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All seemed normal that January 24th, 1966 as the Air India Flight 101, a Boeing 707 was making its regular run from Bombay to New York, but it was not truly a normal flight at all. In reality, the plane was too low, and to make matters worse, there was a fog bank hanging over Mount Blanc in the Alps. There were 117 people onboard the plane, when it careened into the side of the mountain at 8:00am local time, hitting just fifty feet below the summit. If only they could have been fifty feet higher, it would have been just a very close call.

The plane was preparing to land at the Geneva Airport in Switzerland. Onboard was the Indian Atomic Energy Commission, Dr Homi Jehangir Bhabha, who was on his way to Vienna. Six passengers were British, and the rest were Indian nationals…46 of those were sailors. The plane was a few minutes behind schedule as it made its descent, but the captain of the Air India Boeing 707, was one of the airline’s most experienced pilots, and all seemed well. The pilot had radioed the control tower a few minutes earlier to report that his instruments were working fine and the aircraft was flying at 19,000 feet, which was at least 3,000 feet higher than the Mont Blanc summit…but he wasn’t, or he was descending faster than he realized.

Rescue teams were dispatched immediately, and they found wreckage scattered on the south-west side of the Mount Blanc, about 1,400 feet below the summit. Mountain guide, Gerard Devoussoux, who was one of the first to arrive at the crash site, said: “Another 50 feet and the plane would have missed the rock. It made a huge crater in the mountain. Everything was completely pulverized. Nothing was identifiable except for a few letters and packets.” The site was devastating, and I’m sure the rescue teams felt sick at the sight of it. Planes that crash seldom leave bodies in one piece. French authorities radioed back the news that there was virtually no hope of survivors shortly after landing in the area.

When inclement weather moved in, the search had to be called off. The bad weather and poor visibility made the rescue efforts impossible. The airport quickly filled with relatives of the passengers involved in the disaster, all of whom were in tears after airport officials broke the news of the crash. Robert Bruce, from Tooting, who was waiting for his parents to arrive, said: “I am so choked I cannot even cry. I will just go home and collapse. As far as I am concerned my world has come to an end.”

The cause of the crash was determined to be pilot error. The pilot misunderstood the directions he was given with devastating results. Another crash had occurred at the same place 16 years earlier, killing 48 people. The Alps are mountains that receive a lot of mountain climbing traffic every year. Over the years climbers have come across plane parts, as well as body parts. More recently, a young French alpinist approaching the summit of Mont Blanc, saw a metal box poking out of the ice and snow on the shoulder of western Europe’s highest mountain. The box contained precious gems…including emeralds, rubies, and sapphires…worth hundreds of thousands of euros. The box had been there for over 50 years. The honest climber turned the gems in to authorities, but no one has claimed them yet. If they remain unclaimed, the could be returned to the climber, who has not been named.

War is a serious matter, but that does not mean that mistakes can’t be made that are really funny when you think about them. After the War of 1812, the United States government was understandably concerned about British ships having access to US borders. The decision was made to built a fort on the border of New York and Canada. It was a good plan that, in the end, had just one flaw.

This plan might have brought into existence, the first American fort, had it not been for one minor detail. The fort was intended to be called Fort Montgomery, and was to be located at the northern end of Lake Champlain. That was all well and good, but there is a moral to the story. “Before you build, make sure your surveyors know what they’re doing.” Construction was begun on the first fort at this location, an octagonal structure with 30 foot high walls, in 1816 to protect against an attack from British Canada such as that which led to the Battle of Plattsburgh in 1814. In July 1817, President James Monroe visited the incomplete fortification and the adjacent military reservation known locally as “the commons.”

This might have been a triumphant visit, however, due to an earlier surveying error it was later found that this first fort was inadvertently built on the Canadian side of the border, resulting in its sometimes being better known as “Fort Blunder.” Of course, that was not its real name, and in fact the fort was never officially named. I suppose the reality is that the United States didn’t have the right to name the fort, because it wasn’t on US land. Nevertheless, the fort was named…unofficially. It became Fort Blunder, because that is exactly what it was. A colossal blunder!!

No one realized the problem with the fort at first. Two years and $275,000 after construction of the fort began, surveyors discovered a problem: The fort was being built on the wrong side of the border. Joseph Totten, later chief engineer of the US Army, supervised construction of the octagonal, 30 foot tall structure. It was to have 125 cannons, and any British ship sailing past would come under heavy fire. Under the Treaty of Paris, the 45th parallel marked the border between New York and Quebec. Therefore, the fort designed to protect the United States from Canada was in…Canada!! All work stopped on the fort, and the heretofore unnamed citadel earned the nickname Fort Blunder.

