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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Where Is He?

February 11, 2013

In the sixteenth century, rich Flemish merchants and noblemen enjoyed purchasing paintings of pleasant peasants tending fields they could never own. Smiling at mediocre paintings highlighting the crudeness of peasant life must have made these rich folk feel superior, and in most of these genre paintings the peasants look foolish and in need of the parental guidance the aristocracy provided.


This began to change in the mid 1500s when a genius was born who would paint these average folk with the skill and compassion necessary to make them pulse with humanity, so much so that even today our collective image of these hearty hard-working people is solely derived from his paintings. The artist’s name was Peter Bruegel the Elder (his children would competently carry on after their father’s death without ever equaling his brilliance.)


Bruegel loved painting common folk even though he was a skilled artist capable of making a fortune creating flattering portraits of the wealthy. Instead, he focused on common events like that depicted in this panel painting: The Peasant Wedding.


The gathering is set in a barn that isn’t big enough to accommodate the entire village; to the left you can see a crowd trying to enter before all the food is gone. It’s Spring—no time for weddings during the busy harvest season—and the feast is actually a meager meal of ale, porridge, bread and soup, served from a makeshift tray made from an old door. I’ve always enjoyed the little boy in the bottom left corner, beneath a red hat much too big for him. He’s managed to get his hands on one of the plates and is licking it clean.


It isn’t difficult to identify the bride: she’s the plump woman seated in front of the green blanket hanging on the wall of hay, a wooden crown on her head. Her eyes are half closed as she soaks in the moment, her hands (dirt clearly visible beneath her fingernails) crossed in front of her. This is the one day of her life when she is not allowed to do anything. Years of grueling labor and child rearing are ahead of her and she’s enjoying the moment. Bruegel was a masterful painter and he’s included figures so closely resembling her that they must be siblings.


We don’t know if it was by design, but there is a mystery in Bruegel’s masterpiece—where is the groom? Artists in Bruegel’s day often used symbols to inform the uneducated as to what was happening in a painting. This visual alphabet is now lost to us and we can only guess who the groom is.


After studying this picture (Google it if you want to see it bigger) use the comment box to identify the groom. Don’t worry about being wrong because critics do not agree, although I think I know who he is.



I’ll reveal my guess on Wednesday. 




