By Kate Gavino

(Credit: Image from Wikimedia Commons; used with public domain license)

Is there a creepier fairy tale than “The Pied Piper of Hamelin?” In case you weren’t terrified by it as a child, here’s the basic rundown: A town is overrun with rats and hires a rat-catcher to get rid of them. He succeeds by playing a pipe that lures all of the vermin into the river, but the mayor refuses to pay him the amount promised. To exact revenge, the piper returns to the town and plays his pipe again, this time attracting all of the town’s children. He lures them into a cave, and they are never seen again. Moral of the story? Always sign a contract before taking a job.

(Credit: Image from Baylor University)

If that’s not disturbing enough, get this: The legend is based on actual events. At Baylor University in Waco, Texas, there is a stained glass window of the Pied Piper that reads, “On the day of John and Paul 130 children in Hamelin went to Calvary and were brought through all kinds of danger to the Koppen mountain and lost.” The window is a reproduction of an original that dates back to 14th century. Indeed, 130 children disappeared from the German village Hamelin, but how? The reason has been disputed for centuries.

One of the most popular theories paints the Pied Piper as a symbol for the Bubonic Plague, which was first introduced into Europe through infected rats. Another hypothesis says he represents the Children’s Crusade, the disastrous attempt to remove Muslims from Israel. The most boring guess? They went to Poland.

Either way, the Pied Piper remains a sinister character, and the fact that he was possibly real puts him somewhere on the freaky spectrum between It and Zeke the Plumber. In honor of the legend, July 22 is known as Rat Catcher’s Day, so celebrate today by locking your children indoors and sound-proofing your home.