Was the Mary Celeste a cursed ship? Three owners of the brigantine built in Nova Scotia in 1861 didn’t fare so well; they all died during voyages. The ship also suffered a damaging fire and a collision in the English Channel. But it was the voyage from New York harbor headed for Genoa, Italy in November 1872 that is the stuff of legends.
On December 4, 1872, the Dei Gratia, a small British brig spotted the Mary Celeste, sailing erratically but at full sail near the Azores Islands in the Atlantic Ocean. The captain and crew of the Dei Gratia boarded the ship. The ship was seaworthy although its sails were slightly damaged and there was some water in the hold. Its cargo of 1,700 barrels of crude alcohol was mostly untouched. Six months’ worth of food and water remained on board, and the crew’s personal belongings were still in place, including valuables. But the ten persons who had been aboard the Mary Celeste had vanished.
The Mary Celeste had sailed into nautical history as one of its most tantalizing mysteries, a classic ghost ship.
Through the years, a dearth of hard facts has created endless speculation and a host of theories as to what might have taken place. Mutiny? Piracy? Killer waterspouts? Just a few of the least bizarre explanations. In an 1884 short story, Arthur Conan Doyle suggested a capture by a vengeful ex-slave. A 1935 movie featured the irrepressible Bela Lugosi as a homicidal sailor killing off the other passengers.
The more logical speculators agree that for unknown reasons, the ten passengers (the captain, his wife and daughter, and seven crew members) abandoned the ship in the ship’s lifeboat (which was missing) and disappeared at sea. Hardcore conspiracy theorists are having none of that; they’re sticking with the Bermuda Triangle, sea monsters, and the ever-popular alien abductions.
The Mary Celeste, lived to sail another day, but presumably the curse remained. Her last owner intentionally wrecked her off the coast of Haiti in 1885 in an unsuccessful attempt at insurance fraud.