Classic Mystery Legend: The Disappearance of David Lang


On September 23, 1880, David Lang was crossing a field near his home in Sumner County, Tennessee. His wife and two children were watching their father walk across the field. David’s brother-in-law and a local attorney were approaching the home in a horse-drawn buggy. Suddenly, Mrs. Lang sprang from her seat screaming in terror and the two approaching visitors gasped in disbelief. David Lang had just vanished before their eyes.

It sounds like a carefully told story with verifiable witnesses that can easily be checked out, but is it true?

If true, Lang somehow suddenly vanished in an empty field with no trees, boulders, bogs, or abandoned wells.  Neighbors, detectives, and bloodhounds searched the Lang farm for weeks according to the story, but found no trace of Lang.  A survey showed the field to rest on solid limestone, with no caves or sinkholes.  The farm was besieged by reporters and curiosity-seekers, so what really happened?

Here’s one account:

“A German or Austrian savant, Dr. Hern, discussed ‘void places’ in space into which people can fall “and be seen and heard no more.” Mrs. Lang pined away into invalidism, always expecting David’s return. One evening next Spring, Lang’s children saw a circle of stunted grass 15 feet in diameter at the spot where he had disappeared. Sarah Emma, who was 11 years old, called out to her father, and, to their astonishment, the children heard his voice calling faintly for help, eventually fading away. Mrs. Lang also went to the spot a few times in the next few days, called out to him, and heard his faint reply–which finally faded forever. The elderly Sarah Emma Lang described her father’s disappearance in a notarized affidavit.”

Some claim Lang was abducted my an invisible UFO, some claim he slipped into another dimension, and still others claim the story is a hoax.  So what DO we know for sure about this classic mystery story?

We do know that the David Lang story first became popular in the 1950’s when it appeared in the July 1953 issue of Fate magazine.  The story was titled “How Lost Was My Father?”  and the claim was that it was written as a firsthand account of the event as told by his daughter Sarah in an interview with Stuart Palmer in 1931.  

A Nashville, Tennesee librarian by the name of Hershel G. Payne spent many years attempting to confirm the story.  He could find no evidence whatsoever of a Lang family or a Judge August Peck ever living in the area.  He concluded that the tale could have been a journalistic hoax created by a traveling salesman named Joseph M. Mulholland.  Mulholland was well known to have contributed many far-fetched stories to various papers under the pseudonym Orange Blossom.  It is believed that Mulholland based his story on a science fiction story entitled “The Difficulty of Crossing a Field,” by Ambrose Bierce.  The Bierce story was originally intended as a work of fiction.

The last word?

Lang, like many other people who have strangely disappeared, could have slipped into another dimension, or as some people think, possibly picked up by a UFO.  Alternatively, the whole story could be complete fiction – a hoax.  If so, it wouldn’t be the first time, but here’s “the thing”; if the story is simply a hoax it should have been fully debunked by now.  1880 was a long time ago and one thing is certain; they did have newspapers back then.  Why hasn’t anyone in all these years confirmed one way or the other the truth of this story by checking with the newspapers of the day.  Certainly the event would be newsworthy.  If David Lang never existed there would be nothing in the papers, so Why is it that we do not have the next day’s paper as evidence?