Special Feature: “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”

On Sunday, March 7, a friend of mine, Tim Stamps, whom I have known since college way back in the dark ages of the 70’s, sent me this link to a truly dark video. I thought it would make an excellent special feature for The Chamber. Here’s what he says about it:

“Hey Phil, check this out —A friend [Samuel Hanon is the name on the video] put this together. Playing the Twilight Zone version of “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” with a Pink Floyd concert CD “Live at the Empire Pool, Wembley Park, London” recorded in November, 1974. Nothing is edited out or changed, except color effects added. All the lyrics and everything synchronistically match on queue. Play here: https://www.facebook.com/samuel.hanon.3/posts/545802596336504

As you will learn with Rod Serling’s narration during the intro, this is not a Twilight Zone production per se. This is a French telling of the classic tale “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce. It was the winner of the 1962 Cannes Film Festival and of several other international prizes as well. The original version is truly haunting, but the additional soundtrack and colorization take it to a whole new, nightmarishly surreal level.

What I find interesting about the story is that, when it was written in 1890, feelings about the Civil War were still very intense. After all, the Civil War had erupted only thirty years earlier in 1860. Many soldiers on both sides were still alive. Many African-Americans were still alive who had been slaves. Bierce had served with the Union Army and had seen combat several times including at Shiloh. He sustained a traumatic brain injury at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, whose effects he felt for the rest of his life. Nonetheless, Bierce penned this story about the hanging of a Confederate soldier told from the rebel’s perspective. Bierce did not see his former enemies as inhuman monsters, which I am sure many former Union soldiers did. He recognized the humanity in them and he brings this out in this story, making his readers, many of whom doubtlessly still had strong feelings about the war, feel sympathy for their suffering as well and made them see the former rebels as human.

In our current atmosphere of political turmoil (which cannot hold a candle to the turmoil before, during, and after the Civil War), there is a lesson for us in this classic work of American literature. It shows us that in spite of our feelings about current political and national issues, no matter how intense they are, we must not lose sight of the fact that our political opponents are as human as we are and feel as deeply and as intensely as we all do. We are people with differing opinions, but we are all still people. We must not lose sight of that fact.

I hope you enjoy the video as much as I did.

Follow this link to the original short story on AmericanLiterature.com.

By the way, I will take submissions of links to dark videos or films so long as they meet the stipulations in The Chamber’s submission guidelines and so long as the person submitting owns the copyright. There are a wide range of formats to which I can link, so please query first and I will let you know if I can link to it.

The Saturday Night Special: “Present at a Hanging” by Ambrose Bierce

Present at a Hanging

by Ambrose Bierce

from Present at a Hanging and Other Ghost Stories

(1913)

The Project Gutenberg E-text

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An old man named Daniel Baker, living near Lebanon, Iowa, was suspected by his neighbors of having murdered a peddler who had obtained permission to pass the night at his house.  This was in 1853, when peddling was more common in the Western country than it is now, and was attended with considerable danger.  The peddler with his pack traversed the country by all manner of lonely roads, and was compelled to rely upon the country people for hospitality.  This brought him into relation with queer characters, some of whom

Ambrose Bierce October 7, 1892

Ambrose Bierce
October 7, 1892

were not altogether scrupulous in their methods of making a living, murder being an acceptable means to that end.  It occasionally occurred that a peddler with diminished pack and swollen purse would be traced to the lonely dwelling of some rough character and never could be traced beyond.  This was so in the case of “old man Baker,” as he was always called.  (Such names are given in the western “settlements” only to elderly persons who are not esteemed; to the general disrepute of social unworth is affixed the special reproach of age.)  A peddler came to his house and none went away – that is all that anybody knew.

Seven years later the Rev. Mr. Cummings, a Baptist minister well known in that part of the country, was driving by Baker’s farm one night.  It was not very dark: there was a bit of moon somewhere above the light veil of mist that lay along the earth.  Mr. Cummings, who was at all times a cheerful person, was whistling a tune, which he would occasionally interrupt to speak a word of friendly encouragement to his horse.  As he came to a little bridge across a dry ravine he saw the figure of a man standing upon it, clearly outlined against the gray background of a misty forest.  The man had something strapped on his back and carried a heavy stick – obviously an itinerant peddler.  His attitude had in it a suggestion of abstraction, like that of a sleepwalker.  Mr. Cummings reined in his horse when he arrived in front of him, gave him a pleasant salutation and invited him to a seat in the vehicle – “if you are going my way,” he added.  The man raised his head, looked him full in the face, but neither answered nor made any further movement.  The minister, with good-natured persistence, repeated his invitation.  At this the man threw his right hand forward from his side and pointed downward as he stood on the extreme edge of the bridge.  Mr. Cummings looked past him, over into the ravine, saw nothing unusual and withdrew his eyes to address the man again.  He had disappeared.  The horse, which all this time had been uncommonly restless, gave at the same moment a snort of terror and started to run away.  Before he had regained control of the animal the minister was at the crest of the hill a hundred yards along.  He looked back and saw the figure again, at the same place and in the same attitude as when he had first observed it.  Then for the first time he was conscious of a sense of the supernatural and drove home as rapidly as his willing horse would go.

On arriving at home he related his adventure to his family, and early the next morning, accompanied by two neighbors, John White Corwell and Abner Raiser, returned to the spot.  They found the body of old man Baker hanging by the neck from one of the beams of the bridge, immediately beneath the spot where the apparition had stood.  A thick coating of dust, slightly dampened by the mist, covered the floor of the bridge, but the only footprints were those of Mr. Cummings’ horse.

In taking down the body the men disturbed the loose, friable earth of the slope below it, disclosing human bones already nearly uncovered by the action of water and frost.  They were identified as those of the lost peddler.  At the double inquest the coroner’s jury found that Daniel Baker died by his own hand while suffering from temporary insanity, and that Samuel Morritz was murdered by some person or persons to the jury unknown