The Story of David Lang

It started out as an ordinary day.

On September 23, 1880, on a farm near Gallatin, Tennessee, David Lang was walking across the fields of his farm. The area where he was walking was large and flat. There were no trees or stones or fences in the area. Lang’s wife and children were watching him from the house. Two men in a buggy were riding by and also watched Lang as he made his way across the field. Suddenly, in the view of everyone, Lang vanished in mid-step. One moment he was walking and the next moment he was gone.

david lang

Did David Lang mysteriously vanish in 1880?

The first conclusion by those who had been watching him was that he had fallen down a hole in the ground. But searching the area showed no hole or other explanation for his disappearance. Once it seemed that Lang had just vanished without explanation, his wife became hysterical and had to be taken back to the house. Neighbors joined the search but there was no sign of Lang. Eventually the searches were called off and Lang was left as lost.

One year later, Lang’s daughter stood in the spot where Lang had vanished and called out to her father several times. Not getting a response, she was turning to go back to the house when she heard a faint cry for help in her father’s voice. She ran and got her mother who went to the spot and also heard her husband’s voice. They returned the following day and once again heard Lang calling for help, although the cry was fainter. After several days the voice was too faint to hear and it was never heard again.

One source says that in the spot where David Lang vanished the grass grew unnaturally well, although no insects would go near it and livestock refused to graze there. Other sources report the exact opposite — grass never grew there but it would grow lush all around the area.

The story may have informally circulated in the first half of the 20th century, but it was brought to the forefront in an article in the July, 1953, issue of Fate magazine. The story allegedly contained an interview with Lang’s daughter.

Many later researchers believe the entire story to be a fiction. In census (and other) records there is no listing for a Lang family living in the area in 1880. The story may have been sparked by some unexplainable event or may have, as many researchers claim, been lifted from a short story by American author Ambrose Bierce who, coincidentally, disappeared without a trace in 1913.

Castle of Spirits, pulled 4/11/11
Wallechinsky, David & Irving Wallace, “The People’s Almanac”
The Anomalist, No. 7, Winter 1998/99

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Doug MacGowan

Doug MacGowan lives on the San Francisco peninsula with his wife, a dog, and far too many cats. He has published five books on the topic of historic true crime. In his free time he enjoys reading.

Historic Mysteries