Abandoned Ship: The Mary Celeste

What really happened aboard the Mary Celeste? More than a century after her crew went missing, a scenario is emerging

(Cumberland County Museum and Archives, Amherst, Nova Scotia Canada)
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The night before the last entry in the ship's log, the Mary Celeste again faced rough seas and winds of more than 35 knots. Still, MacGregor reasons, rough seas and a faulty chronometer wouldn't, by themselves, prompt an experienced captain to abandon ship. Was there something else?

MacGregor learned that on its previous voyage, the Mary Celeste had carried coal and that the ship had recently been extensively refitted. Coal dust and construction debris could have fouled the ship's pumps, which would explain the disassembled pump found on the Mary Celeste. With the pump inoperative, Briggs would not have known how much seawater was in his ship's hull, which was too fully packed for him to measure visually.

At that point, says MacGregor, Briggs—having come through rough weather, having finally and belatedly sighted land and having no way of determining whether his ship would sink—might well have issued an order to abandon ship.

But, like Attorney General Solly-Flood, MacGregor can't leave the story of the Mary Celeste alone; she is continuing her investigation for a book. "The research goes on," she says. "Because I have been touched by the story, as I hope other people will be."

Jess Blumberg is an intern at Smithsonian.

The True Story of the 'Mary Celeste' will première November 4 on the Smithsonian Channel on high-definition DirecTV.


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