Collections of miscellaneous strange writings from around the web

Ambrose Bierce and the Disappearance of David Lang

ambrose bierce

There once was a man named David, he loved his family so.  They lived on a farm in Tennessee, in eighteen hundred eighty.  One day while his daughters played nearby and his wife watched from her swing, David walked across the field and vanished without a word.

That’s the gist of the story, though I admit to having taken some artistic liberty with the wording (I’m no poet), but even my version offers pretty much the same amount of detail to the original.  The man in question was David Lang, and he did indeed vanish, or so the story goes.  It’s said that he took a stroll through the field next to his family home, while his wife and children watched from the yard, and after only a few steps he simply disappeared without a trace, right in front of their eyes.  This, apparently, was also witnessed by two men who happened to be passing by the farm in a buggy at the time.  The full version of the tale says that an exhaustive search was undertaken to find the poor vanished soul, but to no avail.  David Lang was never heard from again.

If that sounds familiar to you, it might be because American journalist, satirist, and short story author Ambrose Bierce wrote an almost identical tale calledThe Difficulty of Crossing a Field.  If you judge books by their cover, you may have overlooked that title.  That’s a short story that first appeared in the San Francisco Examiner in 1888, and later appeared in some versions of Bierce’s ‘Can Such Things Be?’ collection, but it soon took on a life of its own.

Of course, with stories like this, of this age, it can be exceedingly difficult to track down who exactly said what and when.  We know, because of his relative fame, that Bierce did write The Difficulty of Crossing a Field sometime in the late 19th century, which detailed the disappearance – in very much the same way – of a plantation owner named Williamson from Alabama, but was he the first to write it?  Was he drawing on actual events as inspiration, changing names and locations to protect the innocent, as it were?

The tale of David Lang, which differs only in the minute details, was first published in an edition of Fate Magazine in 1953.  That version was penned by novelist Stuart Palmer, who claimed that it was a true accounting, and was in fact the event on which Ambrose Bierce based his story.  Palmer’s version has since been copied into several books relating to strange disappearances, such as Frank Edward’s Stranger than Science (1959).  Since then, the two tales have been intertwined, confused, misattributed and just plain plagiarized many times over.

Why am I telling you all this?  I’m getting to that.

Several researchers have gone to great lengths to confirm or disprove the story of David Lang, and it seems that no such man ever existed.  There are no census records for a man of that name in Gallatin, Tennessee (where the story takes place) in that era, nor of his family.  No newspaper articles have ever been found discussing or referring to the incident, and no correspondence of any kind has been seen.  This doesn’t mean that David Lang didn’t exist, he very well could have.  Records get lost all the time, even now.  It also doesn’t mean the incident never happened.  I just means that we can’t confirm it.

Unfortunately, we’ll never know what happened, but that hasn’t stopped people from speculating based on the little we do know.  And I’m about to do the same.

There’s something you should know about Ambrose Bierce; his name is inexorably connected to the concept of strange disappearances, for more than one reason.  Aside from the fact that he wrote about people vanishing into thin air on more than a few occasions – An Unfinished Race comes to mind, which features the odd disappearance of James Worson, who, while running a foot race, simply blinked out of existence right before the eyes of several other men – Bierce himself disappeared without a trace while in Mexico in 1914, never to be heard from again.

It’s a strange business, all of it, but things do get stranger.

Did you know that The Difficulty of Crossing a Field has been adapted as an opera?  It has!  I’ve not had a chance to experience it, but I imagine it was quite the show.  It played at the Roulette Intermedium theatre in New York in 2002 and several times since then.  Here’s the strange bit though…the man who wrote the adaptation and produced the show is named David Lang.

david lang

According to his website, David Lang, the current, is a Pulitzer Prize winning composer and at one time held the Debs Composer’s Chair at Carnegie Hall.  By all accounts he is a brilliant musician and were he named anything else, no one would ever question his involvement.

But since he is named David Lang, I can’t help but let my imagination run a little bit.  What if…?  And hear me out.  What if, the original David Lang really did exist, and really did disappear as the story suggests?  If it were true we’d have to consider where, exactly, Mr. Lang went when he disappeared.

