June 26

Rat-catcher’s Day


The rat-catcher held out his hand for payment, and Angelina Fuhrmann simply glowered at him.  Disgusting man, his face smeared with grime, his shirt and trousers stained with filth from crawling under houses, setting traps in damp basements.

Nothing like the clean-cut musician the Brothers Grimm and Robert Browning wrote about.  The colorful clothes, the tent-shaped hat on his head…and the sweet-sounding pipe that lured unwanted vermin from Hamelin town.

The rat-catcher of legend used music; the real-life counterpart used snap traps, glue pads, and horrible poisons.

“Pay up for my services,” said the filthy exterminator.  An opportunist, finding his own profession after the floods nearly emptied the cities — washing warm, foul-smelling waters through the streets, bringing a mischief of large rats with each wave.

This man was exploiting the poor survivors in their water-ravaged homes.  Angelina Fuhrmann would not grant him a single penny.

“Pay up,” the man repeated, and she could only think of him as a large rat — a worse vermin than the ones he exterminated.  “Pay up, or I’ll take your children.  I’ll snap them in a trap.  I’ll stick them in a pad of glue.  I’ll feed them my horrible poisons.”

His words reminded Angelina Fuhrmann of the rest of the rat-catcher legend.  When the ungrateful townspeople didn’t pay the Pied Piper his fee, he changed the tune on his pipe and led all the city’s children out of town as punishment.  The people of Hamelin never forgot the day, June 26th, when they lost their youngest citizens.

“My children,” Angelina said, followed by a scornful laugh.  “After the floods, the rats were so plump and plentiful.  They were the only food we could catch.  Once you exterminated the rats, my children all starved.”