Jul 11, 2014

The Pied Piper of Hamelin

Sometimes it's good to remember that the world is not as simple and uninteresting as we might think. Strange characters pop onto the screen of history and then disappear, leaving stories that last centuries. This is one of them. There's enough truth behind it, at least from historical records, to make us think twice about what happened in Hamelin...

The new multicolored clothing on the stranger made people feel slightly uneasy. The man’s name, Bunting, was a reflection of his attire, the residents of the small Westphalian town were soon to learn. The tall, thin newcomer offered his services to the town council, and they readily accepted. Pest control was a serious problem in 1284 and this fellow Bunting said he could get rid of all the rats in town. Thus the beginning of the legend of the Pied Piper of Hamelin was born. Bunting did lure the rats with his mystical music into drowning in the Weser River, but the townspeople refused to pay him. The Pied Piper decided to collect in another fashion. On St. John’s Day, June 24th, Bunting returned to Hamelin and piped his haunting tune. Soon all one hundred and thirty children were enchanted into following him out of the town and into a cave in the Koppenberg Mountain. The entrance was sealed and the children were trapped forever.

[Some fix the exact date of the exodus on St. John and Paul's Day, June 26, 1284.]

The legend of the Pied Piper of Hamelin is said by some scholars to be based on truth. Others feel the story grew out of the Children’s Crusade of 1212 in which 20,000 young crusaders marched towards the East and were never seen again. Whatever its origin, the tale is a well known one, having been retold in many ways at various times. Robert Browning’s poem, for example, was written in the 1800s, and places the events of the Piper’s last visit to Hamelin on July 22, 1376. The town of Hamelin does exist, and perhaps the sinister character and deeds of Bunting did as well.
The above passage is from my book, Mysterious America, in my "Phantom Clowns" chapter because "Pied Pipers" continue to visit themselves upon the children in the USA and elsewhere.
Illustration by D. Baum.
H/T to C.T.

Read this article at - http://copycateffect.blogspot.com/

The Lost Children of Hamelin

On 26 June, the German town of Hamelin celebrated Rat Catcher's Day. But what really happened there, and who was the mysterious Pied Piper?

Lost Children of Hamelin
Last year, the town of Hamelin in Germany celebrated the 725th anniversary of a macabre event still familiar through children’s fairytales more than seven centuries later. But beyond the musical Rats and the colourful souvenirs and tourist attractions, the town of the Pied Piper is full of references to a real tragedy – one recorded on the walls of the so-called Ratten­fängerhaus, or House of the Piper:

“In the year of 1284, on the day of Saints John and Paul, the 26th of June, 130 child­ren born in Hamelin were seduced by a piper, dressed in all kinds of colours, and lost at the calvary near the koppen.”

The town of Hamelin hasn’t forgotten this loss. The street where, supposedly, the children were last seen is called Bungelosen­strasse: street without drums”. Even so many years after the event, no one is allowed to play music or dance there. Oral tradition preserved and enriched the story until the Brothers Grimm included it in their compil­ation of German legends, Deutsche Sagen (1816–18).

In the Grimms’ version, mediæval Hamelin is hit by a plague of rats. A seemingly hero-like figure appears, in the shape of a mysterious stranger dressed in red and yellow clothes. He promises to rid the town of the vermin, and the townsmen promise him money in exchange. The rat-catcher has a strange, almost supernatural gift: he plays a tune on his pipe that lures the rats into the river Weser, where they all drown. But, blinded by their greed, the townsmen refuse to honour their promise and pay the Piper his fee. The Piper leaves the town, plotting his revenge. When he returns to Hamelin, he wears the attire of a hunter. He plays a melody that hypnotises the children, who follow him to the mountains, never to be seen again.

The cruelty of the denouément strikes us doubly, because it surpasses our expect­ations. What initially looks like a classic ‘Overcoming the Monster’ plot turns into a nightmarish tale of disproportionate revenge. The Piper’s retribution oversteps the boundaries, suggesting society’s ultim­ate taboo: child murder. This twist is so shocking that many versions have been tempered, with the Piper orchestrating the disappearance of the children only to get the money he is owed; the children go back to Hamelin and the townsfolk learn their lesson. Far from simplifying the story, this presents the Piper as a more interesting hero, a complex, modern one – someone who has to challenge the establishment in order to survive in difficult times.

And yet the tale’s elements of greed, revenge and infanticide send us back to the Middle Ages, a violent period of deep contrasts. The legend contains enough material to have inspired the popular and the poetic imagination for centuries – but what really happened on that fateful day in 1284, and who was the mysterious Pied Piper?


The main difficulty when trying to trace the roots of the legend is the lack of primary sources. The earliest surviving reference to the tragedy of Hamelin is a note in a manuscript copy of the Catena Aurea of Heinrich von Herford (c.1370), generally referred to as the Lüneburg Manuscript. According to both this manuscript and the inscription found in the Rattenfängerhaus, the events took place on 26 June 1284.

There are, however, reports of scholars who accessed earlier documents that are now lost. Dutch physician and demon­ologist Johann Weyer mentioned in the fourth edit­ion of his Delusions of the Devil (1577) some of the historical sources that contained mult­iple references to the tragedy of Hamelin:

“These facts are thus written in the annals of Hammel and are religiously guarded in the archives. They are to be read also in the sacred books of the Church, and to be seen in the painted panes of the same; of which fact I am an eyewitness. Besides, as confirmation of the story, the older magist­racy was accustomed to write together on its public documents: ‘in the year of Christ and in that of the going out of the children’, etc.” [1]

Weyer was probably referring to the book of statutes of Hamelin, Der Donat, (c.1351), or to a collection of local historical documents called the Brade. The Market Church in Hamelin exhibited another piece of the puzzle, a glass window dating from the 1300s depicting the stranger dressed in multicoloured clothes taking away a crowd of children dressed in white. The window was destroyed in 1660, but it inspired a 1592 watercolour by Augustin Von Moersperg that preserves its essence and represents the main geographical elements of the legend – the town, the river Weser, and the mountain, with a dark entrance to a cave.

Read the rest of this article at - http://www.forteantimes.com/features/articles/3805/the_lost_children_of_hamelin.html