Ghost Ship: The Mary Celeste
On December 4, 1872, a British-American ship called “the Mary Celeste” was found empty and adrift in the Atlantic. It was found to be seaworthy and with its cargo fully intact, except for a lifeboat, which it appeared had been boarded in an orderly fashion. But why? We may never know because no one on board was ever heard from again.
In November 1872, the Mary Celeste set sail from New York bound for Genoa, Italy. She was manned by Captain Benjamin Briggs and seven crew members, including Briggs’ wife and their 2-year-old daughter. Supplies on board were ample enough for six months, and luxurious—including a sewing machine and an upright piano. Commentators generally agree that to precipitate the abandonment of a seaworthy ship, some extraordinary and alarming circumstance must have arisen. However, the last entry on the ship’s daily log reveals nothing unusual, and inside the ship, all appeared to be in order.
Theories over the years have included mutiny, pirate attack, and an assault by a giant octopus or sea monster. In recent years, scientists have posed the theory that fumes from alcohol on board caused an explosion that, as a result of a scientific anomaly, did not leave behind signs of burning—but was terrifying enough that Briggs ordered everyone into the lifeboat. Check out these other bizarre ghost ship mysteries no one can figure out.
Who (and where) is DB Cooper?
The next unsolved mystery: November 24, 1971. Dan Cooper was a passenger on Northwest Airlines Flight 305, from Portland to Seattle—a 30-minute flight. He was described by passengers and flight attendants as a man in his mid-40s, wearing a dark suit, black tie with a mother-of-pearl tie-clip, and a neatly-pressed white collared shirt. He took his seat, lit a cigarette, and politely ordered a bourbon and soda, for which he paid cash. Shortly after takeoff, he handed a note to a 23-year old flight attendant, who ignored it, assuming it was just the man’s phone number.
“Miss, you’d better look at that note,” Dan Cooper told her, “I have a bomb.”
The note’s exact wording is part of the mystery, since Cooper reclaimed it after the flight attendant read it, but his demands were for $200,000 in “negotiable American currency” (worth $1 million today), four parachutes, and a fuel truck standing by in Seattle to refuel the plane on arrival. The flight attendant brought the demands to the captain. The airline’s president authorized full cooperation. The other passengers had no idea what was happening, having been told that landing was delayed due to mechanical difficulties.
At 5:39 p.m., the plane landed, an airline employee delivered a cash-filled knapsack and parachutes, and Cooper allowed all passengers and two flight attendants to leave the plane. During refueling, Cooper outlined his plan to the crew: a southeasterly course toward Mexico with one further refueling stop in Nevada. Two hours later, the plane took off. When it landed in Reno, Cooper’s absence was noted. Cooper (whom the media mistakenly referred to as “DB Cooper”) was never seen or heard from again. No parachute was found, and the ransom money was never used.
In 1980, a young boy on vacation with his family in Oregon found several packets of the ransom money (identifiable by serial number), leading to an intense search of the area for Cooper or his remains. Nothing was ever found. For a time, it was speculated that Mad Men‘s (fictional) Don Draper was the man who would become Cooper. In the real world, a parachute strap was found in 2017 at one of Cooper’s possible landing sites. Stay tuned.
From 1917 to 1928, half a million people were afflicted with a ghastly condition that could be part of the plotline of a horror film. The victims—very much alive and conscious—found themselves in inexplicably frozen states, their static bodies prisons for their minds.
Encephalitis lethargica (EL), aka “the sleeping sickness,” first appeared in Europe and quickly spread around the world, reaching epidemic levels in North America, Europe, and India by 1919. About a third of those stricken with the illness died. Of the survivors, nearly half eventually found themselves unable to physically interact with the world around them, all the while fully aware of their surroundings. Though occasionally capable of limited speech, eye motion, and even laughter, they generally appeared as living statues—totally motionless for hours, days, weeks, or years.
The cause is unknown, but one theory is brain inflammation triggered by a rare strain of streptococcus, the bacteria responsible for many sore throats each year. Science’s best guess is that the bacteria mutated, provoking the immune system to attack the brain, leaving the victim helpless.
None of this explains why the illness disappeared only to resurface sporadically, be it in Europe in the 1950s or in China ten years ago when a 12-year-old girl was hospitalized for five weeks with the disease.
Are such occurrences the new normal, or are they signs that EL could be planning something bigger any day? A 2004 analysis of 20 patients with symptoms remarkably similar to EL concluded that whatever ailed them “is still prevalent.” As such, history’s so-called sleeping sickness remains the stuff of nightmares. These crimes will never, ever be solved.