Movable Mysteries: Can some people suddenly vanish from sight by ceasing to exist?


Orion Williamson was a farmer near Selma, Alabama. One day in July 1854 he got up from his chair on the farmhouse porch and set out across a field to bring his horses in from the pasture. His wife and child watched from the porch, and on the far side of the field two neighbors riding by waved to him. Before their very eyes, Williamson vanished.



The witnesses searched the field but found no hole in the ground and no trace of Williamson. Searchers came from town, and bloodhounds nosed about, but to no avail. Journalists came, too, including the young Ambrose Bierce, who wrote of the incident in the story “The Difficulty of Crossing a Field.”


On September 23, 1880, the Williamson disappearance was repeated: David Lang, a farmer living near Gallatin, Tennessee, set out across the field in front of his house and vanished while in the full view of his wife. His disappearance was also witnessed by two arriving visitors (Judge August Peck from Gallatin and the judge’s brother-in-law), who had just waved to Lang from their buggy. A search of the field revealed no sinkholes or hidden caves.


The Lang story, supposedly related by his daughter years later, appeared in Fate magazine in 1953. It was not until then that the case was researched. A check into the 1880 census records of Sumner County where the Langs lived turned up neither Langs name nor Peck’s. Nor was the farm nor any other evidence found to substantiate the story. Had Bierce’s narrative been appropriated and embroidered with new detail?


A third farmer, Isaac Martin of Salem, Virginia, strode into a field and disappeared, according to the New York Sun ofApril 25, 1885. Whether anyone saw him vanish is unknown.



A nighttime trip to the well for water seemed to be as hazardous as crossing a field, according to three accounts of such errands.


In November 1878,16-year-old Charles Ashmore of Quincy, Illinois, went out into the night with a water bucket. When he did not return after a few minutes, his father and sister went to look for him. They found his footprints clear in fresh snow, leading halfway to the well, where they abruptly stopped.



On Christmas Eve, 1889, 11-year-old Oliver Larch of South Bend, Indiana, went to get water, cried out for help, and vanished.


On Christmas Eve, 1909, 11-year-old Oliver Thomas of Rhayader, Wales, also went into the yard for water and cried out, “Help! Help! They’ve got me.” His footprints ended halfway to the well.



In his anthology of strange disappearances, Into Thin Air, Paul Begg wrote that these incidents “must be duplicate accounts of the same story, although which if any is the original is anyone’s guess.”


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