For the next 20 years, the abandoned fort was subjected to looting. The stones from the fort were taken away to be used for homes, shops, and meetinghouses. In the end, the United States fixed the location problem not by moving the fort, but by moving the boundary line. In the 1920s, the United States sold Fort Montgomery at auction. In 1983, Victor Podd, a Montreal shipping magnate, bought it. He offered part of the property to New York State for a historic site, but New York didn’t want it. I guess it wouldn’t make sense to make a historical site out of a mistake. After Podd died in 1999, his sons inherited Fort Montgomery. They tried to sell it on eBay and actually got a bid for $5 million, but the deal fell through. The owners still want to sell Fort Montgomery. You can buy it for less than $1 million.

I am amazed at the number of inventions that have changed our world, but when they were invented, they were not what the inventor was trying to invent. Basically, while trying to make one thing, or repair something, the inventor stumbled on something else, and made an important discovery. Wilson Greatbatch was an inventor who had been quite successful, having 150 patents to his credit at the time of his accidental invention. Overall, in his lifetime, he was credited with an astonishing total of 325 patents for his many great brainstorms. Patents aside, Greatbatch will be best remembered for the invention and development of the first implantable pacemaker, a device which has improved, saved, and extended countless lives since its first use in 1960. Worldwide, approximately three million people currently benefit from Greatbatch’s discovery, with an additional 600,000 being implanted every year. It was not what he had be trying to make, however.

Wilson Greatbatch was born the son of British immigrants, Warren and Charlotte Greatbatch, in Buffalo, New York, in 1919. He attended school at West Seneca, New York. He had many interests, among which were the sea scouts and amateur radio. Greatbatch was just 16 years old when he received his amateur radio license. During World War II, Greatbatch served in the US Navy as an aviation chief radioman. He took advantage of the 1944 GI Bill to attend Cornell University, where he studied electrical engineering. He graduated in 1950 and began a teaching career at the University of Buffalo in 1952.

It was in 1956, while working at Buffalo, that he made his most important discovery. While it was his most important discovery, it was also the result of an error. Greatbatch had been working on a heart-rhythm recorder, but he mistakenly added an incorrect electronic component. The resulting device produced electrical pulses, instead of simply recording the rhythm. Recalling the event later, he said “I stared at the thing in disbelief.” Greatbatch realized immediately that he had found a way to electrically simulate and stimulate a heartbeat. It was to become the most important invention of his life, and one that millions of people would be eternally grateful to him for “stumbling upon.”

Of course, Greatbatch didn’t make the first pacemaker, but the prior models were bulky, external units which required the use of mains power, basically they had to be plugged into the wall…not conducive to leading an active life. At that time, battery technology was not advanced enough to allow the earlier units to be implanted, and my guess is that they were also big and bulky. Over the following two years Greatbatch managed to miniaturize and package the device so that it could be implanted. In May of 1958, he gave a successful demonstration of the invention in a dog. By 1960 the pacemaker had been implanted in the first human patient, a 77 year old man, who went on to live for another 18 months…not bad for a 77 year old heart patient.

A patent for the implantable pacemaker was granted in 1962, and in 1970 Greatbatch founded Wilson Greatbatch Ltd, which was later renamed now Greatbatch Inc, a company which continues to develop and manufacture lithium-based batteries for pacemakers. Greatbatch himself however, despite now having extensive offices and laboratory facilities, preferred to continue his research at his home garage workshop. He was always a tinkerer, and as he said in an interview with the Associated Press, “Nine things out of 10 don’t work, but the 10th one will pay for the other nine”. When he was asked about the change in quality of life that the pacemaker brought, Greatbatch told his local Buffalo newspaper in 1984, “I think one of my first and most gratifying realizations of what a pacemaker could do was in observing the reactions of elderly people to their grandchildren. People with heart disease generally don’t have enough blood supply to their brains and couldn’t respond before to the bantering of kids.”

Greatbatch was presented with many awards during his lifetime. In 1983 the National Society of Professional Engineers selected the pacemaker as one of the greatest contributions to society of the previous 50 years. In 1998 Greatbatch was inducted into the National Inventors’ Hall of Fame in Akron, Ohio, alongside his hero Thomas Edison. This was followed, in 2001, by the granting of the highest honor from the National Academy of Engineering, shared with his peer Earl Bakken, who invented the external pacemaker. Greatbatch’s autobiographical account of his discovery, The Making of the Pacemaker: Celebrating a Lifesaving Invention, was published in 2000. Wilson Greatbatch died at the good old age of 92 on September 27, 2011. Greatbatch served as an elder at Clarence Presbyterian Church, where he also sang in the church choir and taught Sunday school.