Despite the relatively shallow depth of our knowledge in the realms of time travel and teleportation (yes, both are theoretically possible, given certain caveats), it could be said that it is conceivable that the man, David Lang, who disappeared from a field in Tennessee a hundred years ago, is also the man, David Lang, who now works to retell the story of his own mysterious demise through Ambrose Bierce’s tale The Difficulty of Crossing a Field.

OK, yes, I can already hear you pounding your keyboard, typing out a comment to tell me how deluded and credulous I am.  The name David Lang is, arguably, a very common name, and yes, strange coincidences happen all the time, some stranger than this.  But even if all I’ve done here is point out a strange coincidence that inspires some of you to add Ambrose Bierce to your reading list and David Lang to your playlist, then this was all worth it.  For the record though, I think David Lang is actually a Time Lord.

Love at First Fort? Kreskin's Supernatural Dating Service

Has your love for things that go bump in the night turned you into a lone wolf, like an old Skinwalker curse? Would you like to go UFO hunting by the pale moon light with a significant other? Is your camping tent roomy enough for a Squatching date?

If the answer to one of those questions is 'yes' then REJOICE! World renowned mentalist The amazing Kreskin has sought to remedy your perennial singlehood with the very first Supernatural Dating Society™; a place where people interested in paranormal phenomena can seek out their true soul mate, without the fear of ruining the very first date the moment you pull out your phone to show the latest stabilized version of the Patterson-Gimlin footage --yeah, like it's never happened to YOU!

From the dating society's site:


Can I really be suggesting a social dating society directed specifically to people interested in all of the forementioned areas?
Absolutely! Furthermore, these folks would like nothing more than to meet other people with whom they can discuss their thoughts, beliefs, and experiences without compromise...without fear of embarrassment. They want to speak openly to a special someone who will listen, understand their feelings, and react appropriately.

Kreskin recently gave an interview to Cosmopolitan to explain what motivated him to launch the site:

It's very, very interesting. Most people I talked to would like to meet people that they could join and visit places that seem like they're haunted. They don't want to do it by themselves. The other area, which is gigantic, is the UFO area. There are people who would like to go to sites — and listen, I don't happen to believe in alien landings, but some people do. As far as UFOs, I talk to too many pilots that have had planes tracked; they told me stories; they said, "Kreskin, if we went back and made this public, we'd probably lose our jobs because the company would say, 'You're acting crazy,'" or what have you. They want to go with someone they know feels the same way.

I myself am not a mentalist, so I don't know what Kreskin was thinking when he came up with this idea, but didn't he realize people in the paranormal scene are pathologically paranoid? I'm sure many would fear the site is just a CIA front in order to track them and/or feed them disinformation! What happens when you find someone interesting only to find out she's a woman in black??

But even if right now I'm showing MY own personal paranoia, the other problem with dating paranormal buffs is that most of us are strongly opinionated. Imagine spending the whole time during a 'romantic' dinner fighting with your date over why the CARET drones are obvious hoaxes, the ETH doesn't make any sense and Project Serpo is pure nonsense!

If you prefer not to join Kreskin's community but re still looking to find a love interest that shares your love for all things fringe, then I'd then suggest you attend events like the International UFO conference. Granted, the average age of attendees hovers around 60 years-old, but why should that be a problem? --after all, MILFs are still a thing, right?


[H/T to Rick MG, who I hear is looking for a Mothmamacita]

The John Michell Reader (Coming Soon!)

Forteans come and Forteans go, after they spent their entire lives trying to unravel the truth behind challenging mysteries. But with any luck their thoughts and wisdom can be preserved, benefitting future generations of consensus dissenters.

Such is the case of John Michell (1933-2009), a true counter-cultural iconoclast of the 1960's, who left behind a great deal of books and essays focusing on a wide range of 'heretical topics': From sacred geometry, earth mysteries, geomancy, gematria, archaeoastronomy, metrology, euphonics, simulacra, sacred sites, faeries, flying saucers and even the authorship of Shakespeare's plays. Because the sign of a true Fortean is an eclectic curiosity, and always adopting a 'holistic' vision of the world's mysteries.

