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Pied Piper of Hamelin

The Disturbing True Story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin

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When, lo! as they reached the mountain-side, 
A wondrous portal opened wide,
As if a cavern was suddenly hollowed;
And the Piper advanced and the children followed,
And when all were in to the very last,
The door in the mountain-side shut fast.

Robert Browning, The Pied Piper of Hamelin: A Child’s Story

Many are familiar with the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin. Few realise however, that the story is based on real events, which evolved over the years into a fairy tale made to scare children.

For those unfamiliar with the tale, it is set in 1284 in the town of Hamelin, Lower Saxony, Germany. This town was facing a rat infestation, and a piper, dressed in a coat of many coloured, bright cloth, appeared. This piper promised to get rid of the rats in return for a payment, to which the townspeople agreed too. Although the piper got rid of the rats by leading them away with his music, the people of Hamelin reneged on their promise. The furious piper left, vowing revenge. On the 26 th of July of that same year, the piper returned and led the children away, never to be seen again, just as he did the rats. Nevertheless, one or three children were left behind, depending on which version is being told. One of these children was lame, and could not keep up, another was deaf and could not hear the music, while the third one was blind and could not see where he was going.

The earliest known record of this story is from the town of Hamelin itself depicted in a stained glass window created for the church of Hamelin, which dates to around 1300 AD. Although it was destroyed in 1660, several written accounts have survived. The oldest comes from the Lueneburg manuscript (c 1440 – 50), which stated: “In the year of 1284, on the day of Saints John and Paul on June 26, by a piper, clothed in many kinds of colours, 130 children born in Hamelin were seduced, and lost at the place of execution near the koppen.”

The oldest known picture of the Pied Piper

The oldest known picture of the Pied Piper copied from the glass window of the Market Church in Hameln/Hamelin Germany (c.1300-1633). Image source: Wikimedia.

The supposed street where the children were last seen is today called Bungelosenstrasse (street without drums), as no one is allowed to play music or dance there. Incidentally, it is said that the rats were absent from earlier accounts, and only added to the story around the middle of the 16 th century. Moreover, the stained glass window and other primary written sources do not speak of the plague of rats.

If the children’s disappearance was not an act of revenge, then what was its cause? There have been numerous theories trying to explain what happened to the children of Hamelin. For instance, one theory suggests that the children died of some natural causes, and that the Pied Piper was the personification of Death. By associating the rats with the Black Death , it has been suggested that the children were victims of this plague. Yet, the Black Death was most severe in Europe between 1348 and 1350, more than half a century after the event in Hamelin. Another theory suggests that the children were actually sent away by their parents, due to the extreme poverty that they were living in. Yet another theory speculates that the children were participants of a doomed ‘Children’s Crusade’, and might have ended up in modern day Romania, or that the departure of Hamelin's children is tied to the Ostsiedlung, in which a number of Germans left their homes to colonize Eastern Europe. One of the darker theories even proposes that the Pied Piper was actually a paedophile who crept into the town of Hamelin to abduct children during their sleep.

One of the darker themed representations of the Pied Piper of Hamelin

One of the darker themed representations of the Pied Piper of Hamelin. Credit: Lui-Gon-Jinn

Historical records suggest that the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin was a real event that took place. Nevertheless, the transmission of this story undoubtedly evolved and changed over the centuries, although to what extent is unknown, and the mystery of what really happened to those children has never been solved. The story also raises the question, if the Pied Piper of Hamelin was based on reality, how much truth is there in other fairy tales that we were told as children?

Featured image: An illustration of the Pied Piper of Hamelin . Credit: Monlster

By Ḏḥwty

References

Anderson, D., 2012. The Pied Piper of Hamelin: The facts behind the fairy tale. [Online]
Available at: http://www.examiner.com/article/the-pied-piper-of-hamelin-the-facts-behind-the-fairy-tale

Ashliman, D. L., 2013. The Pied Piper of Hameln and related legends from other towns. [Online]
Available at: http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/hameln.html

Cuervo, M. J. P., 2010. The Lost Children of Hamelin. [Online]
Available at: http://www.forteantimes.com/features/articles/3805/the_lost_children_of_hamelin.html

