Who Forted? Magazine

The Mystery Behind the Myth of James Worson, the Disappearing Man

A road to Warwickshire, England where James Worson is said to have disappeared into thin air

On September 3rd, 1873 James Burne Worson, a man from Warwickshire, England, literally disappeared into thin air, leaving no trace as to how it happened, or where he went. Or so the legend goes.

Worson and two friends, Barham Wise, a linen draper, and Hamerson Burns, a photographer, were returning from a local pub after a night of drinking when Warson brazenly boasted about his skill as a long-distance runner. His friends then made up their minds to challenge Worson and decided that in order for him to prove his skill, he should run, non-stop, the 40 mile distance between Leamington and Coventry that night.

Worson, who was three-sheets to the wind, did not want to embarrass himself after such conceit, and promptly accepted to the challenge. It was agreed that Wise and Burns would follow along closely behind and keep watch from their horse and cart.

So the race began.

Worson managed the first few miles cheerfully, laughing and carrying on animated conversation with his challengers, when unexpectedly, his footing gave way and he stumbled, falling forward to the ground and then giving out the most ungodly scream. Without any warning, before Worson had time to collide with the ground below him, he disappeared into thin air, leaving nothing behind.

Burns and Wise, who were understandably stunned, hurried quickly to the nearest town to report what they had just witnessed to the authorities. They returned to the scene with scouts and searched the woods for many hours that night and though the area was thoroughly explored in the following days, the body of James Burne Worson was never found, nor an explanation for the manner in which he disappeared. That is to say of course, aside from the act of disappearing altogether.

American journalist Ambrose Bierce

This legend, often stated as fact alongside other “true” stories of mysterious disappearances, is most likely derived from a short story written by American author Ambrose Bierce titled An Unfinished Race, in which it is positioned as a factual retelling of the tale. This is unlikely, as the first known materialization of the the strange yarn appears in Present at a Hanging and Other Ghost Stories, written by Bierce.

While the legendary tale of James Worson may have a fairly lackluster explanation, the story itself retains a bit of it’s eeriness when juxtaposed against the rather strange disappearance of Ambrose Bierce himself.

In the October of 1913, At 71 years of age, Bierce left his home in Washington DC to tour the Civil War battlegrounds, eventually passing into Mexico and joining the army of Pancho Villa as an observer, witnessing the Battle of Tierra Blanca during the Mexican Revolution.

His last known correspondence with the world was in a letter written in the Mexican city of Chihuahua in December 1913, sent to friend and San Francisco journalist Blanche Partington. He closed the letter by saying, ”As to me, I leave here tomorrow for an unknown destination,” and from that point, was never heard from again.

To date, no search has turned up any substantial clues about what exactly happened to Ambrose Bierce. Some say that he was executed by firing squad in the town of Coahuila, others that he committed suicide, and still, there are many who believe that he never went to Mexico at all.

Despite the arguments about the fate of Bierce, the one thing that investigators do agree on is that he left no trace. In an odd bit of foreshadowing, Ambrose Bierce had effectively vanished into thin air, much like his literary creation of James Worson.

Dana Matthews
Dana Newkirk is a co-creator and regular contributor to WF? 'Zine. Dana hosted the internationally syndicated television series The Girly Ghost Hunters, which originally aired on the Space Channel in Canada. It was pretty terrible. If you so choose, you can catch the reruns on Sunday mornings around 4:30am on channel 44. Her main interests lie within the genre of vintage fringe, though she has been known to stand awkwardly in the background of many Who Forted videos.
Dana Matthews

6 Comments

  1. paranormal puppy

    06/07/2011 at 6:51 PM

    Dana I have to admit that as I watched Girly Ghostbusters on space I was a bit less than impressed but the articles you are writing for WF are truly inspirational I especially liked the article on the God motor
    keep up the good work I am learning a lot from your articles

  2. Dana Newkirk

    06/10/2011 at 2:35 PM

    I appreciate the kind words about the articles! I have a lot of fun writing them. I love the subject matter a lot and really enjoy it when other people do as well. I especially enjoy writing about little known stories or legends, as those tend to be the most interesting to me.

    Hahaha! “Less then impressed” is probably the nicest description of the Girly Ghost Hunters I’ve ever heard! Thanks for not being too hard on me! ;)

  3. Christina

    06/21/2011 at 12:40 PM

    I have never heard this before. Very interesting. I always learn something new reading your articles.

  4. Ken Summers

    06/29/2011 at 12:08 PM

    Quite an interesting piece. I’ve always loved Bierce and have a copy of his “Devil’s Dictionary”. He was an interesting man, to say the least. But anyone living with a bullet lodged in his head would be interesting, to say the least.

    Bierce wrote another story, “The Difficulty in Crossing a Field,” about a man who vanished into thin air as well. People have said it was based on a true account as well, with some saying it was a re-telling of the disappearance of “David Lang” on September 23, 1880, from a farm near Gallatin, Tennessee (though no record of such a man exists; a David Land did, however, write an opera of “The Difficulty in Crossing a Field” in 1999).

    I’ve always wondered what happened to Bierce. Maybe there’s still some last trace of him out there, waiting for someone to stumble across it.

  5. zazzafrazz

    08/28/2011 at 3:01 AM

    they were pissed drunk at the pub, he bragged, annoyed them, they killed him, made the disappearance story up….mystery solved.

  6. Lishanator1

    11/22/2012 at 7:55 AM

    GUYS I NOW WHAT HAPPEN!
    Worson had Sauron’s ring of power and he put it on when he was running, mystery solved.

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