Monday, October 31, 2005

Disingenuous Derelicts

My Goodness, is it Halloween already? When did this holiday decide to creep up and pay us a visit? I didn't have any time to grab some candy for the little runts in the barrio, much less muster up the necessary creativity for a costume - although that may not be a bad thing. The costume, I mean. The past two years I've gone to various Halloween parties dressed as the same thing, and while I won't go into details, I'll just say it wasn't exactly appropriate for most environments. I'm sure several of you reading this know what I'm talking about. And so, not wanting to offend the not-so-easily-offended I'm opting for the low key/no key approach to Halloween this year. No dress up, no candy for the neighborhood kids (judging by both their decibel & energy levels, they already have enough anyway - and it's been injected with Ritalin), no decorations, and, to quote George Plimpton in Good Will Hunting, no more ballyhoo.

Still, it
IS a fun holiday and one that, for better or for worse, has had the spook factor taken out of it in recent years. So, consider this post both a half-assed attempt to remedy that, and just a nod to the holiday in general. After all, I'd feel bad if Halloween went by and I didn't even acknowledge it. With this in mind, I'll tell you the strange story of the derelict Mary Celeste:

(Note: The following account may or may not be a true story. Although certain facts remain indisputable, there have been numerous exaggerated accounts over the years that it becomes difficult to tell fact from fiction. Much of what is to follow was cobbled together, and often copied directly from, various websites - most notably Wikipedia,, and

The Mary Celeste was a 103-foot, 282-ton brigantine launched out of Spenser's Island, Nova Scotia in 1861. Originally dubbed the "Amazon", the ship seemingly had bad luck and was involved in several accidents at sea. As a result, she changed hands several times before turning up in a New York salvage auction (creepy place, New York. The Yankees play there, you know) where she was purchased for $3,000. After extensive repairs she was put under American registry and renamed the "Mary Celeste" in 1869.

On November 7, 1872, under the command of Captain Benjamin Briggs - known to be a staunch abstainer (of alcohol, we hope, for his wife's sake) and devout bible reader, the ship picked up a cargo consisting of 1700 barrels of raw American alcohol (for fortifying wine) shipped by Meissner Ackermann & Coin in New York City (creepy place, New York. The Yank... nevermind) and set sail for Genoa, Italy. In addition to the crew of seven, it carried two passengers: the Captain's wife, Sarah E. Briggs (née Cobb), and daughter, Sophia Matilda.

Almost one month later, on December 4, 1872 (some reports give December 5, due to a lack of standard time zones in the1800's), the Mary Celeste was sighted by the "Dei Gratia" - a ship that had left New York harbor only seven days after the Mary Celeste and followed a roughly parallel course. The Dei Gratia's crew, captained by a Captain Morehouse who was well acquainted with the aforementioned Captain Briggs, observed the Mary Celeste for two hours and concluded that she was drifting. Indeed, she was yawing, coming into the wind and falling off, indicating that she was out of control - 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 her and reported (surprise, surprise) finding absolutely no one on board. In addition, he found only one pump working, with a lot of water between decks and three and one-half feet of water in the hold. The forehatch and the lazarette were both open, the clock was not functioning, and the compass was destroyed. Both the sextant and the chronometer were missing, suggesting that the ship had been deliberately abandoned, and the only lifeboat she carried appeared to have been deliberately launched, rather than torn away. Although, he reported, "the whole ship was a thoroughly wet mess," she was still, for the most part, seaworthy. Hull, masts and sails were all sound. Even her entire cargo load was still on board. Yet, there was not a soul to be seen.

When Captian Morehouse of the Dei Gratia examined the ship's log, he found the last entry dated ten days earlier, on November 24th as the Mary Celeste passed just north of St. Mary's Island in the Azores - more than 400 miles west of where she was found. She was also found sailing on the starboard tack, while the Dei Gratia, again following a similar course, had been obligated to sail on the port tack. It therefore seems impossible that the Mary Celeste could have reached the spot it did with the sails consistently set to starboard. Someone would probably have had to man the boat for at least several days after the final log entry.

The Dei Gratia crew split in two, and both ships were sailed to Gibraltar, where, during a hearing, the judge praised the crew of the Dei Gratia for their courage and skill. The admiralty court officer however, suspecting foul play, did his utmost to turn the hearing from a simple salvage claim into a trial of the men involved. In the end, prize money was awarded the crew, but the sum was much less than it should have been, as "punishment" for wrongdoing which the court could not prove. None of the passengers or crew aboard the boat were ever found, however in early 1873 it was reported that two lifeboats landed off the shores of Spain, one containing a body and an American flag, the other containing five bodies. It was never investigated whether or not it could be the remains of the crew of the Mary Celeste.

Numerous theories abound as to what actually happened to the crew and passengers. Some seem fairly plausible (the crew abandoned ship due to what they thought were highly combustible alcohol fumes that would cause an explosion and sink the ship - not an unreasonable assumption when your cargo was raw alcohol in the year 1872 - and died due to hunger thirst or exposure.) Other theories seem fairly ridiculous (alien abductions.) Matters were not helped when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (before he had penned any of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, and in desperate need of money) wrote an account of the tale, yet included a considerable amount of fiction and renamed the ship the
Marie Celeste. The story proved so popular that much of it's fictional content, renamed ship included, has come to dominate popular accounts of the incident. What is certain, however, is that the ship set sail with ten people on board, and one month later was found with none. What happened to them? I'll leave it up to you. But while you're thinking, feel free to listen to the accompanying mp3 download I've provided by Nurse with Wound. Entitled Salt Marie Celeste, the track is a whopping 57 MB and one hour long. As you may have guessed by the title, the track is inspired by the events of the Mary Celeste and isn't so much a song as it is an exploration of the sounds aboard a derelict ship - a ship sailing itself with no passengers on board. Listen to it at night with the lights out, and prepare to be spooked. Happy Halloween, everyone.

Download: Salt Marie Celeste


Anonymous Anonymous said...

columndue clicking sans folb mains scalia protective bombastic dresses earned pretty
lolikneri havaqatsu

6:32 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home