In the Wake of the Mary Celeste" deals with the ship as well.
In the 1999, British movie Guest House Paradiso, starring Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson, a couple come to stay at the hotel, but think for a few moments nobody is there after ringing the reception bell a few times. Richard (Mayall) and Edward (Edmondson), are watching them from the top of the nearby staircase and then eventually descend with Richard bellowing "Good morning!, good morning!, good morning!", before the wife of the couple claimed she thought the hotel for a minute was like the Marie Celeste, due to the lack of people on reception, with Richard then for about five minutes laughing hysterically, with some of the laugher near the end forced deliberately for comedy effect. After a while he writes it down, and then realises what the wife meant by saying, "Sort of implying the sort of hotel, nobody wants to stay".
The song "Sinking", from the 2000 Alabama 3 album La Peste, is about a ship that is stranded at sea after its captain dies of a drug overdose. In the song, the captain's dying words are: "Beware, don't stare at the Mary Celeste, this quest of ours is cursed."
The title of Nurse With Wound's 2003 album Salt Marie Celeste is a reference to Mary Celeste.
Dean Koontz wrote a novel, Phantoms, that explains mass disappearances like the Mary Celeste. In the book, the "Ancient Enemy" is blamed. It lives at the bottom of the ocean and feeds mostly on aquatic life, but every once in a while, it surfaces and consumes large quantities of animals, including the crews of ships.
In Babylon 5, a transport ship named the Marie Celeste can be heard mentioned in background public announcements. Specifically, it is the ship that transports Thomas (aka Jinxo) off the station in the episode "Grail".
The Mary Celeste features in Vampire Hunter D: Raiser of Gales by Hideyuki Kikuchi. D escapes from a dimensional prison, causing a tear in the time-space continuum. This causes many disappearances across history before it seals itself, the crew of the Mary Celeste being among them.
In the 2001 SciFi-channel movie Lost Voyage, Judd Nelson briefly recounts the tale of the Mary Celeste.
The 2002 movie Ghost Ship makes a lengthy and mostly inaccurate reference to the ship.
In an episode of the TV series Space:1999, "Guardian of Piri", first broadcast in 1975, astronaut Alan Carter boards an abandoned Eagle spacecraft adrift in space and descibes her as the Mary Celeste.
The crew and passengers are listed in the ship's log as:
|Benjamin S. Briggs||Captain||American||38|
|Albert C. Richardson||Mate||American||28|
|Andrew Gilling||2nd Mate||Danish||25|
|Edward W. Head||Steward & Cook||American||23|
|Sarah Elizabeth Briggs||Captain's wife||30|
|Sophia Matilda Briggs||Captain's daughter||2|