I suppose that most of the time, when someone sets out to invent something, they have a specific plan in mind, but maybe not. A number of inventors were trying to invent something completely different from what they ended up inventing, or they weren’t trying to “invent” anything at all, but ended up making something very cool.

One day in 1853, a chef at the Carey Moon Lake House in Saratoga Springs, New York, named George Crum was at work, and making a meal for a customer. Apparently this customer was rather picky, which I can understand when it comes to certain things. The customer had ordered a plate of fried potatoes, and since my mom, Collene Spencer often made fried potatoes when I was a kid, I can attest to how great they tasted. Fried potatoes, however, must be correctly cooked to be really good, and I suppose that there are many differing views as to which way of cooking them is correct. Sometimes, its just a matter of personal preference.

Chef Crum fried the potatoes in the way he had always done so, but found that he was apparently unable to please this particular customer. Anyone who has ever worked in a restaurant knows that it is really frowned upon to have food sent back to the kitchen. The chef is given a goal of almost reading the mind of the customer…and expected to get it right. I know that this can be difficult from my own experience. I love what I would call extra crispy bacon, but when I tell them extra crispy, I usually end up with bacon that is floppy and, in my opinion, disgusting. I have long since learned that if I want to get truly crispy bacon, I must tell them that I want it burned. Only then will the bacon come out “crispy” enough for me, which, by the way, never has any black parts that would indicate that it was burned.

On this particular day, Chef Crum was having a bad day, at least from the perspective of pleasing the customer, who sent the potatoes back many times, asking that the potatoes be thinner and crispier. Finally in a fit of temper, Chef Crum sliced the potatoes insanely thin and fried them until they were “as hard as a rock,” before sending them back out to the customer. To his astonishment, the customer absolutely loved the potatoes, and wanted more. Now, for anyone who likes potato chips, the request for seconds comes as no surprise, because it really is hard to eat just one potato chip, as the saying goes. Since that day, I’m sure that these new fangled potatoes were a menu favorite at the Carey Moon Lake House. They must have been, because as we all know, they are still available to this day, and they show no sign of losing their popularity now either.

Everyone has heard the term, Uncle Sam used when referring to the United States government, but while the government and the people of the United States have “adopted” that term to mean the United States government, it was really never intended to be so. If you ask most people, the average older American would most likely point to the early 20th century and Sam’s frequent appearance on army recruitment posters. Nevertheless, the figure of Uncle Sam actually dates back much further than that. The actual figure of Uncle Sam, dates from the War of 1812. At that point, most American icons had been geographically specific, centering most often on the New England area. However, the War of 1812 sparked a renewed interest in national identity which had faded since the American Revolution.

The term Uncle Sam was actually the nickname of a man named Samuel Wilson, who was a meat packer from Troy, New York. Sam supplied rations for the soldiers during the War of 1812. He had served in the American Revolution at the age of 15, and while he was born in Massachusetts, he relocated to the town of Troy, New York after the war. In Troy, Samuel and his brother, Ebenezer began the firm of E and S Wilson, a meat packing facility. Samuel was a man of great fairness, reliability, and honesty, who was devoted to his country. All of the local residents really liked Samuel, and they began calling him Uncle Sam.

During the War of 1812, the demand for meat supply for the troops was badly needed. Because he had been a soldier, Samuel had a soft spot in his heart for the soldiers. Secretary of War, William Eustis, made a contract with Elbert Anderson Jr of New York City to supply and issue all rations necessary for the United States forces in New York and New Jersey for one year. Anderson ran an advertisement on October 6, 1813 looking to fill the contract. The Wilson brothers bid for the contract and won. The contract was to fill 2,000 barrels of pork and 3,000 barrels of beef for one year. Their location on the Hudson River, made it ideal to receive the animals and to ship the product. As a security measure, the contractors were required to stamp their name and where the rations came from onto the food they were sending. Wilson’s packages bore the label “E.A. – US,” which stood for Elbert Anderson, the contractor, and the United States. When an individual in the meat packing facility asked what it stood for, a coworker joked and said it referred to Sam Wilson, Uncle Sam. A number of the soldiers were originally from Troy, and familiar with Samuel. When they saw the designation on the barrels, they, being acquainted with Sam Wilson and his nickname Uncle Sam, as well as the knowledge that Wilson was feeding the army, led them to the same conclusion. The local newspaper soon picked up on the story and Uncle Sam eventually gained widespread acceptance as the nickname for the U.S. federal government.

