Welcome to the Chubby Chatterbox Newsletter, where I’ll be posting favorites from the Chubby Chatterbox archives. In addition, my complete thriller Return of the Mary Celeste will soon be serialized here for those who have asked for something beyond a regular post.

My novel is based on a true event, arguably the greatest maritime mystery of all time. In 1872 the crew and passengers of Boston brigantine Mary Celeste abandoned their seaworthy ship and its valuable cargo, vanishing in the middle of the Atlantic. Speculation over their fate has never abated. History records that after the Mary Celeste tragedy no one from that fateful voyage was ever seen again. History is about to be rewritten…

Return of the Mary Celeste


Tragedy struck the brigantine Mary Celeste on the morning of November 25, 1872. The hourly log was later recovered from the deserted vessel; At 8 a.m. the last notation was made. By 9 a.m. no one remained aboard to chalk the next entry.

Something had terrified Captain Benjamin Briggs and his crew, prompting the seasoned skipper to make a decision certain to affect not only himself, his ship and crew, but his family as well—his wife and two year old daughter were aboard Mary Celeste. Much ink has been spilled in fanciful and scientific attempts to explain the calamity that engulfed this perfectly seaworthy ship, yet all that is known for certain is this: in a matter of minutes Captain Briggs became convinced that the only way to save their lives was by ordering everyone into a hastily launched lifeboat. By giving the order to abandon ship, he also launched the greatest of all maritime mysteries.

On December 5, 1872, a month after leaving New York Harbor, Mary Celeste was found drifting on a calm and empty sea. The ship was in fine condition, perfectly intact with valuable cargo safely stored in her hold, but the crew and passengers had vanished. None were ever seen again.

Until now….

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Peculiarities #4

April 10, 2017

I had no idea where this post was going to lead when I started writing. My intention was a lighthearted description of another peculiar item at Casa Chatterbox, but a Google search sent me in a more serious direction, a tragic one.


It began in 1976 when Mrs. Chatterbox and I were backpacking through Europe with a dog-eared copy of Frommer’s Europe on Ten Dollars a Day. While exploring Paris near the Eiffel Tower, we passed many shops selling gorgeous Art Nouveau figurines and collectables—all costing hundreds of dollars. I love Art Nouveau and considered throwing our $10 daily budget out the window, but I couldn’t convince myself to spend hundreds of dollars, not that we had it to spend.


We ambled by what looked like a junk store, and something on an inside windowsill caught my attention, a small metal bowl with decorative maple leaves, seeds and a moth. I’d heard that moths were an important Art Nouveau motif before the advent of dragonflies and butterflies so I suspected it was from the early nineteen hundreds. Inside the dish were several dead flies and a burnt out light bulb. I offered the shop owner the equivalent of five dollars but he wanted ten, and even though that was an entire day’s budget I handed over the francs. This was forty-one years ago, and the dish has been a convenient place to toss car keys ever since.




Our dish was purchased in Paris in 1976.


After deciding to write about this piece, I Googled Art Nouveau pewter, because it looked less shiny than silver and didn’t tarnish. I was just about to give up when I spotted this:




It turns out our dish was a bread tray, and while purchased in Paris, it wasn’t French at all; it was German, created in 1900 by a well known designer named Friedrich Adler. Adler was accomplished enough to win several international decorative arts medals and was highly regarded as a master of his craft, until the Nazis discovered he was Jewish.



Friedrich Adler (1878-1942)


Friedrich Adler, master artist, was sent to Auschwitz in 1942. On the day of his arrival, he was deemed too old to work and herded along with countless others into a gas chamber, a tragic end for an exceptionally talented man who spent his life creating beauty.


Until yesterday, I knew none of this. I won’t be casually tossing my keys in this dish ever again.



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Tragic- so many lives were lost during that awful time- we must never forget.
By: Kathe W. on April 10, 2017
Such a tragic story behind an otherwise ordinary item. Maybe you can find a place of honor for it somewhere.
By: PT Dilloway on April 10, 2017
This is quite the story about your tray. I am disgusted and saddened about this man who died, like millions of others, in such a horrible way. I wonder now, how much your tray is worth. I bet you will give it more prominence in your home now. This story is what I normally hear on Antiques Roadshow
By: Birgit on April 10, 2017
Tragic, yet a powerful discovery. I think this tray will look good in your home, although I would never think to put bread in it. Maybe it was meant to held bread that's wrapped up on a cloth or decorative napkin. I bet that's it. As for keys, I find that they are best kept when dangling from hooks in a central place.
By: Michael Offutt on April 10, 2017
Certainly changes the meaning of the tray, doesn't it. But, like you say, an important reminder.
By: Tom Sightings on April 10, 2017
Especially as an artist yourself, I would find a place of honor for this piece and make sure the story of its artist does not get lost...Isn't the internet great!
By: cranky on April 10, 2017
Oh wow... what an incredible treasure you have! I'm glad you now know its history.
By: Kelly on April 10, 2017
How sad ... and what's even sadder is that there were so many stories like this. What a terrible part of history it was. Maybe the artist wouldn't have minded you using it for your keys, though - it's been a highly useful item for you as well as an attractive one ...
By: jenny_o on April 10, 2017
I suspected it was German as soon as I saw it. It's a beautiful reminder of a great tragedy. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on April 10, 2017
What an incredibly sad history but I am glad his work is now in your home, safe and will be newly revered. He lives on.
By: Arkansas Patti on April 10, 2017
Every time you use it now, you will remember him!!
By: fishducky on April 10, 2017
History reminds us of mankind's ugly and cruel past. Sadly we continue carrying out inhuman acts to one another. Your discovery certainly brings back the past into your home in a very real way.
By: Daniel LaFrance on April 10, 2017
Wow! Yes, put that piece up in a place of honor as a tribute to Mr Adler. I'm sure it would please him to know his art has been preserved.
By: scott park on April 10, 2017
Sometimes insignificant decisions turn out to be very important. Maybe you should google some more of your stuff.
By: red Kline on April 10, 2017
Wow. All that time you had it, and you never knew. I think it was worth your investment.
By: Val on April 10, 2017
So sad, but i know you will give this treasure the home and esteem it deserves.
By: messymimi on April 10, 2017
What a tragic story. I'm glad this piece has lived in the house of an artist all of these years!
By: The Bug on April 10, 2017
A tragic story indeed. I don't think you'll ever look at that dish in quite the same way again.
By: Botanist on April 10, 2017
Yes, tragic, but it makes the bread basket all the more meaningful now that you know. Thanks for sharing and keeping his memory alive. www.sagecoveredhills.blogspot.com
By: sage on April 11, 2017
Just one more sad story from the days of the Holocaust.
By: Catalyst on April 11, 2017
What a powerful and sobering story. I'd heard of Frederich Adler. I'm glad you have that piece of history and art.
By: Robyn Engel on April 11, 2017
What an incredible story. To think you have something created by him.
By: Mitchell is Moving on April 11, 2017
An amazing story, indeed. I wonder if the shop owner in Paris had any inkling of the tray's significance.
By: Pixel Peeper on April 22, 2017

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