Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce

Ambrose Bierce, a man of mystery, controversy, and wearer of a fabulous mustache.

Some names simply scream nominative determinism. Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce has such a name. A descendant of the Mayflower through his mother, Laura Sherwood Bierce. With a dad named Marcus Aurelius Bierce, you just know things are going to happen. Ambrose was the tenth of thirteen children. All of their names started with the letter A. We know what vowel his dad would have purchased if he’d been a contestant on the Wheel of Fortune.

Back to Ambrose. He left home at the age of 15 to become a printer’s devil. A fancy name for performing all the menial tasks of printing a newspaper. Three years later he enlisted in the Union Army as a drummer boy in the American Civil War. Over the next four years he rose through the ranks to brevet major. Twice wounded, he fought at the Battle of Shiloh. The terror of that experience became the material of several of his short stories and a memoir.

His short story An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge is credited as one of the most famous and frequently anthologized stories in American literature. I have a short story anthology on my bookshelf. I checked, it’s in there. Bierce realistically wrote about the awful things he witnessed during the war. He also perfected the twist ending.

During his lifetime he was better known as one of the most influential journalist in the U.S. He worked for William Randolph Hearst. Created controversy. Cost Hearst his run for the U.S. Presidency, but Bierce was never fired for his writings.

But it is his foray into fiction for which he was accorded the moniker of the pioneer of the psychological horror story. His stories are ranked alongside H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe. His war stories influenced Ernest Hemingway and Stephen Crane among others. His poetry is even making a comeback.

But it was his disappearance in 1914 at the age of 71 which flummoxed historians. Some say he traveled to Mexico and followed the exploits of Poncho Villa, where he was allegedly executed in a graveyard in Chihauhau, Mexico. Others declare that he couldn’t have gone to Mexico because of his outspoken views against Villa. Still others guess he passed by his own hand.

The last line of An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, “Payton Farquhar was dead; his body, with a broken neck, swung gently from side to side beneath the timbers of the Owl Creek Bridge.” Perhaps it was his love of twist endings.

Whatever the truth, Bierce was never seen again, but his legacy continues.

Tracy – Fannie Cranium’s Guide to Irreverent Wisdom

About Fannie Cranium

Writing since she could first hold a pen, Tracy Perkins formed her alter ego, "Fannie Cranium" at the suggestion of her husband. Tracy understands smiling makes people wonder what she’s been up to.
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16 Responses to Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce

  1. I remember reading about Bierce’s mysterious disappearance when I was a kid and finding it chilling that even someone famous could just vanish and nobody ever discover their fate. I did not know about all of the Bierce kids having A as their initial. My fourth son was nameless for a week so there is no way I could have named 13 kids let alone 13 with the same initial.

    • It is chilling to think someone could just vanish like that. It might be a bit harder to accomplish today. But still the idea is scary.

      Regarding naming children, I can’t imagine coming up with names for 13 kids. I can understand why it took you a while to name your last one.

      • If I was the parent, the 13th Bierce child probably would have been named Aardvark or something.

        • Now that’s a name I can appreciate! However, lucky number 13, young little Aardvark, would be destined to live in Texas with his fellow aardvarks. You might never hear from him again. Lol.

      • Also, it is such a massive responsibility to name a child. You are basically giving a significant label and shaping the identity of a tiny but complete stranger. Knowing whether a name will actually suit this wee person is impossible so it’s just a leap in the dark. That is why I marvel at people who name their kids something outrageously bonkers.

  2. Reblogged this on Fannie Cranium's and commented:

    Ambrose Bierce the center of controversy his entire life. This month’s contribution to the Blog of Funny Names.

  3. wdydfae says:

    In lieu of blurbs, this is Memory Lane!

    We watched this as a film short in class in Junior High School. Probably it was this version:

    Then in “art” class me and two other guys made a film short called “Occurence at [ ]” (name of drainage sluice near the school. The headlong leap of the protagonist into its waters was done with the zoom function.

    I don’t remember how the film turned out. I assume, not well.

    I did not know there was a short story or a literary tradition behind it. Thanks, Fannie!

    I thought the movie Cold Mountain (Nicole Kidman and Jude Law) ripped the premise right off from “Occurence” (but apparently it was based on a separate novel). Also, Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ has some similarities.

    So all I got to say is, huh.

    Or should I say,

    “. . . Huh. . . .”

  4. Until now, I’d never seen that version of the “Occurrence”. I love the idea that you and couple of friends did your own film version, in a sluice.

    I have not seen “Cold Mountain,” but it will be worth checking out if it is that close to the story. It’s now on my list. 🙂

  5. The Hinoeuma says:

    This was one hell of a fascinating man. His kids had trouble, too. I think one son committed suicide as I recall and one died young. His daughter out-lived him, I think. He outlived his wife.

    The above picture of him…Paul Newman could have easily played him if a movie was made.

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