This is, of course, an endearing local story, and therefore, leaves some doubt as to whether it is the actual source of the term. Uncle Sam is mentioned previous to the War of 1812 in the popular song “Yankee Doodle,” which appeared in 1775. Nevertheless, the song doesn’t make it clear whether this reference is to Uncle Sam as a metaphor for the United States, or to an actual person named Sam. Another early reference to the term appeared in 1819, predating Wilson’s contract with the government. The connection between this local saying and the national legend is not easily traced. As early as 1830, there were inquiries into the origin of the term Uncle Sam. The connection between the popular cartoon figure and Samuel Wilson was reported in the New York Gazette on May 12, 1830. Whatever the source, Uncle Sam immediately became popular as a symbol of an ever-changing nation. His “likeness” appeared in drawings in various forms including resemblances to Brother Jonathan, a national personification and emblem of New England, and Abraham Lincoln, and others. In the late 1860s and 1870s, a political cartoonist named Thomas Nast began popularizing the image of Uncle Sam…building on the warm fuzzy feel of a beloved uncle. Nast continued to evolve the image, eventually giving Sam the white beard and stars-and-stripes suit that are associated with the character today.

However, it was a military recruiting poster, created in about 1917, that set the image of Uncle Sam was firmly set into American consciousness. The famous “I Want You” recruiting poster was created by James Montgomery Flagg and four million posters were printed between 1917 and 1918. The image was a really powerful one: Uncle Sam’s striking features, expressive eyebrows, pointed finger, and direct address to the viewer made this drawing into an American icon. Throughout the years, Uncle Sam has appeared in advertising and on products ranging from cereal to coffee to car insurance. His likeness also continued to appear on military recruiting posters and in numerous political cartoons in newspapers. Finally, in September of 1961, the U.S. Congress recognized Samuel Wilson as “the progenitor of America’s national symbol of Uncle Sam.” Samuel Wilson died at age 88 in 1854, and was buried next to his wife Betsey Mann in the Oakwood Cemetery in Troy, New York. The town proudly calls itself “The Home of Uncle Sam.”

My brother-in-law, Ron Schulenberg, like all of the Schulenberg men I know, is a workaholic. If he isn’t at his job, he is working on something in his garage, or around the house. I’m fairly convinced that the Schulenberg men do not consider mechanic work to be work…no matter how hard it is and no matter how dirty and greasy they get. I guess it’s the same as I feel about writing or genealogy…they are intriguing and interesting, so they aren’t work. While the Schulenberg men would most likely find writing and genealogy boring, they do not consider tinkering around on a car boring at all. I guess we all have our own ideas.

Ron also loves to go camping in the summer, which is one reason why he, like many people can’t wait for summer and the warmer weather. Even if you like winter, which I don’t think most people do, there comes a point in the long winter season, when everyone looks forward to summer and being able to get outside and do things. Ron has liked camping since he was a little kid, and he has never outgrown it, so he, his wife, Rachel and their son Tucker try to go just about every other weekend of the summer. They also like to travel. and took a trip to New York a couple of years back. Their boys, Riley and Tucker had a great time. It was a great trip.

Ron and his son, Tucker do lots of things together. Tucker loves to help his dad with whatever he is doing. It’s always nice to have a son who wants to learn from you, and that makes Ron’s relationship with Tucker very special. After their son Riley moved out, I think Ron and Tucker got even closer. Tucker missed his brother, but his dad is truly his hero. Ron is always there for Tucker. Today is Ron’s birthday. Happy birthday Ron!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

When a train derails, you know that there is going to be a big mess, and loss of life, or at the very least, injuries. And you would probably be right, but it would be a whole different situation, if multiple trains collided with each other. That is the exact scenario on January 17, 1929, in Aberdeen, Maryland, when two Pennsylvania Railroad passenger trains and a freight train all collided. While the collision was horrific, the loss of life was amazingly less that expected.

