Rat Catcher's Day Eludes Pest Control Industry

John Roach
for National Geographic News
Updated July 21, 2004

Mothers, fathers, secretaries, and teachers all have a special day of the year set aside just for them. Calendars remind us of the occasions in time to send our parents cards, treat our secretaries to lunch, or bring our teachers an apple.

So what is one supposed to do tomorrow on rat catcher's day?

Faced with the question, Sue Porter, the associate publisher and executive editor of the Cleveland, Ohio-based Pest Control magazine, which keeps tabs on the industry of things like catching rats, said, "I've never heard of it before."

Similarly, Sara Knilans, a technical representative for Madison, Wisconsin-based Bell Laboratories, which bills itself as "the world leader in rodent control technology," said, "Rat catcher's day is something new to us."

When asked about the day, the gentleman who answered the phone at Liberty Pest Control in Brooklyn, New York, said, "Do me a favor. Stop pulling my leg." He then hung up.

But on those calendars that note a reason to celebrate just about every day of the year, July 22 is often marked as rat catcher's day. (July 21 is national tug-of-war tournament day; July 23 is national vanilla ice cream day.)

To confuse matters, some of these specialized calendars, especially those in non-English speaking European countries, mark June 26 as rat catcher's day.

Both the July 22 and June 26 dates, it turns out, are linked to the legend of the Pied Piper of Hamelin.

German Folktale

In the folktale, a colorfully-dressed stranger arrives in the vermin-infested town of Hamelin, Germany, and for a promised fee lures the town's rats away by playing a tune on his pipe. When the town refuses to pay the stranger for his services, however, the man lures the town's children away, too.

"Almost every version of the Pied Piper story ends with a paragraph saying the people of Hamelin remembered the day when they lost their children, and that they counted the years after the event," said Jonas Kuhn, a linguist at the University of Texas, Austin, who as a hobby maintains a Web site on the Pied Piper of Hamelin.

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