Our friends of Inner Traditions will soon release a compendium of Michell's works, curated by Joscelyn Godwin, who aside from his Fortean interests is also a composer and musicologist. Here's an excerpt from his introduction to The John Michell Reader:

It is not too much to say that John Michell was a prophet. Prophets do not foretell the future, so much as warn what may come to pass if events continue on their present course. Nowadays this is so blindingly obvious that we hardly need prophets to tell it to us. But there is a rarer prophetic gift, which is the seeing of forms in what Plato called "The World of Ideas" —not the imaginary ideas of men and women, but the divine or daemonic ideas after which the material world is formed. Exekiel saw the Chariot of the Most High; John the Divine saw the New Jerusalem; Mohammed in his night-journey passed through the planetary spheres and met the other prophets of his lineage. Such visions may be warnigs too, but they also inspire confidence in the meaning and goodness of the cosmos; they enable us to imagine Paradise here and now, and to adjust our lives in harmony with it.

Since the publication of the New Jerusalem canon in 1971, a prophetic vision of the latter kind was the foundation of all of John Michell's writing, and his efforts were bent on bringing about its new descent as a source of joy, sanity, and sacred order in the world. These little essays were like the foam thrown off by the great wave of creative energy set in motion by this discovery, which Michell characterised, in all humility, as a revelation.


A Dwarf and a Giant in One Lifetime

Adam Rainer

A fascinating post over at The Chirurgeon's Apprentice on Adam Rainer, the only man in history to be classified as both a dwarf as well as a giant:

Adam Rainer was born in Graz, Austria to average-sized parents in 1899. When WW1 broke out, Rainer tried to enlist in the army, but at 4’6.3’’ inches tall, he was deemed too short and weak. A year later, Rainer tried again, and although he had grown a full 2 inches, the army rejected him once more on the basis of his height. Standing 4’8.3’’ inches tall at the age of 19, Rainer was considered a dwarf, being nearly 2 inches below the cut-off (4’10’’).

...At the age of 21, all this changed. Rainer suddenly began growing at an alarming pace. Over the next decade, he grew from just under 4’10’’ to a shocking 7’1". He died, aged 51, measuring 7’8" – though some newspapers reported his height as 7’10”.

Link: World’s Littlest Giant: The Curious Case of Adam Rainer

The Enduring Mystery of the Naga Fireballs

Naga Fireballs

Dragon fire, swamp gas, earth lights or human hoaxing? The Naga fireballs - mysterious lights that rise from the Mekong river in Thailand in late October each year - remain a hotly debated area of Forteana. Unfortunately, the actual history of the phenomenon remains shrouded in doubt, and the huge festival (and accompanying fireworks) that surrounds the yearly manifestation of the fireballs makes it difficult to study it in any great detail.

Australian ufologist Bill Chalker attended the Naga Fireball festival in 2006, and on his blog he's recently posted some of his thoughts as well as some videos he took during his visit:

I went to Nong Khai and Phon Phisai where the spectacular Naga light fireball festival was in full swing on the Mekong river looking towards Laos. I was in Phon Phisai on Saturday night October 7 for the anticipated fireball display. The human part of the light show - fireworks, rockets, large fire balloons, fireboats etc - was in great evidence, but when the Naga fireballs started emerging, they were strikingly different to the easily discernible human displays - very straight vertical flights out of river to a great height and then disappearing after a few seconds. Each appearance was greeted with a huge roar from the thousands of people lining the river at every vantage point along the Mekong.

This phenomenon has a tremendous social and human dimension and while it is tempting to try to explain the lights, however correctly or incorrectly- planted "rockets", "submarine" firings, Naga Dragon speaking - they all seem to fall short of entirely convincing explanations. The UFO researcher in me calls for an explanation, and I have to wonder about the presence of the manned fireboats plying the river prior to the appearance of the Naga lights, but from my observations it seems difficult to see how they do it and what kind of item is utilised, given nothing seemed to be at the localities around the various exit points in the river for some time either side of each Naga light appearance. The emotional response to these lights on site is to inevitably get caught up in the chaotic flow of the evening events. It is easy to get caught up in the moment and loose objectivity. Perhaps thats why they write books like "Mad about the Mekong". It is a great area full of extraordinary sights and experience, not the least of them being the Naga Light show during the full moon glow over the river.

