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

Prologue

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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The Lion of Lucerne

July 8, 2015

 

 

When I think about military prowess and bad ass fighters I don’t usually think of warriors from a country more known for pretty mountains, yodeling, cheese with holes and chocolate. Yet the Swiss have provided European nobility with elite mercenaries for centuries.

           

The Ancient Romans, themselves no slouches when it came to fighting, struggled to subdue the Helvetii—Swiss warriors—who challenged Roman authority and gave Julius Caesar and later Roman generals a run for their money. Most people think of the Vatican when the Swiss Guard is referenced. Few trips to the Vatican don’t include photographs snapped of the colorful men with halberds and swords, anachronisms adding to the pageantry of the papacy. But when the Swiss Guard marched into the Vatican in 1506 it was because the pope needed the best protection money could buy, and the Swiss Guard has been protecting popes ever since.

           

Until recently, Switzerland had been a poor country whose young men left home to seek their fortunes abroad. Rigid training, discipline and loyalty combined with revolutionary battle tactics to make the Swiss Europe’s most feared mercenaries, often employed by France, Spain and Naples. King Francis I of France employed 120,000 Swiss soldiers in his wars. Royalty commonly hired mercenaries back then because subjects often rose in revolt, and native soldiers often turned on the monarch and joined the rabble. The best protection came from soldiers who were paid well to defend you—soldiers who would lose their income if you were killed.

 

Modern Switzerland continues its militia system by requiring all young men to enlist for military service. If a fit person refuses to enlist, a heavy fine is exacted; Tennis pro Roger Federer has paid thousands of dollars in lieu of serving, while contributing millions to numerous charities.

           

This all comes to mind because of a monument Mrs. Chatterbox and I visited in Lucerne, Switzerland, the last city on our tour. We were taken to a grotto, formerly a quarry, where a dying lion had been carved into the stone. The lion, noble and heroic, expires with the shaft of a spear in it, protecting the banners and symbols of the French monarchy. During the French Revolution, 760 Swiss soldiers were killed defending the royal family from mobs. In 1821 this memorial was created to honor the fallen. The Latin inscription reads:

 

To the Loyalty and Courage of the Swiss

 

Mark Twain called the Lion of Lucerne, “The most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world.” He may have been right.

 

 

 

 

 

Lion of Lucerne

 

 

 

 

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Comments

24 Comments
I knew a little of the history behind the Lion of Lucerne. What fortune you were able to see it.
By: Alex J. Cavanaugh on July 8, 2015
oh my gosh- that is a very mournful sculpture. Thanks for the history lesson- I wonder how many countries still require military service from their citizens besides Israel and Switzerland?
By: Kathe W. on July 8, 2015
seems like all my travel is by proxy...recently been to Paris and London as well.
By: Ellen Abbott on July 8, 2015
I have a small model of the lion on my desk. It was on my grandfather's desk for years. There's a sliding compartment in the bottom for holding postage stamps.
By: Catalyst on July 8, 2015
The lion is stunningly beautiful. Great history lesson. Wow
By: Beckie on July 8, 2015
I am part Swiss, I like holey cheese and yodeling, but have never been a fighter...who knew! Thanks for another history lesson.
By: cranky on July 8, 2015
All NEW information for me--except tthe Swiss Guard at the Vatican!!
By: fishducky on July 8, 2015
And yet, Switzerland takes pride in being a neutral country, even in WWII, and I don't think they're in the Euro either, are they?
By: Tom Sightings on July 8, 2015
I always learn so much when I come here. I would never have thought of the neutral Swiss of even having an army. Thanks for the lesson.
By: Akansas Patti on July 8, 2015
and here I've always thought that the Swiss were a mild mannered bunch. what a let down.
By: red on July 8, 2015
thanks for the education!
By: TexWisGirl on July 8, 2015
No! I want to pull out that spear!
By: Val on July 8, 2015
I never knew that about the Swiss, but I'm not surprised. Your trip sounds amazing. We're saving up to go to Europe.
By: Rick Watson on July 8, 2015
I've seen that lion! I loved Lucerne - and that's where I saw the bridge with all the flowers (I had mis-remembered it as being in Salzburg, but I just checked my photo album from the trip).
By: The Bug on July 8, 2015
Lucerne was one of my favorite places to visit ever. Thank you for bringing back such good memories!
By: mimi on July 8, 2015
It makes sense that the Swiss would have some fierce warriors. Yes, the terrain greatly adds to the defense of their country, but there would have to be something else for them to stay fairly independent all of these years.
By: Jerry E. Beuterbaugh on July 9, 2015
I didn't know most of that - fascinating. And what a moving monument. Picking up on another comment, it makes sense to be neutral when you're land-locked and surrounded by potential threats. Safer not to sign up to any alliance.
By: Mike@A Bit About Britain on July 9, 2015
The lion is one great sculpture, it speaks volumes.
By: John on July 9, 2015
I did not know this history at all. Very interesting and not at all surprising. Each day I realize I know so little about Europe. I would love to travel with you two, as you really get to the heart of these creations.
By: Tabor on July 9, 2015
Art professor... you could add geography and history to your resume too. An interesting read!
By: Daniel LaFrance on July 9, 2015
That is truly a very sad looking lion and the story that goes along with it is quite moving. Again, you have taught me something I didn't know about the Swiss. Thanks.
By: Bouncin Barb on July 9, 2015
The Lion is a powerful piece. We enjoyed Lucerne a great deal. As for Federer, he's probably been of greater value to the Swiss as the classy Champion he has been.
By: Tom Cochrun on July 9, 2015
Wow, that was very interesting! And I agree about the statue..it is very moving. Thanks for sharing!
By: Terri @ Coloring Outside the Lines on July 9, 2015
I learned something new here and I would agree with the comment about the Lion!
By: Michael Manning on July 12, 2015

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