Arizona Republic from Phoenix, Arizona on February 7, 1943 · Page 31
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Arizona Republic from Phoenix, Arizona · Page 31

Phoenix, Arizona
Issue Date:
Sunday, February 7, 1943
Page 31
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By RICHARD A. SHAFTER Jl'ST one more thing the war has put the "postponed for the duration" tng on, is the study of and attempts to solve all the sea mysteries which have long been a fruitful source of inspiration to writers, poets, ) and tellers of tall talcs. - Embodying ghosts, derelicts and sea serpents, these weird and imaginative stories have covered all kinds of ships, sailing under the flags of all countries. When the peace is won and they have the time, sea mysterj- fans will return to unravelling their puzzles one of which has remained unsolved for 70 years. It is the story of the briganiine Mary Celeste. "'Sail ho:"' David R. Morehouse of the Nova Scotia brigantine Dei Gratia had ju.-t taken his noonday observation. A man on the fo'c'sle head was Fn-nt:r.g. Captain Morehouse squinted the sun. Yes, there toward re srif eastward, a few miles away on "e starboard bow, was another vessel. Like the Dei Gratia, the strange ve;?e! was a half-brig or brigantine. The shout brought Morehouse's Kate. Oliver Deveau. on deck. "Queer, -.e way -he yaws.'' Deveau mused as tth watched the stranger. "You'd t'mcst believe she had a drunken man st the wheel." "'.Alaybe her rudder's damaged." Captain Morehouse opined. "She looks s if she has been through bad weath-f". See that topgallants!? It's blown to ribbons." The Dei Gratia's helm was put up a 'ev spokes, so that her new course eventually would converge with that c' the stranger. Skipper Morehouse trcught his telescope out. "There's something mighty familiar about that c"aft," he said. "You take a look." "I think y'are right, sir." Deveau tecame excited. "I'll be keelhauled K he doesn't look like the Mary Celeste, your friend Briggs' ship. She as a single topsail, too. But what culd she be doing here? She left ew York a week ahead of us and should have passed Gibraltar by now." Deveau checked himself. He suddenly remembered that it was just a Eionth. to the day, that Captain Morehouse had given a farewell dinner to Capt. Benjamin Briggs and Mrs. Briggs at the Astor House on New-York's Broadway. The two skippers had been friends for years. And their vessels had been loading side by side n Pier 50 in the East River. Yet the mate had seen right. It was t!e Mary Celeste that they encountered drifting in mid-Atlantic, at a Point halfways between the Azores Cape Roca, Portugal. Has Never Been Solved . - TpHERE was no answer when they hailed her. They boarded her. Except for a few blownout sails the Mary Celeste appeared in seaworthy condition. Her cargo of 1700 barrels of raw alcohol for Genoa was intact. There was no trace of fire or other disaster. The water in the hold was low. But there was not a soul on board. The Mary Celeste's only boat was missing. The vessel had obviously been abandoned in a great hurry. The crew's pipes, some of them only half empty as if they had been dropped suddenly, were found in the fo'c'sle. Nor were the cabins disturbed. Besides men's clothes, obviously belonging to Captain Briggs and his two mates, a woman's dresses and child's clothes were hanging in their lockers. The rough log was lying on the cabin table. Its last entry made 10 days earlier, on Nov. 25, 1872, showed the Mary Celeste in the vicinity of Santa Maria Island, southernmost of the Azores. What had become of Captain Briggs. his wife and 2-year-old daughter who accompanied him, and ijff - . - tegs rhh-o ': VOLUNTEER SKIPPER Oliver Deveau mate of the Dei Gratia which found the abandoned Mary Celeste sailed the mystery ship into Gibraltar Harbor. ' 'X its & w Nd' ... (it X flF of. the seven men who had been his crew? That early afternoon of Dec. 5, 1872. when the Dei Gratia's mate boarded the abandoned ship, saw the birth of a legend. Seventy years have passed, and the fate of the Mary Celeste's little ship's company still remains one of the great unsolved mysteries of the seven seas. Superstition entered upon the scene almost at once. The Dei Gratia's men hung back when Skipper Morehouse asked for volunteers to work the Mary Celeste into Gibraltar harbor. They had to draw lots to determine the two men that were to accompany Mate Deveau on the last lap of the Mary Celeste's ill-fated voyage. Augustus Andersen and Charles Lund were chosen. Soon superstitious souls everywhere began to shake their heads. They remembered the Mary Celeste's antecedents. She had not been a lucky ship. Even her launching, on May 18, 1861, at Parrsboro, Spencer Island, N. S., had been attended by an accident that was taken by many as an INFANT DAUGHTER of the captain, Sophia Briggs, was taken on the Mary Celeste's last voyage and was lost with the rest of the ship's company. (EveryWeek Magazine Printed in'to. S. A.) ill omen. The Amazon, as she had been christened, stuck on the ways. At great expense to her builder and the dozen Spencer Island men who owned shares in her, she was finally brought to water. TJER first voyage had barely begun when her skipper, Capt. Robert McClellan, took sick. The Amazon had to return to port with the dying man. It was taken as another ill omen. A few years later the Amazon came near the end. In a severe mid-winter gale she was driven ashore near Glace Bay, N". S. Unable to refloat her, the owners sustained a great financial loss. They abandoned her as she lay. Against all hope a salvage crew managed to refloat her. Her hull proved still