On that day, passenger train Number 412, bound from Washington to Philadelphia, struck the freight train, who was also northbound, just after it pulled from a siding, by Short Lane station, near Aberdeen. The freight cars toppled onto the southbound track, directly in front of express train Number 121, from New York to Washington. There was simply not time to avoid the disaster. The wreck killed four trainmen and seriously injured another. Conductors of the two passenger trains declared none of their passengers were seriously hurt. Brakeman, K. A. Klein, on the freight train, and flagman, V. W. Stewart, were both killed in the first crash; and engineer of the southbound express train, A. C. Terhune, and M. Goldstein, his fireman, were killed when their train ploughed into the wreckage.

Bodies of the two from the freight crew and of the passenger firemen were removed and taken to a morgue in Aberdeen, but the body of the express engineer was still under the engine five hours after the wreck. The workmen were prevented from recovering it by outpouring steam. Leon Sweeting, engineer of the northbound passenger train, was badly scalded and was taken to the Havre de Grace Hospital, where his condition was reported to be serious. John H. Lee, fireman on the same train, was in the hospital, suffering from shock.

It is thought that heavy fog in the area, prevented the engineer of northbound number 412 from seeing the tail-light of the freight train right in front of him. Some passengers on the northbound and southbound trains were said to have been slightly injured, but none was reported in serious condition. The triple crash tore up about 150 yards of track and uprooted signal and telegraph poles. Trains had to be re-routed over the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad tracks, while relief trains were sent from Baltimore to Aberdeen. While this was not the worst wreck, in fatalities and injuries, I don’t recall too many, if any others involving three trains, and the experience must have been terrifying.

Sometimes, a picture can instill such a strange awareness within us that it is hard to get the picture out of our heads. It doesn’t have to be something horrible, bloody, or shocking, but simply something unusual. The phone tower in Stockholm, Sweden, built in 1887 is that kind of a picture, for sure.

Technology has changed so much over the years, and this tower was a relic of the past. That is probably why the image has stuck in my head all this time. The tower served its purpose at the time, connecting 5,000 telephone wires and providing service to all those people, but to me it seemed rather dangerous in many ways. The telephone was an amazing invention, but somehow, the idea of buried cable never occurred to the inventor or the engineers who made it a reality for everyone. The service was very expensive, and so only for the wealthy…a fact that would change in years to come.

Similar towers sprang up around the world, and most residents soon grew to hate the massive amounts of lines that littered their skyline. Still, it was the only way at the time, and the telephone was, after all, an important invention. Too bad they couldn’t immediately come up with the wireless version we all enjoy these days. The telephone towers were used shortly before telephone companies started burying their wires in about 1913.

The change was well received, since most residents hated it, and some of the work was done after a snowstorm downed telephone poles, causing the cities to pay for the changes. Soon the hated phone lines began to disappear. I can see why the towers are hated, and to this day, most photographers hate to have the towers and wires in their photographs. I have often found myself wishing the wires were missing from that perfect shot I got as my husband and I walked along the walking paths in Casper, so I can understand the way the residents of Stockholm, New York, and Boston felt about the monstrosity that was the telephone lines in their cities. Thankfully for the residents, the problem was solved when the tower burned down on July 25, 1953.

As automobiles became commonplace…or at least more so than they had been, people began to realize that there needed to be some controls on their usage…specially in the area of speed. Most people know that is a car or other vehicle can go fast, there will always be someone out there, who wants to push the envelope and see just how fast it will go, throwing caution to the wind. With increased speeds would also follow, increased numbers of accidents. There would need to be some rules to follow.

There were already speed limits in the United States for non-motorized vehicles. In 1652, the colony of New Amsterdam, which is now New York, issued a decree stating that “[N]o wagons, carts or sleighs shall be run, rode or driven at a gallop” at the risk of incurring a fine starting at “two pounds Flemish,” or about $150 in today’s currency. In 1899, the New York City cabdriver Jacob German was arrested for driving his electric taxi at 12 miles per hour, but did the prior law really apply electric cars? It was becoming more and more obvious that some sort of legislation was necessary to ensure the safety of those operating these new machines, and those around them. So began the path to Connecticut’s 1901 speed limit legislation. Representative Robert Woodruff submitted a bill to the State General Assembly proposing a motor-vehicles speed limit of 8 miles per hour within city limits and 12 miles per hour outside. While the law passed in May of 1901 specified higher speed limits, it required drivers to slow down upon approaching or passing horse-drawn vehicles, and come to a complete stop if necessary to avoid scaring the animals. I can’t imagine some of the restrictions listed there, because people would be stopped more than they were driving, but you have to start somewhere, and Connecticut was that starting point, when, on May 21, 1901 it became the first state to pass a law regulating motor vehicles, limiting their speed to 12 miles per hour in cities and 15 miles per hour on country roads.

