The 13th Floor

One of the Strangest Unexplained Mysteries Ever: What Happened to the Mary Celeste?

The Mary Celeste’s Background

On November 5, 1872, a ship called The Mary Celeste set sail from New York City bound for Genoa hauling about 1700 barrels of denatured alcohol (a poisonous alcohol mostly used as fuel). The captain, Benjamin Spooner Briggs, was a highly moral and religious man who selected his crew based upon their morals and behavior. He did not allow drinking onboard his ship and read the bible to his men daily. On this particular voyage, the captain also brought along his wife and 2-year-old daughter. It seemed like a standard cargo voyage.


The Discovery

On December 5th, Captain Morehouse of the boat Dei Grattia (bound for Gibraltar) noticed a vessel floating in the Atlantic just off Portugal. He called out, but got no response, and so he sent a boat with a few crewmen to board the ship and make sure everything was ok.

The ship turned out to be the Mary Celeste, and it was completely deserted of people. But yet, everything else seemed to be perfectly ok. The boat was still in excellent condition and looked as sea-worthy as the day it left port. The crew had left behind all their possessions including personal papers, food, fresh water, even their tobacco which experts feel they would have grabbed even if they were forced to desert the vessel in a hurry.

Even stranger yet was the excellent state of the ship. There were no signs of violence or bad weather. Panes of glass, which would have likely been broken in the event of a bad storm were still intact. Open barrels of oil were still perfectly full and uncovered without a drop split. By all appearances, the captain and crew had just suddenly vanished. All the boat’s money, lock box and valuables, and the alcohol cargo were fill perfectly intact, as well. The last entry in the ship’s log was from 10 days prior and seemed perfectly normal.



The Clues

There were only few things that gave any indication to what may have happened aboard the Mary Celeste.

  • The lifeboat was missing. But why would they all abandon a perfectly sturdy ship for a tiny lifeboat?
  • Some of the rigging and sails were slightly damaged, but not enough to make the boat less sea-worthy.
  • A few of the ship’s papers were missing, but these would mean very little without the actual ship.
  • They found a sword under the captain’s bed which seemed to have some blood on it. But if a battle had happened, why did he put the weapon back under his bed? And, if they left in the midst of battle, why abandon the ship without a weapon?
  • There were strange scratches and cut marks on the bottom hull of the boat, but they did not pose any structural damage.


The Fate of the Mary Celeste

Captain Morehouse claimed the boat as salvage and had some of his crew sail the ship alongside his own ship to Gibraltar. Once there, a court deemed that something violent must have happened aboard the Mary Celeste, but cleared Morehouse of any involvement in whatever may have happened. The company that owned the Mary Celeste reclaimed the boat and seeing it was still in perfect condition, set her back to sail with a new crew and cargo. But because of the unexplained disappearances, most thought the boat was cursed and were too frightened to sail on her.


Theories of What May Have Happened

  • Pirate attack, but this was quickly disregarded because nothing was stolen.
  • Mutiny, but if the crew mutinied, why would they abandoned all their possessions and the ship?
  • Giant squid attack. This would explain the strange scratches on the hull, but would the squid have killed everyone board without any carnage or blood on the deck? And then why would someone choose a lifeboat over the sturdy ship knowing there is a killer squid in the area?


  • Perhaps someone misread the water in the hold, and they thought the boat was sinking. But they would likely try to take fresh water or food on the life boat, which they did not.
  • Perhaps, plague or some other fast-moving contagion spread through the crew. They tossed bodies overboard to try to control the spread. But that does not explain the bloody sword or why they would have abandoned the ship. Surely disease would spread less on a large airy ship than on a cramped lifeboat. And they would have taken some provisions with them if it was a planned, thought-out decision to abandon the ship.
  • Perhaps the fumes coming from the alcohol cargo made the crew have to leave. But wouldn’t they just dump the cargo overboard, and not leave the ship?
  • Ignoring the obvious questions this raises- if aliens beamed all the people up, why did they take the lifeboat too?
  • Seaquake/waterspout and fear of explosion. If a deep water earthquake or a waterspout shook the vessel, the captain could have become worried that the alcohol cargo may become unstable, leaky, and explosive. But the cargo was found entirely intact and not leaking at all.

Sadly, we will never know what happened aboard the Mary Celeste. But it makes for a hell of a mystery!