Sunday, 6 April 2008

The Vanishing Point

There is an interesting thread going on at ATS right now, which naturally reminded me of a popular »time slip« story, known in several variants.
The most famous one speaks of a David Lang of Gallatin, Tennessee.
According to the story, on September 23, 1880, Lang was walking across the grounds of his farm to meet Judge August Peck who was approaching his farm in a horse and buggy. Lang's wife, Chanel, was supposedly watching him walk towards the judge. And then, the story goes, Lang vanished mid-step - in full view of the judge, his wife, the two children, and the judge's brother-in-law. The ground was searched in case he had fallen into a concealed hole, but no hole - or any trace of Lang - was found.

Some variants of the story add that Lang's children later called out to him, and heard a "disembodied voice calling as if from a great distance".

Personally, I find much more interesting and compelling the version that says that the spot where he had vanished was later found to be overgrown with exceptionally lush green grass: a sign that insects would not touch it.

However, research shows that the "David Lang" story probably originated as an article, "How Lost Was My Father?" published by journalist Stuart Palmer in Fate magazine (nro. 40, July 1953, pp. 75-85). Palmer claimed that he had been told the story by Lang's daughter. But no trace of David Lang or his family, including his apparent daughter, was ever found in any records.

The entire article was later determined to be a hoax likely inspired by the short story "The Difficulties of Crossing a Field" by Ambrose Bierce, collected in his book Can Such Things Be? (1909). Funnily enough, Bierce himself vanished without a trace after December 26, 1913. (It is very likely - but not firmly established - that he was shot by Mexican revolutionaries led by Pancho Villa.)

The story - as a similar one, involving a Oliver Larch (or Lurch, or Lerch) from Indiana - has since become a popular urban legend.

However, there is something about »urban legends« that self-proclaimed skeptics (and let's not even mention the so-called »debunkers« - a name that is as obnoxious and vulgar as the mentality of some of the individuals who fall into this category) seem to ignore: many legends, including »urban« ones, bespeak a wider reality, a wider experience of a phenomenon. In other words, even if the specific data – people's names, places, time of the occurrence – aren't factual, certain stories grow into »legends« because people have the actual or instinctive, intuitive experience that such things are indeed possible and have occurred.

Furthermore, there are disappearances that seem perfectly genuine – and they haven't been solved.
One such story speaks of a Mr. James Telford (also reported as "Tedford" and "Tetford"), an ex-soldier who lived in the Soldier's Home in Bennington, Vermont, in the USA.
He is supposed to have been fiercely against »airy fairy« stories and allegedly did not believe in anything »supernatural«. (Just how people knew this – and who were they - I don't know, although I assume this piece of information came from his relatives. I have yet to find any direct testimony.)

According to his family, on December 1, 1949, Mr. Telford, age 65, was on a bus, returning home from Saint Albans, Vermont. There were 14 other passengers on the bus. They are said to have all testified to seeing him on the bus, asleep in his seat. But when the bus reached Bennington, Telford was nowhere to be found. His luggage and bus timetable were found on the bus, testifying to his presence (or somebody's who had his belongings, at any rate). But Mr. Telford himself was not found – ever. It was as if he had vanished into thin air.

I've always thought that his disappearance might have been explained somehow, because the sad fact is that older people tend to become less »visible« to the world. In other words, people pay much less attention to older people and – perhaps – even tend to expect (or discount) certain patterns of behaviour based on a stereotypical perception of the elderly.

Still, it does sound odd that none, not one, of the 14 alleged witnesses would have noticed his getting off the bus earlier – or missing it altogether (after putting his luggage on the bus) - if that were the case. Besides, that still wouldn't explain why Mr. Telford was not found later.

I have searched the Familysearch website for the mysterious Mr. Telford (also the variants "Tedford" and "Tetford"), but found nothing relevant (although there was in Vermont a Mr. James Telfer who, judging by his age, could have been our Mr. Telford's father.)
However, this doesn't mean much. First of all, the name could've been distorted or misspelled – either in the story (very likely) or in the filed documents themselves (oh yes – it happens much more often than you might think). I even searched for »Thetford« – again, found nothing – but then gave it a rest, because, being a genealogist myself, I knew how futile such a search could be.

What makes this story even more compelling is the eerie fact that it belongs to a seeming cluster of disappearances centered in the area of Bennington, Vermont. They happened in the late 1940s and early 1950s - and, so it seems, only in autumn/winter time.
But more on that next time.

Into thin air?
Vanished in Vermont


Don Jeffries said...

I'm Donald Jeffries, author of the 2007 sci-fi novel "The Unreals." I've long been fascinated with unexplained disappearances, and my book revolves the subject. If you're interested, here's a link to my book's Amazon page:

Myosotis said...

Thank you very much for stopping by. :)

I am sure many of our readers will be very interested in your book.

Anonymous said...

very nice postThank you!

Myosotis said...

Thank you. :)