I saw the lights about 8 times coming out of the river. It was a great day and night.

Visit Bill's blog The Oz Files to view all of the videos and his thoughts on the phenomenon.

Link: The Mystery and Allure of the Naga Light Festival

The Fairy Faith Persists in the Modern World

What sort of crazy people still talk about 'the fairy faith' in this modern, rational world? We do! And also the people in this fascinating exploration of the persistent belief in the fée, Sidhe, Gentry, Good Folk, and so on (the folkloric kind of fairy, not the Disney kind...mostly).

Goes especially well with our new reprint of Jacques Vallee's classic Passport to Magonia: From folklore to flying saucers...

A Fortean Feast with Joshua Cutchin

In case you haven't done so already, I encourage you to head over to Mysterious Universe and listen to their latest podcast, which features a fascinating conversation with Joshua Cutchin, a guy who's been researching an all too-neglected aspect in the annals of Forteana: The exchange of food stuffs with humanoid entities.

I first learned of Joshua through my Cosmic Compadre, Micah Hanks, who had him as a guest on The Gralien Report some time ago. Many of the things he said in that radio show resonated with my own views re. the UFO phenomenon, and from there we started to exchange e-mails and became fast friends. Joshua asked me for my opinion in his investigations on what he calls 'Entity food' and I was more than delighted to do so, mainly because I found in him a true Fortean in every sense of the word; like Micah and myself, he's not afraid of dipping his fingers into fields that are often considered to be as separate as oil and water. But as any decent chef would tell you, it is when you dare to mix the 'unmixable' that new flavors and textures are discovered --and if you doubt me, then I bet you'd never tasted a good mole.

From Joe Simonton's cardboard-tasting pancakes, to the Celtic taboos which admonished not to taste any food and drink in Fairyland, I'm sure that Grailers will find Joshua and his research a real treat.

(And in case you happen to have a good personal experience to share for his still-to-be-published book, you can contact him at

Bon Appetit!

PGA Golfer Billy Horschel, 2014 Fed-Ex Cup Champion, Believes in Bigfoot and UFOs

Billy Horschel, Pro Golfer and Believer in Bigfoot and UFOs

How's September working out for you? It's been a pretty good month for professional golfer Billy Horschel: at the start of the month, he finished second in the PGA Tour's Deutsche Bank Championship, followed it up a week later with a win in the BMW Championship, and the following week (this weekend just past), he won the Tour Championship, pocketing a bonus $10 million on top of his other multi-million dollar prize winnings. Oh, and if that wasn't enough, two days later he became a dad for the first time! Not a bad 16 day stretch by anyone's standards...

But why is this getting posted on the Grail, I hear you ask? Well, though I'm a keen golfer, the main reason is that, in perusing Billy's PGA Tour profile page, I was surprised to see that he lists being "a believer in Bigfoot and UFOs". We're a bit more partial here to an interested agnosticism rather than belief (and let's not mention the Twilight book series part of the profile), but I think we can safely claim PGA Tour champion Billy Horschel as a member of the tribe of the weird. Hell, the guy even has precognitive dreams:

When Billy Horschel was 10 years old he had a dream that he was going to get hit in the eye playing baseball. It came true. When he was in college, he dreamt that he would marry his then-girlfriend Brittany and later did. Sunday at East Lake, he lived out another premonition. After dreaming earlier this year that he would hoist the FedExCup trophy, Horschel shot a 2-under 68 to win the TOUR Championship by Coca-Cola by three strokes over Rory McIlroy and Jim Furyk and claim the FedExCup and its $10 million bonus.

...“There's certain things throughout my life that have come true, and I've sort of seen it beforehand,” Horschel said. “I woke up and I wasn't sure if it was real or not because it was very faint, but I remember holding up the FedExCup trophy, and as the season went along, I never thought about it, but I just said, 'Well, maybe it was just a dream that wasn't real.'”

