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The Disappearance of David Lang: Mystery or Hoax?

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The Disappearance of David Lang: Mystery or Hoax?
In 1880, Tennessee farmer David Lang was walking across his field as his wife and two children watched from the house. A buggy carrying two men was passing by the field at the same time and saw Lang making his way through the field in front of his home.

Suddenly, Lang disappeared. It happened in the blink of an eye. One moment Lang was walking and the next he was gone as though he’d vanished into thin air.

His wife and children ran from the house to the spot where he’d disappeared as did the two men in the buggy. Everyone assumed Lang had fallen into a hole, but the field was level without any holes.

Still, neighbors and friends joined in a search over the field that stretched into the night. No one found any kind of anomaly or disturbance in the field. David Lang had simply vanished. By now, his wife was hysterical and had to be taken to the house (1).

What Happened to David Lang?

No one could explain the strange disappearance of a man in broad daylight that was witnessed by his wife, children and two men. It was said that the vegetation in the area where he disappeared turned yellow, extending to a 15-ft circle. No animal would graze in that section of the field.

Several months later, as the Lang children played near the area where David had disappeared, they reported hearing him call out for help. They reported that his voice sounded very distant and soon it, too, disappeared.

It’s the story that legends are made of and in all probability, is purely fiction. In fact, researchers haven’t discovered any records of David Lang or the Lang farm near Gallatin, Tennessee. Some researchers believe the story was the creation of renowned writer Ambrose Bierce.

In 1893, Bierce published a collection of short stories titled, “Can Such Things Be?” and within the collection is a story titled “The Difficulty of Crossing a Field”. In the story, Bierce describes how a plantation owner vanishes in front of witnesses.

The story idea appeared in July 1953 in mystery novelist Stuart Palmer’s story published in Fate magazine. Palmer credited the origin of the story to David Lang’s daughter, Sarah, who supposedly recounted the incredible incident to Palmer (2).

ambrose bierce

Hoax, Fiction or Truth?

Two researchers, Harold Wilkins (Strange Mysteries of Time and Space, 1958) and Frank Edwards (Stranger Than Science, 1959) both published later versions of this tale. Both believed that the story was true and that the disappearance of David Lang some type of unexplained phenomenon.

To prove or disprove the story, other researchers have attempted to validate the facts, but so far no one has unearthed any evidence that a David Lang existed. There are no census, deed or tax information on David Lang or a Lang farm.

If such an astounding story had occurred, there certainly would have been newspaper accounts of the farmer’s bizarre disappearance from his field. To date, no one has discovered any such newspaper reporting of the incident.

pancho villa

Tennessee Librarian Claims Lang Story a Hoax

Sometime in the 1970s, a researcher claimed to have contacted a librarian in Tennessee, Hershal Payne, who debunked the story. According to Payne, in the 1880s, a local and well-known hoaxer, Joseph Mulhattan created the David Lang story as his entry in a “lying contest”.

The librarian believed that over time, the story had been retold and eventually became distorted as a real event. However, the librarian had no proof that Mulhattan was in fact the source of the story and so the origin remains undocumented.

As a curious side note, in 1913, 71-year old Ambrose Bierce, the man most frequently credited as the creator of the David Lang story, disappeared without a trace.

While it was rumored that Bierce had traveled to Mexico and was traveling as an observer in Pancho Villa’s army, there was never any documentation or proof that Bierce was in Mexico (3) at the time of his disappearance (4).

References & Image Credits:
(1) Hoaxes
(2) Historic Mysteries
(3) TSW: Thousands of People Disappear in Mexico Every Year
(4) Wikipedia: Ambrose Bierce
(5) Panco Villa Army

Originally published on

  • Louis Shaw

    O Sally just is against creepy scary stuff, what about the judge? Did he exist?

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Top Secret Editors

Ryan is the founder of Top Secret Writers. He is an IT analyst, blogger, journalist, and a researcher for the truth behind strange stories.
Lori is TSW's editor. Freelance writer and editor for over 17 years, she loves to read and loves fringe science and conspiracy theory.

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Gabrielle is a journalist who finds strange stories the media misses, and enlightens readers about news they never knew existed.
Sally is TSW’s health/environmental expert. As a blogger/organic gardener, she’s investigates critical environmental issues.
Mark Dorr grew up the son of a treasure hunter. His experiences led to working internationally in some surprising situations!
Mark R. Whittington, from Houston, Texas, frequently writes on space, science, political commentary and political culture.

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