The Thomas Merton Quiz on the "standard account"

The title of Professor Paul Dekar's review of “The Martyrdom of Thomas Merton: An Investigation” is “A Challenge to the Standard Account.”  This prompted David Martin to ask what is the meaning of the term, “Standard Account”?  Listed below are descriptions of Thomas Merton's death from scholars, authors, journalists, and other Merton experts.  

Match the quotes below with the scholars listed at the bottom.  A score of 75% would qualify someone as being an expert on Thomas Merton's death and a top Merton scholar.  

1.     He takes a shower.  On his way out of the shower, he slips, grabs a fan, and is electrocuted.


2.     Merton died on December 10, 1968, there in Thailand, when a fan fell into his bathtub and electrocuted him.

3.     After lunch, he retired to his room.  A few hours later, another conferee found Merton's body with a fan lying on top of his body.  He probably tried to move the fan.  Perhaps he stepped on its faulty wiring.  While it is impossible to be certain of the circumstances, the cause of Merton's death was electrocution.

4.     ...he had died by an electric shock when he touched a live wire on a floor lamp.  That was just this month on December 5th.  He had been taking a shower before an evening conference he was giving.

5.     [Thomas Merton] a bathroom.

6.     Religious writer Thomas Merton died when a radio fell in the bathtub.

7.     Faulty wiring electrocuted him as he directed a fan's air flow after his shower.

8.     returned to his room; took a shower; bumped into an old upright electric fan; and was accidentally electrocuted.

9.     A cry was heard from his room and he was found in his bedroom, lying on the floor and grasping an electric fan.  Merton had come out of the bathtub, slipped on the tiled floor, and grabbed a fan to break his fall.  The fan electrocuted him and he died instantly.

10. Bangkok, on a warm day while taking a bath, he slipped in the bathtub, grabbed an electric fan and was electrocuted.

11.     ...stepped out of a bathroom shower during a visit to Bangkok.  Slipping on the wet floor, he grabbed a poorly wired fan for support and was electrocuted.

12.     Merton was found electrocuted by a handheld hair dryer that had fallen into his bathwater.  This was especially suspicious since Merton was bald and would have had no reason to use a hair dryer.  He was found dead in the bathtub.

13.     He took a shower and, afterwards, slipped on the wet bathroom floor; he grabbed a rotary fan for balance and was electrocuted.

14.     Merton took a shower around 1:30 in the afternoon and, in an attempt to move a large fan, was electrocuted...the facts seem more straightforward: he died either from electrocution directly or from a heart attack precipitated by the shock he received or he had a heart attack and fell over the fan...

15.     What seems the most likely reconstruction is that Merton came out of the shower either wearing a pair of drawers or naked...Merton may have slipped and drawn the fan sharply toward him for support, or he may have simply tried to change its position.

16.     It seems to me very obvious that when you just step out of a shower you are naked and that when you are electrocuted you urinate involuntarilyWhen the Thai police arrivedthey discovered that the body had a pair of drawers on.  In fact, it is a second pair.  The first pair they put on him must have been put on while the fan was still running because they have burn marks.  So he is given a second pair.  He's all cleaned and ready for inspection.  The naked monk is made modest.

17.     [Merton] returned to his cottage at about 2:30 and proceeded to take a shower before retiring for a rest.  Standing barefoot on the terrazo floor he apparently had reached for the large standing fan (either to turn it on or pull it closer to the bed) when he received the full 220 volts of direct current.

18.     He was electrocuted accidentally when he touched a fan coming out of a shower in Bangkok.

19.     Said Br. Patrick [Hart] and seconded by Br. Lawrence: "Fr. Flavian received a message...that [Thomas Merton] had been electrocuted by a faulty wire in a large fan in his room.  Either he had a heart attack and grabed (sic) the fan and it fell with him; or he grabed (sic) the fan and it fell with him; or he had been fixing the fan and grabed (sic) a badly insulated hot wire."

20.     Fr. Louis died by electrical shock moving a fan with a shorted circuit.

21.     Merton had been found dead in his room after an accident in the shower.  He slipped in the shower, grabbed a rotary fan, and was electrocuted.


