The Mary Celeste (or Marie Céleste as it is fictionally referred to by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and others after him) was an American brigantine merchant ship famous for having been discovered on 4 December 1872 in the Atlantic Ocean, unmanned and apparently abandoned (one lifeboat was missing), despite the fact that the weather was fine and her crew had been experienced and able seamen. The Mary Celeste was in seaworthy condition and still under sail heading toward the Strait of Gibraltar. She had been at sea for a month and had over six months' worth of food and water on board. Her cargo was virtually untouched and the personal belongings of passengers and crew were still in place, including valuables. The crew was never seen or heard from again. Their disappearance is often cited as the greatest maritime mystery of all time.
The fate of her crew has been the subject of much speculation. Theories range from alcoholic fumes, to underwater earthquakes, to waterspouts, to paranormal explanations involving extraterrestrial life, unidentified flying objects (UFOs), sea monsters, and the phenomenon of the Bermuda Triangle, although the Mary Celeste is not known to have sailed through the Bermuda Triangle area. The Mary Celeste is often described as the archetypal ghost ship, since she was discovered derelict without any apparent explanation, and her name has become a synonym for similar occurrences.
Sporadic bad weather had been reported in the Atlantic throughout October, although the Dei Gratia encountered none and her journey across the ocean in November was uneventful. Just short of a month after leaving port, on December 4, 1872 (some reports give December 5, owing to a lack of standard time zones in the 19th century), at approximately 13:00,[clarification needed] the helmsman of the Dei Gratia, John Johnson, sighted a ship about five miles (8 km) off their port bow through his spyglass. The position of the Dei Gratia was approximately 38°20′N 17°15′W / 38.333°N 17.25°W / 38.333; -17.25Coordinates: 38°20′N 17°15′W / 38.333°N 17.25°W / 38.333; -17.25, some 600 miles west of Portugal. Johnson's keen, experienced eyes detected almost at once that there was something strangely wrong with the other vessel. She was yawing slightly, and her sails did not look right, being slightly torn. Johnson alerted his second officer, John Wright, who looked and had the same feelings about her. They informed the captain. As they moved closer, they saw the ship was the Mary Celeste. Captain Morehouse wondered why the Mary Celeste had not already reached Italy, as she had a head start on his own ship. According to the account given by the crew of the Dei Gratia, they approached to 400 yards from the Mary Celeste and cautiously observed her for two hours. She was under sail, yet sailing erratically on a starboard tack, and slowly heading toward the Strait of Gibraltar. They concluded she was drifting after seeing no one at the helm or even on deck, though the ship was flying no distress signal.
Oliver Deveau, chief mate of the Dei Gratia, boarded the Mary Celeste. He reported he did not find anyone on board, and said that "the whole ship was a thoroughly wet mess". There was only one operational pump, two apparently having been disassembled, with a lot of water between decks and three and a half feet (1.1 m) of water in the hold. However, the ship was not sinking and was still seaworthy.
All of the ship's papers were missing, except for the captain's logbook. The forehatch and the lazarette were both open, although the main hatch was sealed. The ship's clock was not functioning, and the compass was destroyed; the sextant and marine chronometer were missing. The only lifeboat on the Mary Celeste, a yawl located above the main hatch, was also missing. The peak halyard, used to hoist the main sail, had disappeared. A rope, perhaps the peak halyard, was found tied to the ship very strongly and the other end, very frayed, was trailing in the water behind the ship.
Popular stories of untouched breakfasts with still-warm cups of tea on the cabin table are untrue and most likely originated with fictionalized accounts of the incident, especially one by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. At the inquiry, Oliver Deveau stated that he saw no preparations for eating and there was nothing to eat or drink in the cabin.
Deveau returned to his ship and reported to the captain. Two men, Charles Augustus Anderson and Charles Lund, then boarded the Mary Celeste.
The cargo of 1,701 barrels of alcohol Deveau reported was in good order. However, when it was eventually unloaded in Genoa, nine barrels were found to be empty.
A six-month supply of uncontaminated food and fresh water was still aboard, and the crew's personal possessions and artifacts were left untouched, making a piracy raid seem extremely unlikely. It appeared the vessel had been abandoned in a hurry. There was no sign of a struggle, or any sort of violence.