The Disappearance of David Lang

David Lang was said to be a farmer who lived near Gallatin, Tennessee. On September 23, 1880 he supposedly vanished into thin air while walking through a field near his home. His wife, children, and two men who were passing by in a buggy all witnessed his disappearance.

Frank Edwards included the following description of Lang's disappearance in his book Stranger Than Science (1959):

David Lang had not taken more than half a dozen steps when he disappeared in full view of all those present. Mrs. Lang screamed. The children, too startled to realize what had happened, stood mutely. Instinctively, they all ran toward the spot where Lang had last been seen a few seconds before. Judge Peck and his companion, the Judge's brother-in-law, scrambled out of their buggy and raced across the field. The five of them arrived on the spot of Lang's disappearance almost simultaneously. There was not a tree, not a bush, not a hole to mar the surface. And not a single clue to indicate what had happened to David Lang.

The grownups searched the field around and around, and found nothing. Mrs. Lang became hysterical and had to be led screaming into the house. Meanwhile, neighbors had been altered by the frantic ringing of a huge bell that stood in the side yard, and they spread the alarm. By nightfall scores of people were on the scene, many of them with lanterns. They searched every foot of the field in which Lang had last been seen a few hours before. They stamped their feet on the dry hard sod in hope of detecting some hole into which he might have fallen -- but they found none.

David Lang was gone. He had vanished in full view of his wife, his two children, and the two men in the buggy. One second he was there, walking across the sunlit field, the next instant he was gone.

Eventually the grass around where Lang had disappeared turned yellow in a fifteen-foot diameter circle, suggesting that some form of energy had mysteriously transported him away.

Seven months later his children were said to have heard their father's voice faintly calling out for help as they played near the spot of his disappearance, but eventually the sound of his voice faded away. They never heard his voice again.

Source of the Legend

The story of Lang's disappearance attracted the attention of researchers during the second half of the twentieth century, after versions of the tale were published by Edwards in Stranger Than Science, as well as by Harold Wilkins in Strange Mysteries of Time and Space (1958). Both Wilkins and Edwards claimed the story was a true, unexplained mystery.

Numerous researchers subsequently tried to track down evidence that would confirm the story's authenticity, but nothing has ever been found. No nineteenth-century newspaper accounts of Lang's disappearance have ever been located. Nor do census records indicate that such a man ever lived.

During the 1970s, researchers who contacted a Tennessee librarian named Hershal Payne unearthed a possible source for the tale. Payne said that he had heard some people attribute the tale to a well-known hoaxer who lived in Tennessee during the 1880s, Joseph Mulhattan. Supposedly Mulhattan invented the tale while participating in a lying contest, and with time the story became part of local legend. But despite this rumor, there is no evidence that Mulhattan was the source of the tale.

It is more likely that the tale of David Lang was invented by the mystery-novel writer Stuart Palmer. In July 1953 Palmer published the earliest known account of the Lang story in FATE Magazine. Palmer's article was almost certainly the source that both Wilkins and Edwards later relied upon.

Palmer claimed that the tale had been told to him by Sarah Lang, the daughter of David Lang. But in reality, Palmer probably lifted the idea for the tale from a short story by Ambrose Bierce, "The Difficulty of Crossing a Field," which Bierce included in his story collection Can Such Things Be? (1893). Bierce's story describes a plantation owner who vanishes into thin air. In his 1953 article, Palmer claimed that Bierce's story was inspired by the Lang incident. However, the opposite is most likely true -- the Lang tale written by Palmer is almost certainly a reworking of Bierce's story.
Links and References
  • "The Mystery of David Lang."
  • Edwards, Frank. (1959). Stranger Than Science. Bantam Books.
  • Nickell, Joe. (1988). Secrets of the Supernatural. NY: Prometheus.
  • Palmer, Stuart. (July, 1953). "How Lost Was My Father?" FATE Magazine. 40: 75-85.


What bugs me about Science & Scientists, what does not fit into Their little Boxes cannot or does not exist!!!!
Posted by Keith Poulton  on  Fri Jan 09, 2015  at  04:45 AM
I grew up reading this story as a young girl in the book "Stranger than Science" while living in Buffalo, New York in the late 1950's. Years later when by happenstance I ending up moving close to Gallatin, Tennessee where David Lang disapeared, I inquired about the story and was told that the place where it took place in the late 1800's is located off of a road that has become a main thoroughfare called Long Hollow Pike where a Golf Club and large old house are now located. I don't know if the story is true, but people knew of it 30 years ago when I moved here, and knew enough to tell me where it happened.
Posted by Sharon  on  Fri Apr 10, 2015  at  07:27 PM