22.     [Merton] had a shower, and then, very possibly with the soles of his feet still wet, grasped a large standing fan that was defective and took a full 220 volts of direct current.

23.     Eventually, I got through to the embassy in Bangkok and they confirmed it and they said there had been an accidental death: nothing more than that.

24.     In his room he took a shower.  Afterward he happened to grasp a large standing fan at a point where the covering on the electric cord had worn thin, exposing the copper wire within.  Receiving the force of 220 volts of current, he cried out, collapsed, and died of heart failure.

25.     [Merton] will return to his room for a bath, reach for a fan, and receive the accidental electric shock that will end his life.

26.     [Merton] returned to his room, and was electrocuted in his bath;

27.     Thomas Merton always could make an exit.  He returned to his room and took a nap, then a shower, there's a wet floor, a fan with bad wiring, 220 volts.  The official explanation is death by accidental electrocution.

28.     Merton died in Bangkok, Thailand, on December 10, 1968, the victim of an accidental electrocution.

29.     Certainly, the story of Merton's death is very straightforward...He touched a fan after a bath in the afternoon...I don't think that Merton, no matter how prominent he was, was done in by the CIA.  I think that's a little bizarre.  

30.     I did ask the monks at Gethsemani, Patrick Hart his secretary most prominently, about what they thought of his death...Hart said, "Most of us are amazed that he didn't kill himself in the hermitage.  He was unbelievably klutzy.  He never learned to drive a car.  We kept expecting he was going to be found dead electrocuting himself in the hermitage.  No, no, no.  This fits in with Merton."

31.     While at a conference in Bangkok, Merton was accidentally electrocuted and died on December 10, 1968.

32.     ...Merton's tragic accidental death he was electrocuted by an electric fan near Bangkok...

33.     I also concluded that, contrary to Mott's dismissal of Merton not having had a circumstance in which to take his life, he did so while participating at a conference in a village in Samutprakarn, 20 miles from the Thai capital of Bangkok,

34.     ...a faulty fan electrocuted him as he emerged from the bathtub.

35.     In Bangkok, Merton stepped out of his shower, slipped on the floor, reached instinctively for support, grabbed an electric fan, and died.

36.     He had taken a bath and with wet feet walked across a terra cotta floor to pull an electric fan over to his bed.  The fan had a faulty wire, it shocked him, then fell over him

37.     he went back to his room, took a shower and in doing so accidentally electrocuted himself,

38.     UNIQUE among history's great spiritual writers, Thomas Merton is also the only one whose death certificate reads that an electric fan killed him as he stepped out of the bath...Most would say that he simply needed to be more careful in bringing together water and electricity.

39.     A faulty electric fan fell on him as he was coming from the shower, and he was electrocuted.

40.     It is somehow touching that the room in which Merton died not only has no marking or plaqueThe bathroom at the rear contains a toilet and in one corner, a squared off area of ceramic tile forms the equivalent of a sink or small tub. Water from a spigot above fills the tub. With a pan, a person can bathe themselves -as Merton did-taking a sort of a shower.  The water drains through an opening in the wall to a klong at the rear. The spigot has a faulty washer and drips constantly. I walk out of the bathroom, tracing Merton's steps, across the dustless terrazzo floor and stand in the middle of the room ... I kneel down on the floor. I touch my hand to the terrazzo...But in that moment, my hand pressed to the spot where he fell, I feel as close to him as I know I may ever be in this life.

41.[Merton] emerged dripping from his shower and stumbled over an electric fan with faulty wiring; electrocuted at 53.

42.     [Merton] retired to his room for a shower and a nap.  There he was later found dead, apparently electrocuted by the faulty wiring of a fan.

43.     ...Merton received an electrical shock from a faulty fan while coming out from the shower in Bangkok...

44.     It was on the afternoon of December 10, 1968 that Thomas Merton took an afternoon shower...Merton's death of course was unexpected.