Dennis, 2011. The Truth Behind the Legend of the Pied Piper. [Online]
Available at: http://www.topsecretwriters.com/2011/01/the-truth-behind-the-legend-of-the-pied-piper/

Foster, N., 2014. Is the Pied Piper of Hamelin Based on an Actual Event?. [Online]
Available at: http://www.wisegeek.com/is-the-pied-piper-of-hamelin-based-on-an-actual-event.htm

McGarth, J., 2014. Was there really a pied piper of Hamelin?. [Online]
Available at: http://history.howstuffworks.com/history-vs-myth/pied-piper.htm

Pearson, L., 2005. On the trail of the real Pied Piper. [Online]
Available at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/4277707.stm

Wikipedia, 2014. Pied Piper of Hamelin. [Online]
Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pied_Piper_of_Hamelin

Comments

Moonsong's picture

I have always been fascinated by the origins of fairytales. Many writers and psychologists claim that the basis for every fairytale are popular psychological fears and archetypes. Here there are definitely echoes of Jung’s theories. However I personally believe that there is at least a kernel of truth in each story. At the time, the normal people hardly knew how to read and write, and stories were the only way they had of relating events and passing them on to future generations. Stories where the way they told their history to their children, the way they taught them to be cautious and about the facts of life. In this case, they even had a commemorating window about the event, which is just proof that it actually happened.

 

- Moonsong
--------------------------------------------
A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world ~ Oscar Wilde

That's so intriguing! I do remember hearing something about the appearance of a mysterious stranger giving hope in that mine collapse & then disappearing. Would you mind sharing what you've found about this individual's repeated appearances around the world? Or at least point me in a good direction for search terms to find out more? Thank you! :)

Its very interesting Tsurugi, and your last paragraph is the exact same thing I thought when I discovered Medusa in almost ALL cultures. Check out the Ancient origins Treasures of Lord Sipan

and check out my collection of different cultures using Medusa. lambdawaw imgur homepage

But why vampire? Is it to do with the tick? (they say spider, I say rubbish) And Ticks carry spirochetes.. another parasite:?

Tsurugi's picture

I've been collecting stories involving strangers with strange abilities who wear multi-colored clothing. They show up more often than you'd think, and it continues up to very recently. These days the clothing is referred to as being "plaid", which is very close to "pied" and is indeed of many colors.
These stories all seem to involve the same character even though they span thousands of years. They describe a very tall or very big bearded man with very large almond shaped eyes. He usually has a big toothy grin on his face, but sometimes he is just smiling widely. If he speaks, his voice is booming and powerful. His hair is dark and very curly, but his eyes are light-colored, perhaps ice-blue or grey. They are said to be hypnotic or mesmerizing. He does not seem to be evil, in fact he usually does good things, but nevertheless people report that he has a powerful aura or presence that scares them. He is often seen in places that should have been impossible for him to reach, and the circumstances in which he appears often have esoteric numbers associated with them.

The most recent account I have found of this...entity (?)...is the collapse of the Copiapo coal mine in Chile, which trapped 33 miners deep underground for ten weeks. When they were eventually rescued, many of them reported that they had been confident they would be rescued because a strange man wearing a plaid shirt appeared amongst them soon after the collapse, he calmed them down and assured them they would live to see the sun again if they kept their wits and rationed their food and water, because rescue efforts were already under way. After saying this, he turned and walked through a door in the stone wall that disappeared when he closed it. Sound familiar?
That was in 2010.

So yeah....I dunno what it means, but I do find it hard to believe people from different cultures and times all over the world happen to be making up stuff and putting plaid-wearing bearded dudes in their stories.

Patricia Goodwin's picture

Fascinating article and comments! I realized, too, that there may not have been as many children as the illustrations show. In a small village, maybe a dozen. Yes, people had a lot more children in those days, but not many survived. Fewer children would make the story more plausible, though not any less horrifying. I was also frightened by this tale, way over in the U.S., so I can only imagine how scary it was for children living in the area now! The many colored clothing also reminds me of the villain clown of Stephen King’s “It” and It’s precurser, the derelict clown in Willa Cather’s “The Song of the Lark” both of whom killed children in the town. A timeless terror!

   

Patricia Goodwin

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