Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Grave of Ambrose Bierce

Bierce is one of the great writers of horror and black humor in American literary history. His classic short story, An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, is the kind of thing you read in junior high, which crept into your brain and changed it subtly and forever. And The Middle Toe of the Right Foot, is a classic haunted house story.

But one of the things he's most legendary for is his disappearance. One day in late December 1913, he headed off for Mexico and just dropped off the face of the earth. It's a mystery that still bedevils the literary world... but there are clues that suggest it won't stay unsolved forever. Time magazine has a decent short piece on some of the facts surrounding the vanishing of Ambrose Bierce. One important fact is that Bierce himself seemed to welcome his death, and made no attempt to hide it. In a letter to his family he writes:

[I]f you hear of my being stood up against a Mexican stone wall and shot to rags please know that I think that a pretty good way to depart this life. It beats old age, disease, or falling down the cellar stairs.

A website called Biercephile.com also has a good article about Bierce's disappearance, and the different theories surrounding it... some crazier than others. Some people believe he didn't go to Mexico at all, just used it as a ruse to throw people off his trail and killed himself in the Grand Canyon area. Others believe he stole an ancient Mayan artifact called the Skull of Doom before vanishing completely.

But a priest in Sierra Mojada, Mexico has actually erected a gravestone marking what he believes is the grave of Bierce, based on a local story about a gringo being executed by authorities for espionage (Read it here.) With our ability to test DNA it seems to be a great place to start.

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