The Curios Conundrum of the Mary Celeste

June 17, 2010
By Justin Mills BRONZE, Mantua, New Jersey
Justin Mills BRONZE, Mantua, New Jersey
3 articles 0 photos 0 comments

It was a cold afternoon on December 4, 1872, when the crew of the Dei Gratia spotted a ship on the horizon. Captain Morehouse recognized the ship as the Mary Celeste, whose captain was a friend of his. In fact, the Dei Gratia had left a week after the Mary Celeste. There was no reason that the Dei Gratia should’ve caught up to her. Captain Morehouse attempted to signal the Mary Celeste, but received no reply. Puzzled, he sent a boarding party to investigate. What the boarding party found, or, rather, didn’t find, was terrifying.
The entire crew of the Mary Celeste appeared to have vanished without a trace. There was no sign of a struggle on board the ship, with the exception of a slash in one of the railings and some spots on the deck and the captain’s sword that may or may not have been blood (Cohen). The logbook’s last entry, which was made ten days earlier, implied a seemingly routine voyage, and placed the ship more than 300 miles west of its current position (Hicks). The ship’s lifeboat was missing, and a frayed rope that may have attached it to the ship was found (Boing). The crew’s personal belongings, foul weather gear, and even their pipes were all left behind as well (Hicks). What could cause a crew of seaworthy sailors to abandon ship without taking so much as their pipes?
The Mary Celeste set sail on November 7, 1872, from Staten Island, New York, with ten people on board: Captain Benjamin Briggs, his wife and daughter, and a crew of seven men. She was bound for Genoa, Italy to deliver a cargo of 1700 barrels of raw alcohol that were to be used to fortify wine (Sunday). Nine of these barrels of alcohol had leaked and were empty, leading to theories that the crew became drunk and committed mutiny, but the alcohol was undrinkable and possibly deadly (Pilkington).
Many theories have arisen concerning the disappearance of the Mary Celeste’s crew, pirates, hallucinogenic drugs, waterspouts, freak waves, volcanic eruptions, sea monsters, alien abduction, et cetera, et cetera, but only a few could actually explain what happened (Cohen). One plausible theory is that the crew abandoned ship when they discovered that they were heading towards a rocky shore (Hunsinger), but this theory does not explain the missing alcohol.
I believe that the crew abandoned ship when some of the alcohol on the ship leaked, and Captain Briggs believed it could cause the vessel to explode. Or maybe the alcohol did cause a small explosion to occur, and the crew hastily retreated in the lifeboat. There are a handful of facts to back up this theory.
First and foremost, alcohol is flammable, and has been known to ignite and even explode without a fire. Nine of the barrels of alcohol were empty, and it’s possible that they somehow ignited and caused an explosion. Two of the ships hatches were open as well, and they could have been blown open by the explosion (Boing). If the alcohol did explode, I’m sure you can see why the crew would hastily abandon the ship.
Secondly, the ship’s chronometer and sextant were missing, suggesting that the ship was deliberately abandoned (Boing, Pilkington). A sextant is an instrument that uses celestial bodies to navigate the ocean, and a chronometer is a time telling device used for marine navigation. If used in conjunction with each other, it would be possible to calculate your position in the ocean. This would make the chronometer and sextant very useful in the lifeboat.
Also, there was no sign of a struggle, ruling out theories of pirates, alien abduction, and many others. The spot on the deck was tested and was not blood, and the spots on the captain’s sword proved to be rust (Hunsinger). Everything was properly put away, except for the laundry, which was hanging up to dry (Boing). So as you can see, this theory is probably the most likely.
The disappearance of the Mary Celeste’s crew is one of the most puzzling enigmas in history. It filled people’s minds with bewilderment and struck fear into the hearts of seafarers around the world. What could possibly cause ten people to mysteriously vanish like they did? I don’t know for sure. It might be that some alcohol exploded and scared the crew into abandoning the ship, and it might not be. We will probably never know what became of the Mary Celeste’s crew, but isn’t that half the fun?

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