Absolutely fascinating Stephen.
By: John on February 11, 2013
My guess is that heâs the one getting more ale; nice cap, best clothes, time to make merry for tomorrow he must bust his ass to take care of the lass. Ha!
By: mindy on February 11, 2013
I think the groom is the man pouring himself a jug of ale. Today he makes merry for tomorrow he dies. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on February 11, 2013
I think it's either the man pouring the ale or the one getting the soup off the tray.
By: fishducky on February 11, 2013
Perhaps it's the man directly across from the bride-sitting on the wooden stool? Checking things out-making sure all is going well?
By: Kathe W. on February 11, 2013
I don't think it's someone that is working. It's someone that is not. I'll guess it's the guy in black with the knife at his side and the dog at his feet. Have a fabulous day. :)
By: Comedy Plus on February 11, 2013
I think he's the one pouring more ale for himself. Perhaps he plans to go over and share it with his bride.
By: Patricia on February 11, 2013
I really admire artists who could so successfully capture so many people in a painting. I have difficulty with more than one LOL
By: Michael Offutt on February 11, 2013
The Dude with the beard in the upper right corner. THe kid licking the plate is CC the first! I can't paint a wall, but I would sign up for your art class.
By: Cranky Old Man on February 11, 2013
Interesting post, Stephen! If I had to guess, I'd say the groom is the dismal man at the end of the table with the great, big, bushy beard. He looks as if he's realized that his days as a bachelor are over, and he's mourning the loss of his previous life of luxury.
By: Chiz on February 11, 2013
The groom probably slipped out back with one of the bridesmaids.
By: PT Dilloway on February 11, 2013
Very interesting. I'm guessing it's the guy with the red hat at the end of the table passing more porridge down the table to his guests. Or the guy under the table with his head in his hands, thinking "What have I done?" Looking forward to your reveal. S
By: scott park on February 11, 2013
I think he is in that picture, way back in the left hand corner?! The more I look at the picture, I wonder if he actually is in it!!
By: Jenny on February 11, 2013
I'd have to guess they guy pouring himself a drink...He looks more "dressed up" than the others.
By: Eva Gallant on February 11, 2013
I've been trying to find your new blog for weeks without success. For some reason, it doesn't show up in my news feed. Quite odd!!!
By: Just Keepin\' It Real Folks on February 11, 2013
"Google it if you want to see it bigger" I did, but no luck. I guess Mrs. Penwasser will have to be disappointed again. Ohhhhh, you meant the painting...? Well, aren't I embarrassed?
By: Al Penwasser on February 11, 2013
Fascinating. My best guess is he's the one pouring more drink~
By: Shelly on February 11, 2013
Maybe he's not pictured, because he is supposedly painting the picture? Yes, i know silly, but it popped into my head, and i can't resist.
By: mimi on February 11, 2013
I haven't a clue but I, like the others, thought maybe it was the guy pouring himself another beer. If not him maybe the guy at the far end of the table (right side of picture) with the sword talking to another woman already. He seems to be dressed better than some of the others in the room.
By: Cheryl P. on February 11, 2013
Perhaps he is the fellow at the end of the table, dressed in finery speaking with the monk. Another engaging mystery you have involved us in.
By: tom Cochrun on February 11, 2013
I find it fascinating how you can get a bunch of people who know nothing (or very little) about art to study this picture and then try to guess the answer. I, for one, scrolled up and down repeatedly, after each comment, to keep looking at this picture and refer to the person who the commenter suspects of being the groom. I think it must be the person standing up - the one with the white pants. Nobody would have worn any piece of white clothing in those days, unless it was a really big occasion. He is holding bagpipes (?), so I wondered at first if he was the musician for the wedding. But then I decided that it must be the groom, maybe getting ready to sing to his bride. I may be wrong, but that's my best guess. I can't wait for you to reveal your answer!
By: Pixel Peeper on February 11, 2013
I swear I did not type all this twice... ;-p My computer hiccuped!
By: Pixel Peeper on February 11, 2013
I, too, say the ale-pourer, because of his clothes. They look better than the others, but not so good that he wouldn't be a peasant. The dude in black at the end of the table looks like somebody of a higher social station.
By: Val on February 11, 2013
Interesting post. I've never studied art, but I have studied history. However, neither have anything to do with the other. I suspect he would be an elder. Perhaps the gent one removed to the right would be her suitor. The gent at the tables end is well to do, carries a sword and I suspect he is a leader but not a noble. They wouldn't associate with the lower rung directly. It is all speculation.
By: Daniel LaFrance on February 11, 2013
I'm inclined to think the man at the head of the table (passing the plates out) is the groom because he is sitting in the place for the head of the household, and because he is passing the food, which a host would do, and as groom he might be considered the host. I thought about the man to the woman's left (two seats away), but he looks the same age and similar to the woman seated between them - I would guess those are the bride's parents. Fascinating! Would you consider doing this kind of thing as a regular post?
By: jenny_o on February 11, 2013
Like a few others, I think he's the man to the far right in black. His hands are clasped like the bride's. I suspect it's an interfaith marriage; he looks like an Orthodox Jew. xoRobyn
By: Robyn Engel on February 11, 2013
I'd guess the fellow at the head of the table passing out the food -- because he is seated and at the head of the table and because the bride looks as if she is looking at him. I attended the village 'fete' once in St. Gervais sur Mare in the Languedoc. The guests were served by the village youth club on trays made from doors -- just like the picture!
By: The Broad on February 12, 2013
Hmmmmm so like a man not to stay by his wifes side.....
By: Are We There Yet!! on February 12, 2013
I love Bruegel and love this painting. I'm looking forward to seeing who the groom really is -- because I will agree with whatever you say.
By: Mitchell is Moving on February 12, 2013
My guess is the man with a beard sitting at at the end of the table. he looks quite troubled and is being counseled by an older woman on the life of drudgery that he now faces. Can't wait for your reveal. And by the way, this was quite an interesting picture.
By: on February 12, 2013
Sorry, forgot to sign my name. That's my comment above, the man with the beard at the end of the table :)
By: Anne on February 12, 2013
One of the nice things about the paintings in real life is that they are so big. You have the chance to look at all the detail. But no, I can't guess the groom. And I had looked at this picture often without registering that it was a wedding and wondering where the groom was. Duh!
By: Jenny Woolf on February 13, 2013
well, unless its the chap with the moustache and the cap two up from the woman that i assume to be the bride (crown on her head) - then my guess is its the person who you can't quite see behind the head of the person carrying the tray (you can just about make out his hat) as the seating order goes boy-girl-boy-girl
By: dont feed the pixies on February 13, 2013
i think it's the guy pouring the drink. he looks the right age and happy and dressed nicely.
By: lime on February 13, 2013

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