Representations in Media

Illustration by William Small featured in the first publication of the short story “J. Habakuk Jephson’s Statement.”3 The illustration features the captain of the fictional vessel, the Marie Celeste and his wife and first mate.3

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Mary Celeste first gained prominence in the public sphere with the short story, “J. Habakuk Jephson’s Statement.”1 This fictional tale followed the story of a ship named the Marie Celeste—note the slight variation in spelling—and was a fictionalized account of the Mary Celeste’s final voyage penned by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.2 Conan Doyle, is a familiar name to many as he is the creator of the Sherlock Holmes character and in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century rose to extraordinary fame and celebrity because of his stories.1

Conan Doyle was a well known believer in spiritualism, the Victorian era fascination with the afterlife and ghosts.4 Because of his fame, Conan Doyle helped to propel spiritualism into the mainstream culture of the time.4 This short story was one of those ways; the supernatural takes a large role in Conan Doyle’s explanation for the disappearance of the Marie Celeste’s crew.2 This “ghostly” explanation bled into the public’s mind and led many to the conclusion that spirits and ghosts must be responsible for the events that occurred on the Mary Celeste.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in 1914.4

Modern Representations

The staying power of the Mary Celeste in the public’s mind continues into the modern era. With the rise of “true crime” and “mystery” entertainment over the last decade, the story Mary Celeste has found a new life in this space. A quick search on YouTube reveals that the top five videos concerning the disappearance of the ship’s crew have more than ten million views. The creators of these videos range from independent creators to large corporations like Buzzfeed.

Buzzfeed Unsolved YouTube video about the Mary Celeste and its mystery. This is one of the most popular videos about the ship and the disappearance of its crew.5
Short Smithsonian video about the ship.6
A more “click bait” style video about the ship.7
Animated breakdown of some of the theories as to what happened.8


Given the persistence of the Mary Celeste in popular culture for more than a century now, it is obvious that the mystery surrounding this ship has captivated the public’s imagination. In our class this term we discussed the emergence of the “blue humanities” as coined by Steve Mentz.9 The way that the ship has been represented definitely plays into a lot of larger themes that are common in representations of the ocean; namely in its uncertainty and the fear that this can cause. According to historian John Gillis, a cultural shift in interest towards the sea began to occur in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, in part due to new forms of art representing the ocean in novel ways: one of these art forms being literature.9 The real life disappearance of all aboard the Mary Celeste and the representation of this aboard the fictional Marie Celeste allows us to see one such example of late nineteenth century interest in the ocean.9