45.     …his untimely accidental death by electrocution in a hotel in Bangkok on December 10

46.     He was a klutz and accidentally electrocuted himself in the bathroom; not a heroic death, to be sure.

47.     Merton went to his room, where he took a shower.  After this, while still not quite dry, he grasped a defective standing fan which sent 220 volts of direct current through his body.

48.     ...Merton's chance encounter with a faulty electric fan caused a major heart attack from which he died.

49.     He was electrocuted coming out of the shower in his bedroom, apparently slipping and grabbing onto a large, stand-up fan with faulty wiring.

50.     On his first major trip, after giving the talk, he went back to his cottage, took a shower, stepped out of the shower and somehow or other grabbed a floor fan and was electrocuted.  That is a koan!

51. …the manner of Merton's death—accidental electrocution caused by his grasping the frayed cord of an electric fan…

52.  Officially, and as far as anyone can tell, it was an accident: he stepped from the shower, stretched his hand to start a large, electric fan only to find it live and falling, down, across his chest, killing and making him at last completely useless.

53.  It is believed that Merton had returned to his room and took a shower before taking a nap.  After he got out of the shower he touched the fan while standing on a wet tile floor and was electrocuted.

54.   Merton was electrocuted by a fan after taking a shower.

55.   He died in a freak accident on Dec. 10, 1968, in Bangkok, Thailand, where he was electrocuted by an electric fan while stepping out of his bath.

56.  Merton was accidentally electrocuted by an electric fan.

57.   He died tragically in Bangkok of accidental electrocution due to faulty wiring...I saw Merton once for just a moment, as he (and Mother Teresa, believe it or not) walked by me while I was visiting the monastery in early June of 1961.

Match the 53 people listed below with the 57 false statements above.  


(hint: Some quotes are by the same person, in fact, four different descriptions are by one person)

Andrew Young, former UN Ambassador and Mayor or Atlanta

Paul R Dekar, professor

Judith Valente, journalist

Mary Gordon, author

Rev. James J. Martin, Thomas Merton admirer

Rev. John C. McCloskey

Rev. Jacob Restrick, O.P., Dominican preacher

Forbes Magazine

Rev. George Kilcourse, professor

Fr. John Dear, author

Rev. James Fox, O.C.S.O.

Br. Paul Quenon, O.C.S.O.

ITMS, Corpus Christi Chapter

Steven P. Millies, professor

Jim Forest

Anthony Podavano, professor

Christopher Pramuk, professor

Morgan Atkinson, author

Heidi Schlumpf, journalist

The Irish Times

Noel Rowe, Australian academic

Sister Therese Lentfoehr, Academic

Alan Jacobs, Baylor University

Mary Ann Poust

Cristobal Serrran-Pagan y Fuentes

Virginia Spencer Carr, professor

Jon M. Sweeney, editor

Joachim Viens

David Orberson, Bellarmine Professor

Cyprian Consiglio, OSB

Paul Elie, author

Lawrence Cunningham, Notre Dame

Fred Bahnson, professor

Louis A. Ruprecht, professor

Brother Patrick Hart, O.C.S.O.

Michael Higgins, academic

Austen Ivereigh, journalist

Michael Mott, biographer

James T. Baker, professor

Margery Eagan, radio host

Jaechan Anselmo Park, OSB

Esther de Waal, academic

Sr. Janet Fearns, FMDM, author

Robert Waldron, Merton scholar

Paul Wilkes, journalist

Robert Ellsberg, Orbis books

Fr. Dan Horan, OFM, scholar

Sarah Coakley, academic

Wyatt North Publishing

Linus Mundy, author

Fiona Gardner, professor

Fr. Flavian Burns, O.C.S.O.

Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM, scholar

Almost 80% of the 57 descriptions of Thomas Merton's death include a combination of water and electricity. The best evidence proves that Merton did not bathe or shower before he died.  Br. Patrick Hart invented the shower story in 1973 and he has admitted that there is no evidence that Merton took a shower.  Not one of these 57 accounts of Thomas Merton's death describe the conclusion in the reports by the Thai authorities.

What is the standard account of Thomas Merton's death?

Is it true?

Quiz answers can be found here.

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