Tomorrow is the 733rd anniversary (June 26, 1284) of the missing children from Hamelin a small city in what is today the German state of Lower Saxony.
According to the Brothers Grimm, writing in 1817, Hamelin was hit by a plague of rats and a hero-like figure shows up, dressed like a court jester. He told the townsfolk he could can get rid of the rats, but at a price. The townspeople agreed, the Pied Piper played a strange tune on his pipe, and all the rats were lured into the Weser River, where they promptly drowned.
But the townspeople refuse to pay their debt. `
What's the Pied Piper to do? He cannot fight an entire town!
And so he plots his revenge, returning to Hamelin wearing the attire of a hunter. This time he plays a melody that hypnotizes the town's 130 children, who follow him into the mountains, never to be seen again.
That something horrible happened in Hamelin is almost assured. What it was is still being debated.
Some speculate that it might have been a plague, borne by the rats, but the plague would not just impact children, and the rats seem to been a much-later addition to the story which, initially had no mention of rats at all; just of children being "piped" into the woods and disappearing.
A more likely explanation is that the story is a corrupted and expanded story of what happened to Hamelin children recruited for a Children’s Crusade that took place about 70 years earlier than the date given.
The first Children’s Crusade was led by a child shepherd by the name of Nicholas, who hailed from near Cologne, Germany. Nicholas preached that the purity of children would allow them to conquer the Holy Land. Scores of thousands of children joined up with him and followed him west. Many ending up sick and starving, or were captured and sold into slavery into North Africa, or abandoned the pilgrimage and settled in towns and cities and countries along the way.
One thing seems clear: Hamelin never saw its children again.