Oct 31, 2013

A Strange Thing Happened In The Town Of Hamelin

Illustration from The Pied Piper of Hamelin
Illustration from The Pied Piper of Hamelin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Happy Halloween!  Welcome to the final installment in our '7 Tales in 7 Days' series, celebrating All Hallows' Even.  We hope you have enjoyed the tales up to this point.  We have saved my personal favorite children's folktale for last.

Childish Fears

According to Parents.com, one of the "top 10" fears of young children is being separated from our parents.  The very notion strikes fear in a small child's heart, doesn't it?

 What if you don't come back, you can imagine the child thinking?  It upsets a child to her very core, rocking his sense of security and stability.

Likewise, for parents, losing a child - particularly when the child is taken by a stranger - is a nightmarish agony.  Many report that it is like losing a part of one's self.

Such considerations is why tonight's tale is so terrifying.  Moreover, unlike most other folktales, scholars generally agree that something dreadful happened in the town of Hamelin and which gave rise to the story.

The Pied Piper Of Hamelin - Based On Actual Events?

In 1284, the prosperous town of Hamelin, Germany had a big problem - rats.  Rats were everywhere, in every corner, in every doorway, in every pantry and on every windowsill. While the infestation raged unchecked, a man dressed in brightly-colored garments appeared and promised to rid the town of the vermin.  In exchange, he wanted to be paid. When the mayor agreed, the man played a pipe that lured all of the rats out of the town to a nearby river.  There, the rodents drowned.

Unfortunately, when the Piper asked for the promised payment, the mayor backed out of the deal, refusing to pay.  Enraged, the Piper vowed to return and take something even more precious than the town treasury.

Some time later, he returned to Hamelin.  While the adults attended religious services, the Piper played his pipe once more.  This time, instead of rats, the Piper lured all of the children in the town away.  They were never seen again.

Many Versions, Same Ending

Many versions of the Pied Piper of Hamelin exist, in one form or another, dating back to the 1300s.  There is also a comparatively recent version by the Brothers Grimm, published in 1826.

In one older version, the Piper led the children to a nearby mountain where he either seduced or murdered them.  In another, they drowned in the same nearby river where the Piper had drowned the rats.  In yet another version, the children are whisked away to a neighboring land.

In virtually every version, the children, essentially, disappear without a trace.

The Hamelin Town Records

Strangest of all, however, are the town's own official records.  Dating to 1384, they begin with the cryptic statement, "It is 100 years since our children left."  This bolsters the idea that something caused the Hamelin children to disappear in 1284.

Whether it was the Piper, as such, or something else, however, is not agreed upon.  That mystery has yet to be solved.

Hamelin Today

Today, the town of Hamelin has a population of over 57,000.  Each year, on June 26th (Rat Catcher's Day), the town celebrates the story that put it on the map with a grand festival.  You can learn more about the modern town at its website.


The story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin has been the subject of, or at least mentioned in, numerous books and films.  For those of you interested in this tale, I heartily recommend this excellent Wikipedia article.  It explains the tale's background in fair detail, and also provides links to many modern re-tellings  Another fine article on the subject can be read by following this link.
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