The Mary Celeste

Okay, guys, I need a brief respite from the absurdity of my last two posts. I'm going in a slightly different direction for a while–focusing on the spookier aspects of all that is bizarre in Victoriana.

The Mary Celeste. 19th-century merchant ship. Also a total creep factory. I've just started watching The X-Files for the first time and have been waiting for them to do an episode about this story. Lord knows it's got enough crazy theories behind it. I don't have a book to work from today, so instead I'm just going to use a bunch of random internet sources.

This poor ship had a really bad history, leading people to believe she was cursed. She started out a Canadian ship named Amazon, and the captain died of pneumonia on the ship's maiden voyage. Naval people tend to be a superstitious bunch, so this didn't bode well. The next captain ran Amazon into a fishing boat, took the ship back to the yard for repairs, where Amazon promptly caught on fire. Not sure why. Maybe aliens did it. So then they got a new captain again and decide to cross the Atlantic with her. Everything went fine until she hit another ship, leading to that captain's dismissal. I'm changing my theory. It's something about the ship's magnetic field. Yup, magnets did it. Definitely magnets.

Then she did okay for a few years, finally turning a profit for the owners, until she ran aground during a storm. The owners were like, "To HELL with this, I'm selling you." So she got bought by Americans and was rechristened the Mary Celeste. One of the owners, the ill-fated Benjamin Briggs, wrote a tremendously optimistic letter home to his family before sailing off on the ship–a letter so optimistic the universe must have been like, "Dammit, guy, now I HAVE fill the conditions around this letter with dramatic irony." He's like Cal on Titanic who was like, "God himself couldn't sink this ship!" And as an audience member, you can just hear Movie-God say, "Oh, really?"

So the ship sets sail for Italy, carrying cargo and 10 people (just the crew, Captain Briggs, Mrs. Briggs, and their 2-year-old daughter). Everyone was competent and experienced, the ship was in excellent condition and well-stocked, the weather was supposed to be fine, but it was October and some bad weather could reasonably be expected.

Before the ship left, Briggs had dinner with his old buddy, David Reed Morehouse, captain of the Dei Gratia, which was set to leave New York harbor about a week after the Mary Celeste. Briggs set sail, Morehouse followed. A month into Morehouse's journey, he spotted a ship ahead of him and he grew concerned. The sails were torn and not set properly, the ship listed from side to side. They got closer and, to his horror, he realized it's the Mary Celeste. They watched for two hours, but no one appeared on her decks. (OMG, VICTIMS OF PIRACY)

They went on board, and no one was there. The hold was filled with three-and-a-half feet of water and, oddly, two of the three pumps had been disassembled. The ship's only lifeboat, all the ship's papers, the chronometer and sextant were missing, leaving only the captain's logbook and a compass and clock, both destroyed or accidentally broken (OMG, IT WAS A SEA EARTHQUAKE)

The six-month food and water supply was untouched on the ship, as well as everyone's personal belongings. The only strange thing missing was the cargo–of the 1,701 barrels of alcohol, 9 were reported empty when they were finally delivered. Some of the crew of the Dei Gratia sailed the Mary Celeste to Gibraltar. There were no signs of any struggle or violence, except what they thought to be a few drops of blood in the captain's cabin and some recent damage to a railing made by, perhaps, an axe (though nothing that could have made the gash was found on board). (OMG, IT WAS A SEA MONSTER).

None of the people aboard the ship were ever heard from again (OMG, BERMUDA TRIANGLE).

The most plausible explanation has to do with the alcohol they were transporting. The 9 empty barrels were made of red oak, unlike all the others, which were white oak. Red is more porous, so it's possible that friction between those barrels might have set off a minor explosion or released heavy vapor, freaked out the captain, who already hated carrying such dangerous cargo, and he shoved everyone into the lifeboat, convinced the whole thing was going to blow. They likely didn't moor themselves to the ship properly and she got blown out of range, leaving them to die of exposure/thirst. The STUPIDEST theory I've heard is that everyone went swimming and/or accidentally fell into the ocean at the exact same moment and got attacked by sharks. Everyone.

This story became a world-wide sensation and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote a story about it which, sadly, many people took as fact. You'll hear things about how when the ship was discovered, food was set out on the table ready to eat, but left untouched (DUN DUN DUUUUUH), but that fiction.

So, the ship was still in pretty good condition, and the owner debated whether or not he should sell her, since she'd gotten so much bad press. Like anyone is going to trust him with their cargo aboard THAT thing. Then, as the ship just got back to America, there was some sort of accident aboard it and the ship owner's father DIED. Yup, time to sell out, buddy. The ship changed hands 17 times over the next 13 years and got in terrible condition.

The last of the owners, apparently tired of all this crap, filled the ship full of cat food and boots, and then heavily insured this totally B.S. cargo. He then purposefully ran the ship on a reef, where it promptly failed to sink. He then set it on fire, where it failed to be properly destroyed. The owner claimed a ton of expensive cargo was on board and filed ridiculous claims with the five insurance companies the ship had policies with. Funnily enough, they suspected something was up. The owner got arrested and the evidence was overwhelming, but since the penalty at this time is death, the jury didn't want to find him guilty, so he was acquitted. He died three months later, dead of . . . of . . . curse.

The ship was left on the reef to fall apart and be buried by the sea.

I don't think there was any curse at all. I think this ship was just a jerk. "Oh, you want me to make it safely into port? Let's have an accident with another ship. Oh, you want me to turn a profit? Creepy, negative world-wide news. Oh, you want me to sink now? WON'T."

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