sound and solid, and a year later the patched-up ship was sold into American ownership. Under her new name, Mary Celeste, she was duly registered at the port of New York, was given the Registry Number 17920 and the Signal Letters J. F. W. N. Capt. Benjamin Briggs, of Marion, W. . ...... Mass.. became a pail-owner. Shortly before her fateful voyage she was generally overhauled. Together with the cargo-hold the master's quarters were enlarged. Perhaps it was the sight of that sumptuous cabin that decided Mrs. Briggs to join her husband on his next voyage. The Mary Celeste, ex-Amazon, sailed from New York on Nov. 7, 1872. Four days later the Dei Gratia received her clearing papers, but she did not actually sail until Nov. 15. It was a bad season for little ships. Particularly severe equinoctial storms were churning the old western ocean to its very bottom. Somehow the Mary Celeste weathered all these dangers with no greater damage than a broken binnacle. Captain Briggs Morehouse, Deveau and others who knew him were sure of it would never abandon a vessel, particularly not one of which he was a third-owner, as long as her timbers held together beneath his feet. Yet there the Mary Celeste wras, deserted by her crew, and apparently in a panic, too. sty y ft? SWORD found under Captain Briggs' bunk was first offered as solution of mystery, but later proved just a curio. "Bloodstains" were analyzed and were nothing but ordinary rust spots. ILL-FATED ship Mary Celeste, formerly the Amazon, was found abandoned at sea in 1872. For 70 years sea mystery fans have tried to solve disappearance of part-owner and Captain Benjamin Briggs, his wife, daughter and crew. His son Arthur (above), only survivor of family, was not on the voyage. AT Gibraltar, where the Mary Ce-leste was sailed by Oliver Deveau and his two Swedes, the first attempt to answer the riddle was made. Captain Morehouse laid his claims for salvaging her before the Queen's Proctor of the British Admiralty Court, Frederick Solly Flood, Esquire. Flood listened eagerly to the amazing tale. He was an antic Irishman whose romantic soul would have served a literary thriller fabricator better than an expounder of maritime law. Without waiting for the results of the investigation he himself had ordered. Flood surprised the world with his own conclusions: Captain Briggs and his wife, and child had met with foul play, probably from the hands of the crew who happened to be mostly of German birth and extraction. Flood found what he called "a sword'' under Captain Briggs' bunk. It was really nothing better than a hunting knife which the captain had picked up as a curio on one of his travels. But to the imaginative Flood the dark stains on its blade had been caused by human blood. There was no doubt that the brave captain had been killed while heroically defending his own life and that cf his beloved . wife and child. Deveau had seen that "sword"' too. During the Admiralty hearings he admitted that. "I looked at it, drew- it from its sheath. There was nothing remarkable on it. I do not think there is anything remarkable about it now. It seems rusty." In fact, a chemical analysis made by a British naval physician proved conclusively that Mr. Flood's "bloodstains'' on the knife were nothing but rust spots. Nor were the tell-tale bloodmarks Flood had discovered on the deck and railing of the Mary Celeste anything more incriminating than red lead paint. JfTLOOD had failed to prove his fantastic theory. But he had succeeded in setting a pattern. In the seven decades that have passed the number of solutions offered for the Mary Celeste mystery have been literally legion. Most of them came no nearer the truth than Flood's wacky conjectures. Competent writers of sea yarns like Masefield and Lockhart have taken a chance at guessing what happened to the eight men, the woman and child who entrusted themselves in the evening of Nov. 25, 1872, to a little cockleshell of a ship's j-awl in the offing of Santa Maria Island. Hacks of all descriptions, down to humbugging Count Luckner, the German sea-raider of World War I fame, added their "solutions." Ccnan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, won his spurs as a mystery writer in 1884 when he published an utterly fictitious yarn in the Cornhill Magazine. "J. Habakuk Jcphson's Statement," purported to have come from the pen of a survivor. Other conjectures have run the gamut from mutiny to an explosion of the cargo, from piracy to an attack by the sea serpent or some other submarine monster. Not so many years after Captain Morehouse and the crew of the Dei Gratia could divide the salvage money between themselves, the Mary Celeste herself, silent witness to the tragedy that was enacted on her decks, was gone from the seas. In 1885 she ran onto Rochelois Reef in Gonace Channel, Haiti. It was a fitting conclusion to the life of that vessel, ill-starred from the hour of her launching, that this last wreck of hers was no mere accident. A dishonest captain, with the connivance of a New York firm of shippers and a consular agent, had deliberately thrown the vessel away to defraud several marine insurance companies. It may have been poetic justice that overtook the perpetrators of the crime. Within six months, and before the slow-grinding mills of man-made justice had yet properly been put into motion, all the villains of the piece were dead. The captain was struck down by yellow fever; one of the New York shippers committed suicide; another met with an accident. It seemed that the curse of the Mary Celeste had been upon them alL ft

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