Bitter Bierce’s last trip through the batwings…

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“The Saloon,” est. 1851, 1232 Grant Ave., San Francisco

Through these batwing doors, civil war veteran Ambrose Bierce is said to have disappeared forever, according to certain folklorists of San Francisco. “The Saloon,” 1232 Grant Ave., established in 1851, is the oldest whiskey bar in continuous operation in the City. There are Sunday afternoon blues concerts in its crowded, dimly lit interior, standing room only.

It’s not really true. Bierce left his home in Washington, D.C., in 1913 and crossed the border at El Paso, headed for Chihuahua City where he joined the forces of Pancho Villa as an observer. As a Hearst newsman, he had a checkered post-war career. In one celebrated caper, he publicized in Hearst’s newspapers material about a clandestine effort to cram a bill through Congress during the middle of the night, a measure that would forgive a $130 million low interest government loan to the Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads. In today’s dollars the sum is estimated to amount to billions.

Bierce’s articles foiled the plan. Angered, railroad tycoon Collis P. Huntington confronted Bierce on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, encouraging him to “name your price” in hush money – and quit publishing stories about the bill.

Bierce is said to have replied, “My price is one hundred thirty million dollars. If, when you are ready to pay, I happen to be out of town, you may hand it over to my friend, the Treasurer of the United States…”

That was in 1896. More informed historians believe he met his fate in 1913 at the height of the Mexican Revolution before a firing squad in a rural graveyard in Coahuila… His short story, “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge,” is one of the most fabled tales of the War of Northern Aggression. It involves a universal theme of human horror, the fear of falling; critics believe the Alfred Hitchcock film, “Vertigo,” is based on the theme, the author of the screenplay influenced by Bierce’s tale.

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“Bitter” Ambrose Bierce, founding member of The Bohemian Club

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