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1888, October 14: The Supernatural Disappearance Stories of Ambrose Bierce

On October 14, 1888, a most extrordinary article appeared in the San Francisco Examiner, newspaper of San Francisco, California. Titled "Whither?," the article detailed three accounts of people literally vanishing into thin air, followed by the theories of a scientist named Dr. Hern as to how people might fall into other dimensions and be lost forever. The article was signed off as "A.G.B.", which readers would have immediately recognized as being Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce [1842-1914(?)], the San Francisco Examiner's then-current editor, and soon to be a known master of short stories which were often of a spooky or strange nature. Any doubts as to the authorship of the tales at the time were dashed away in 1893, when the article - renamed "Mysterious Disappearances" - was included with other short stories by Bierce in his book entitled Can Such Things Be?. Ironically (or purposely) Bierce himself went on to mysteriously vanish, which is a mystery I will have to investigate some day as well.

        These three stories are not very long, but are each extremely full of details of place, time, and persons supposedly involved; they were written as if true but, as scholars have pointed out, were presented in a section of the newspaper that carried only entertainment, not news. A brief check of the details of each story confirms the people and events described never existed or happened - including the knowledgeble Dr. Hern - yet all three stories continue to be mistaken for true accounts of supernatural disappearances... and, worse still, all three continue to be used as the basis for the creation of newer false accounts of supernatural disappearances.

        So I present here all four segments of Bierce's "Mysterious Disappearances"... and I'll add notes on accounts based on each as I run into them from now on.