The Mysterious Ghost Ships Flying Dutchman, Mary Celeste, and Carroll A. Deering

A painting of the Flying Dutchman

Nautical Lore Background

A painting of a white ship coming up to a darker ship
A painting of the Dutchman

The Flying Dutchman

“The crew of this vessel are supposed to have been guilty of some dreadful crime, in the infancy of navigation; and to have been stricken with pestilence … and are ordained still to traverse the ocean on which they perished, till the period of their penance expire.”

“At 4 a.m. the Flying Dutchman crossed our bows. A strange red light as of a phantom ship all aglow, in the midst of which light the masts, spars and sails of a brig 200 yards distant stood out in strong relief as she came up on the port bow, where also the officer of the watch from the bridge clearly saw her, as did the quarterdeck midshipman, who was sent forward at once to the forecastle; but on arriving there was no vestige nor any sign whatever of any material ship was to be seen either near or right away to the horizon, the night being clear and the sea calm. Thirteen persons altogether saw her … At 10.45 a.m. the ordinary seaman who had this morning reported the Flying Dutchman fell from the foretopmast crosstrees on to the topgallant forecastle and was smashed to atoms.”

A scenic ocean town with green hills in the background
Chaleur Bay (Photo credit: Wikivoyages)

“For as long as the world is, may you burn on the bay.”

Purple electricity shoots through a black sky
St. Elmo’s Fire
A painting of an old sailing ship
A painting of the Mary Celeste

The Mary Celeste

Background

A bearded man poses for a black and white portrait
Captain Benjamin Briggs

Last Voyage

A young boy and a woman in late 1800s clothing posing for a photo portrait
Sarah and Arthur Briggs

“Tell Arthur I make great dependence on the letters I shall get from him, and will try to remember anything that happens on the voyage which he would be pleased to hear.”

Found Adrift

“I can hardly tell what I am made of, but I do not care so long as I got in safe. I shall be well paid for the Mary Celeste.”

A bearded man in a suit posing for a black and white photo
Captain Morehouse of the Dei Gratia

Theories

A newspaper clipping with the headline Sea’s Greatest Mystery Has Never Been Solved
A news clipping

Scientific Explanations

“If the Mary Celeste had blown her timbers, she would still have been a better bet for survival than the ship’s boat. If this is what happened, Briggs behaved like a fool; worse, a frightened one.”

“What we created was a pressure-wave type of explosion. There was a spectacular wave of flame but, behind it, was relatively cool air. No soot was left behind and there was no burning or scorching.”

“I have been touched by the story, as I hope other people will be.”

Fictional Accounts

“Every sail was set, the tiller was lashed fast, not a rope was out of place. … The fire was burning in the galley. The dinner was standing untasted and scarcely cold … the log written up to the hour of her discovery.”

An illustration of a man pointing a gun at another man, who is seated. Another woman sits across from him
An illustration from Conan Doyle’s book
A large old-fashioned ship
The Carroll A. Deering

The Carroll A. Deering

Background

An older man in all white dress clothes and a captain’s hat
Captain Willis Wormell

Journey

“I’ll get the captain before we get to Norfolk, I will.”

A shipwreck on a beach
Wreckage of the Deering

Found by Coast Guard

Theories

“DEERING CAPTURED BY OIL BURNING BOAT SOMETHING LIKE CHASER. TAKING OFF EVERYTHING HANDCUFFING CREW. CREW HIDING ALL OVER SHIP NO CHANCE TO MAKE ESCAPE. FINDER PLEASE NOTIFY HEADQUARTERS DEERING.”

Newspaper article with headline Dauntless Daughter of Missing Skipper To Solve Most Baffling Sea Mystery
An article about the daughter of a crewmember investigating the case
A photo of a small fishing boat packed with supplies
A North Korean ghost ship

North Korean ghost ships

“This is the largest known case of illegal fishing perpetrated by a single industrial fleet operating in another nation’s waters.”

An old painting of a large ship looming over a smaller ship with a shocked crew
A painting of a ghost ship

Sources:

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Campfire Stories: Astonishing History

Campfire Stories: Astonishing History

Gather round, campers, and let me tell you a story! We cover the best true tales of mysteries, histories, true crime, and real heroes from all over the world.