Immediately following this landmark legislation, New York City went to work to keep up, and introduced the world’s first comprehensive traffic code in 1903. Adoption of speed regulations and other traffic codes was a slow and uneven process across the nation, however. As late as 1930, a dozen states had no speed limit, while 28 states did not even require a driver’s license to operate a motor vehicle. Rising fuel prices contributed to the lowering of speed limits in several states in the early 1970s, and in January 1974 President Richard Nixon signed a national speed limit of 55 miles per hour into law. These measures led to a welcome reduction in the nation’s traffic fatality rate, which dropped from 4.28 per million miles of travel in 1972 to 3.33 in 1974 and a low of 2.73 in 1983.

Concerns about fuel availability and cost later subsided, and in 1987 Congress allowed states to increase speed limits on rural interstates to 65 mph. The National Highway System Designation Act of 1995 repealed the maximum speed limit. This returned control of setting speed limits to the states, many of which soon raised the limits to 70 mph and higher on a portion of their roads, including rural and urban interstates and limited access roads.

The Mary Celeste began its fateful voyage on November 7, 1872. She set sail with seven crewmen and Captain Benjamin Spooner Briggs, his wife, Sarah, and the couple’s 2-year-old daughter, Sophia. The 282 ton brigantine battled heavy weather for two weeks to reach the Azores. It was there that the ship logged its last entry at 5am on November 25, 1872. The rest of the story of the Mary Celeste remains a mystery, although the ship was found in good shape and completely sea-worthy.

I find it strange to think that in the middle of the ocean, something can happen with little or no warning, that either takes the lives of people onboard a ship, or results in their disappearance. I understand mutiny, but then that does not leave a ship abandoned. So if not mutiny, how is it that the occupants of the ship did not see the other ship approaching? I know that pirates often overtook the ships, but the occupants of the ship were usually killed in a bloody battle. The people onboard did not just disappear. Nevertheless, something happened on the Mary Celeste between that final message on November 25, 1872 and December 5th, 1872, when she was spotted drifting along, in the Atlantic Ocean…empty.

The British brig Dei Gratia was about 400 miles east of the Azores on December 5, 1872, when crew members spotted a ship adrift in the choppy seas. Captain David Morehouse was shocked to discover that the unguided vessel was the Mary Celeste. It had left New York City eight days before him and should have already arrived in Genoa, Italy. He changed course to offer help. Morehouse sent a boarding party to the ship. When they went below decks, they discovered that the ship’s charts had been tossed about, and the crewmen’s belongings were still in their quarters. The ship’s only lifeboat was missing, and one of its two pumps had been disassembled. Three and a half feet of water was sloshing in the ship’s bottom, but the cargo of 1,701 barrels of industrial alcohol was largely intact. There was a six month supply of food and water…and no one to use it. So, the mystery began, and it has endured as one of the most durable mysteries in nautical history…What happened to the ten people who had sailed aboard the Mary Celeste? Over the many years since the discovery, a lack of hard evidence has only created more speculation as to what might have taken place. Theories have ranged from mutiny to pirates to sea monsters to killer waterspouts….some of which are completely ridiculous, but in the absence of evidence, people will speculate.

Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1884 short story based on the case posited a capture by a vengeful ex-slave, a 1935 movie featured Bela Lugosi as a homicidal sailor. Now, a new investigation, drawing on modern maritime technology and newly discovered documents, has pieced together the most likely scenario…which had nothing to do with Bela Lugosi. In fact, while it is unproven, it is thought that something a simple as coal dust could be the culprit. The idea is that the coal dust from a prior voyage filtered into the ships pumps, causing them to quit working. Then, it is thought that the captain, fearing that the ship would sink, ordered the passengers to abandon ship…well within sight of land at Azores. Anne MacGregor, the documentarian who launched the investigation and wrote, directed and produced The True Story of the ‘Mary Celeste,’ partly with funding from Smithsonian Networks. MacGregor learned that on its previous voyage, the Mary Celeste had carried coal and that the ship had recently been extensively refitted. Coal dust and construction debris could have fouled the ship’s pumps, which would explain the disassembled pump found on the Mary Celeste. With the pump inoperative, Briggs would not have known how much seawater was in his ship’s hull, which was too fully packed for him to measure visually. Of course, this is still speculation, because the ten people onboard were never heard from again, so the mystery continues.

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