The tales of journalist and horror writer Ambrose Bierce (1842 -- ?) were often presented as if they were news items, or at least legends supported by diaries and newspaper clippings. They often ended "up in the air," unsolved, like real events merely glimpsed by lucky (or unlucky) mortals. Perhaps they weren't all fiction . . .
A recurring theme in Bierce's fiction was unexplained disappearances. I'm creating this little list to stir up the imagination: H. Beam Piper's "He Walked Around the Horses" revealed the fate of Benjamin Bathurst, and P. J. Farmer's The Other Log of Phileas Fogg gave its version of the Mary Celeste. Perhaps someone somewhere will come up with stories or articles explaining what happened to some of these characters. The fate of Ambrose Bierce himself has provided grist for the mill in tales like "The Third Level" by Jack Finney.
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1854 -- July -- Orion Williamson, a plantation owner living near
crosses a field to speak to the overseer of his land. The pasture is "level and without a
tree, rock, or any natural or artificial object on its surface." In full view of the plantation overseer, Mrs.
Williamson, Armour Wren, a neighbor, Wren's son James, and a dozen slaves, Mr.
Williamson vanishes into thin air. ("The Difficulty of Crossing a
Field") Selma, Alabama
1857 -- A family disappears one night from their plantation house north of
. "Nothing was missing -- except a man, a
woman, three girls, a boy, and a babe!"
The plantation is abandoned and the family's home becomes known as
"the Spook House." Manchester, Kentucky
1859 -- June -- Col. J. C. McArdle and Judge Myron Veigh, caught on a dark night in a storm, try to enter the nearest building, which happens to be the Spook House. They enter by an unlocked side door, but, opening the same door again, McArdle finds, not the stormy night, but a chamber full of greenish light, containing eight or ten corpses. Veigh enters and studies the corpses, but the stench makes McArdle faint, falling against the door and slamming it shut on the judge. "Six weeks later" McArdle awakens in a hotel where he had been carried after the storm. A search of the mansion reveals no tomb or chamber. "Judge Veigh had never been heard of since that night." ("The Spook House")
1863 -- "The Spook House" is burned by a retreating column of Civil War soldiers.
1873 -- Philip Eckert, a harmless old recluse, disappears from his house outside
("some twenty years" before the story is written in 1893.) "All was as he might have left it to go
to the spring for a bucket of water." ("At Old Man Eckert's") Marion, Vermont
1873 -- September 3 -- James Burne Worson, a shoemaker from
England, bets three drinking
buddies he can run all the way to
and back, a circuit of forty miles. He
begins the race with his pals following in a wagon. "Suddenly -- in the very middle of the
roadway, not a dozen yards from them, and with their eyes full upon him -- the
man seemed to stumble, pitched headlong forward, uttered a terrible cry and
vanished! He did not fall to the earth
-- he vanished before touching it."
The men are arrested, but, being of good standing, are released. Worson is never seen again. ("An
Unfinished Race") Coventry
1876 -- August 6 -- Col. McArdle pens an account of his misadventure for the
Frankfort ( )
Advocate. ("The Spook House") Kentucky
1878 -- November 9 -- The family of Christian Ashmore lives on a farm near
. At about nine o'clock on this November night,
son Charles takes a bucket to fetch water from the spring. When he does not return, Mr. Ashmore and his
eldest daughter go out searching with a lantern. Charles' tracks are plain halfway to the
stream, then "the trail of the young man had abruptly ended, and all
beyond was smooth, unbroken snow." ("Charles Ashmore's Trail") Quincy, Illinois
1878 -- December -- A small group of men decide to spend the night in Philip Eckert's house to dispel rumors of the supernatural, "about five years after" the disappearance of Eckert. John Holcomb and Wilson Merle arrive at 8:00 PM, but Andrus C. Palmer, a local schoolteacher, does not show. After an hour's watch, Holcomb and Merle hear someone enter the back door. Palmer passes through the den, looking frightened or excited, and walks straight out the front door. The two watchers follow, but Palmer is gone, and there are no footprints in the snow. "Neither they nor anyone ever again saw or heard of Andrus Palmer!" ("At Old Man Eckert's")
Up to mid-1879 -- "For months afterward" Charles Ashmore's voice is heard by family members and other people near the point of his disappearance. "All agreed that it seemed to come from a great distance, faintly, yet with entire distinctness of articulation. . . by midsummer it was heard no more." ("Charles Ashmore's Trail")
1893 -- Dr. Hern of Leipsic publishes his "Verschwinden und Seine Theorie," in which he suggests that such disappearing people fall into dimensional bubbles, "holes, as it were, through which animate and inanimate objects may fall into the invisible world." ("Science to the Front")
1893 -- Bierce's stories "Some Haunted Houses" and "Mysterious Disappearances" (containing the above accounts) are published.
1913 -- summer -- Ambrose Bierce, seventy-one years old and tired of life, announces he is travelling to
"with a pretty definite purpose. . . not at present
disclosable." He is never seen
again. (E. F. Bleiler, "Introduction", in Ghost and Horror Stories of
Ambrose Bierce ( Mexico
Books, 1964) Dover