The strange case of young William Williams of Hanalei

One day in November 1903, a most peculiar incident of sleepwalking, also known as somnambulism — a behavioral disorder in which an individual walks about and usually performs other actions while asleep — occurred near Hanalei, Kauai, involving 12-year-old Hanalei resident William Williams.

Early that morning, Williams, while deeply asleep, got up from bed at home and hiked into the forest mauka of Hanalei, taking with him three books and a long knife, apparently with some idea in mind of finding a quiet spot, where he could cut fresh ferns to relax upon in comfort and read.

When he’d not returned home before noon, his parents became anxious and organized a search for him, which resulted in him being found some time later that day by a Native Hawaiian man, who discovered him lying asleep beside a boulder in rough terrain on a steep hillside.

The man then called out to awaken him, and at the same time to announce to other searchers that he’d found him, whereupon Williams reacted by running off toward a tall coconut tree, about a hundred yards away.

Williams then climbed that 40- to 50-foot-tall tree to the very top, holding his books under his arm and his knife in one hand — an amazing feat.

He did not seem aware of, nor would he respond, when the man again called out to him, and when the man climbed up the tree to reach him, Williams kept him at bay with his knife.

Finally though, he did come down in a somnolent condition from which he did not fully recover until after he’d been taken home and put to bed.

Surprisingly, Williams, who would later have only a dim consciousness of his experience, had never before been known to have climbed even a single coconut tree.


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