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War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.


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On this date in history, 4 December 1872, the sailing ship Mary Celeste (often mistakenly referred to as the Marie Celeste) was discovered in the mid Atlantic, sailing along in good shape, but minus her crew. The Mary Celeste was a small wooden merchant brigantine (a two masted ship) built in 1861, with an unremarkable prior history before her crew’s “mysterious’ disappearance earned her a place in the annals of history. The story was well known when I was a kid, at least among those with an interest in the bizarre and inexplicable. That was certainly me, still fascinated by same, now just a lot more grounded in reality. I hope.

The first thing to note about this mystery, like the STENDEC mystery,  is that it’s not really a mystery, just something unexplained. If the crew of the STENDEC airliner or the Mary Celeste had lived, no doubt a simple explanation would have been forthcoming. And the incident in question would be long forgotten. This is because in the case of the Mary Celeste, we know what happened. The crew abandoned ship, was unable to return to it, and were lost at sea in an open lifeboat. Why they abandoned ship is a mystery, but it’s a mystery with any number of perfectly prosaic potential explanations. Where’s the fun in that though?

Aside from the disappearance of the crew, the Mary Celeste story is a great example of how stories get embellished with fanciful details through the years by various authors writing about it. Why would authors make up fanciful details? The same reason authors now use clickbait titles to their Interwebs posts, to get more readers. Some things never change. The fact that the official inquiries who looked into the crew’s disappearance couldn’t find any smoking guns also added to the aura of mystery. It’s in fact been stated that the Mary Celeste fuelled the creation of ghost ship legends around the world.

The exaggerations started early. In 1883 the Los Angeles Times reported that the Mary Celeste was running under full sail, the galley fire going, nothing out of place, the ship’s log showing nothing wrong up to an hour before her discovery. Cue Twilight Zone music. In actuality the Mary Celeste’s crew had disappeared about ten days before she was discovered, and there was nothing remarkable about the state of the ship. Other than the crew (and lifeboat) being missing. I know I’ve read subsequent versions where food was intact on the table as if the crew had left mid meal, the lifeboat was still aboard, etc.

And then a young Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote a story about the Mary celeste in 1884, renaming it the Marie Celeste and changing all sorts of other details to make the story more fantastic. And the floodgates were open, with ever more fanciful stories and speculation spreading ever outwards. Aliens, Bigfoot, Judge Crater, Obama and everything else have all been proposed as solutions to the mystery. I’m sure the gentle reader can come up with new ones, all it takes is a little imagination and an aversion to facts and logic, voila, Marie Celeste mystery solved.

The real solution is fairly straightforward. The captain had his wife and infant daughter aboard. Something startled him or even panicked him, and the ship was hastily abandoned. Tragic, but nothing otherworldly need apply. It’s highly unlikely their remains will ever be found, baring near magical scanning technology decades or more likely centuries from now. God rest their souls, it was not a good way to get into the history books.

I am going to write a post about the comment left on Monday’s post about Russia and Ukraine, it’s just that the Mary Celeste anniversary was too good an opportunity to miss. Possibly Friday unless some other exciting topic intervenes. Reality, it’s like the Universe is making stuff up as it goes along. Who knew?

I hope everyone is having a great week. Comments, questions, suggestions, and especially shares appreciated!

Copyright © 2019 Doug Stych. All rights reserved.

(Image: A painting of the Mary Celeste in 1861, named the Amazon at the time. Credit:Unconfirmed, possibly Honore Pellegrin (1800–c.1870). Public Domain under US copyright law.)


Written by unitedcats

December 4, 2019 at 8:20 am

Posted in History, Paranormal

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