143 years ago today, Captain David Morehouse of the Dei Gratia found the American ship, the Mary Celeste, following an odd pattern off the coast of Portugal. He sent a 3-man search party on board, who returned with news that ship was sailing with absolutely no one aboard.

Considered one of the greatest “ghost ship” stories of time, the mystery of the Mary Celeste has many possible solutions. The ship’s life boat and some navigational instruments were found to be missing, but it seems unlikely that the crew would bring Captain Briggs and his family along on any sort of side mission. It’s possible everyone left the ship in a rush, fearing it was sinking, but the ship was in good shape, aside from some slightly damaged sails. It was certainly seaworthy, since according to the last log, it had traveled 400 nautical miles in 9 days without any guidance. It also doesn’t seem likely that the ship encountered pirates, since all the crew’s personal belongings and all the rations were neatly tucked away and untouched.

The cargo of the ship was denatured alcohol, and the most popular explanation of the missing people is that some of the barrels cracked open during a storm. The fumes and the danger of explosion prompted the crew and family to seek temporary safety in the lifeboat, tied to the ship and towed behind. The connecting rope might have then broken, leaving the people to die lost at sea.

Even this story has some uncertainties however, but it is more likely than something extraterrestrial, or a giant squid, which have also been floated as possible conclusions. We will never know what actually happened to Briggs and his crew.morehouse