1885, April 22: The Farmer Vanishes
On Wednesday, April 22, 1885, a young farmer named Isaac Martin who lived near Salem, Virginia, USA, went out to his fields to work... and went missing. By April 24 newspapers were reporting the fact he was missing, along with two other interesting facts: Martin was the second person to have gone missing near Salem within the previous two weeks, and the number of people who had vanished in the western portion of Virgina state in the previous few months was "remarkable," none with a clue to where they went.
Strange... but not Spooky
I've found this article in two different newspapers dated for April 25, 1885, so the story was in general release for national newspapers to pickup... and, despite what the article implied, there is not enough information to get excited about. The article doesn't mention the names of anyone else who supposedly went missing or any details of the circumstances of Martin's disappearance, which is a pretty unacceptable way to leave the whole situation. Given what little is told, it's perfectly possible that Martin simply walked to the next town and changed his name. As far as the other disappearances go, more evidence is needed -- as in names and dates -- before the article's claims regarding any disappearance other than Martin's can be considered trustworthy.
In 1931, this particular news item was picked up by the well-known author on strange topics, Charles Fort, and included in his book LO!. Not surprisingly, Fort took what was being implied by the news article - that all of these un-detailed disappearances were somehow related - and further implied that Martin disappeared while in his field working, which would make this event possibly supernatural. This idea was picked up and repeated by other authors on strange topics, most notably by John Keel in his 1971 book, Our Haunted Planet, in which he compares Martin's disappearance to the supernatural disappearance story of another farmer named David Lang (see link below for more), stating that both Martin and Lang "dissolved into nothingness."
Unfortunately, the sad truth is that the disappearance of Isaac Martin had ceased to be a mystery well before Charles Fort tried to make it a supernatural incident. On May 26, 1885, a second article went up for general release to national newspapers... Isaac Martin had been found on the previous Saturday, May 23, hanging from a tree not far from his home.
Acknowledgments... and One Odd Thought
Credit where credit is due: the fact that Isaac Martin had actually been found was first revealed by Theo Paijmans in an article he wrote for Fortean Times magazine in 2010, ahich I ran across while re-investigating this account. Paijmans found the story in the Evening Star, newspaper of Washington, DC; and in trying to confirm his source, I discovered that the story had also run in other newspapers on the same day.
One more thought. Three years after Isaac Martin's reported disappearance, the famous American author Ambrose Bierce published an infamous short story called The Difficulty of Crossing a Field, which details the supposedly true story of the supernatural disappearance of a planter named Williamson on a farm. It's possible that the story of Martin's disappearance might have been inspiration for Bierce's short story; to compare for yourself, follow the link below.