The Disappearance of David Lang was a strange disappearance that allegedly happened on September 23, 1880, near Gallatin, Tennessee.
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. (Hoaxes.org)
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.”
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. (Hoaxes.org)