Billy, consider this an honorary Grail membership (because it felt like your month so far was lacking something, right?!).

The Origin of 'A Glitch in the Matrix': Philip K. Dick Discusses Déjà Vu and Living in a Simulation, in 1977

The Matrix

The 1999 blockbuster The Matrix has provided plenty of great lines to popular culture, from "buckle your seatbelt Dorothy" to "dodge this". But perhaps one of the most enduring has been "a glitch in the Matrix", referring to the scene in which Neo (Keanu Reeves) experiences déjà vu with a black cat. His companions, more experienced in the computer-simulated reality of the Matrix, are put on edge by this, explaining to him that "déjà vu is usually a glitch in the Matrix, it happens when they change something".

The terms "a glitch in the Matrix" is now used often when people experience something distinctly weird - so much so, that it's even the official name of a subreddit devoted to Fortean weirdness.

The Matrix draws from a deep well of influences, starting with the 17th century philosopher René Descartes and ending with a melting pot of popular modern culture, including Grant Morrison's The Invisibles, William Gibson's Neuromancer, Mamoru Oshii's Ghost in the Shell and the collected works of Philip K. Dick. And it is the latter who seems to have been the origin of the idea that "déjà vu is usually a glitch in the Matrix". At a 1977 appearance at the Metz Science Fiction Convention in France, Dick told of his own strange experiences, including recovered memories and déjà vu - and the personal revelation that these experiences were evidence of alternative universes:

We are living in a computer-programmed reality, and the only clue we have to it is when some variable is changed, and some alteration in our reality occurs. We would have the overwhelming impression that we were re-living the present - déjà vu - perhaps in precisely the same way: hearing the same words, saying the same words. I submit that these impressions are valid and significant, and I will even say this: such an impression is a clue, that in some past time-point, a variable was changed - re-programmed as it were - and that because of this, an alternative world branched off.

Were the Wachowski siblings, who wrote the movie, aware of Dick's comments? Or is the similarity between these ideas just one more example of a 'glitch in the Matrix'...?

The Mystery of Death Valley's "Wandering Stones" Has Finally Been Solved

Wandering Stone of Death Valley, by Arno Goudol (Creative Comomons Licence)

A long-standing Fortean mystery has been the 'wandering stones' of Racetrack Playa in Death Valley, California. It might be time to cross this one off the list though:

Ending a half-century of geological speculation, scientists have finally seen the process that causes rocks to move atop Racetrack Playa, a desert lake bed in the mountains above Death Valley, California. Researchers watched a pond freeze atop the playa, then break apart into sheets of ice that — blown by wind — shoved rocks across the lake bed.

...The researchers began studying the region in 2011, setting up a weather station and time-lapse cameras and dropping off rocks loaded with Global Positioning System (GPS) trackers. The rocks were designed to start recording their position and speed as soon as something made them move.

...When the researchers travelled to the playa in December 2013 to check instruments and change batteries, they found a huge ice-encrusted pond covering about one-third of the 4.5-kilometre-long playa. After several days of camping, they decided to sit above the southern end of the playa on the morning of 20 December. “It was a beautiful sunny day, and there began to be rippled melt pools in front of us,” Richard Norris says. “At 11:37 a.m., very abruptly, there was a pop-pop-crackle all over the place in front of us — and I said to my cousin, ‘This is it.’ ”

They watched as the ice began moving past the rocks, mostly breaking apart but also shoving them gently...when the ice melted away that afternoon, they saw freshly formed trails left behind by more than 60 moving rocks.

The following month, the research team even managed to capture video of the phenomenon occurring:

Whether this is the complete explanation of the wandering stones phenomenon is still unknown - there have been reports of the stones moving during summer months as well, when it's unlikely that ice could form on the playa, leading previous researchers to note that ice "is not a required component or precondition for sliding rock activity".

So while the mystery seems to have largely been solved, there's still a few loose ends that might need cleaning up.

Link: 'Wandering stones' of Death Valley explained