Ghost ships are a fantastic corner of maritime lore. Sailors love to tell tall tales of empty vessels, their crews mysteriously vanished, floating across the seven seas in search of final rest. Few such ships, however, have captivated a nation’s imagination than the phantom Mary Celeste.
After setting sail from New York City in November 1872, the Mary Celeste was spotted by a sailor onboard the British brig Dei Gratia. The crew was surprised to cross paths with the ship as the Mary Celeste was far off course — almost 400 miles east of the Azores.
When no answer was received to calls for life, Dei Gratia Capt. David Morehouse sent a boarding party to explore the Mary Celeste. Although the crew’s belongings were still in their quarters, months’ worth of food and water was on board and the cargo of 1,701 barrels of industrial alcohol was untouched, the crew of ten hearty souls was nowhere to be found. While water had begun to fill the ship’s hull, one pump was still in working order and the only lifeboat was missing.
Theories of mutiny, murderous crew members and even sea monsters soon flooded the popular consciousness. In fact, Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle published J. Habakuk Jephson’s Statement in 1884. In this fantastical account, Doyle suggested that the crew may have met a grisly end at the hands of a vengeful ex-slave. Fifty years later, Bela Lugosi starred in a sensational Hollywood film as a homicidal sailor who doomed the Mary Celeste.
Nearly 250 years after her fatal final voyage, the Mary Celeste remains a mystery. Modern scholars and scientists have sifted through clues, scoured weather charts, read and re-read journals and more, all to no avail. Lacking any new clues or revelations, the Mary Celeste still seeks that final port call.