On September 10th, 1978, workers at a coal mine in the factory town of Freiburg, Germany showed up for what they thought would be another banal day of working far underground. But what they saw standing between them and their wares was a nightmare darker then the deepest and most isolated shaft.
A black figure stood at the mouth of the mine's entrance. From what the workers could see in the rationed early morning light, the form seemed to be wrapped in some sort of cloak or membrane. Perplexed, the miners decided to approach the enigma. But that's when the real horror began.
Before the men could get close enough to inspect the shape, the cape unfurled. Revealing the body of a great winged creature. The monster then let out a shriek, which the employees would later describe as: "A sound like fifty people screaming" or: "A train in peril trying to break at the sight of a twisted rail".
Needless to say, the workers backed off, recoiling in horror, and fled the open half shaft. At which time the creature or being refolded the wings, enveloping its frame and restoring its original posture, once again resembling a man in a cape or trench coat.
The men decided to let the mysterious menace make the next move. They waited for over an hour outside the mine, busying themselves with outdoor projects. Finally, at 8am, the workers were taken to the dirt by the seismic rumble of an underground explosion; an eruption which had certainly came from within the very mine into which they had intended to descend. They rushed towards the entrance to see what effect, if any, the combustion had had upon the anomaly which had so effectively impeded their work progress that sunrise. But they found only smoke belching from the throat of the mine where the thing had stood.
By anyone's count, twenty-one coal miners would have been at their normal positions inside the deathtrap without the creature's intervention. Out of this total, it is a fair estimation that none could have survived the upheaval which had rocked and collapsed the forged halls.
As the reports go, just six out of the twenty-one workers apparently saved by the monster were still working at the mine only six months later—although this might not seem quite as surprising as other aspects of the story, given the macabre circumstances. Two of those men, who had pledged to detail the indisputable facts of the case for the rest of the world, perished suddenly, broke and destitute. Others were plagued by psychiatric problems. Perhaps understandably so.
Now that we've chronicled the alleged facts, let's take a look at some of the inconsistencies, to try and dispel them if we can.
No. 1: What was the name of the coal mine? It's impossible to ascertain accurate facts when you can't even pin down the actual location where the incident supposedly took place. A coal mine in the factory town of Freiburg is far too vague.
Dispel: Without this information we have no starting point. Freiburg is a big city with many mines dotting the outskirts. In order to defeat this inconsistency we would have to locate at least one person who was either there, or knew the name of the mine. This, to my knowledge, has not been achieved.
This, or one of a thousand other lost photos, could be the entrance to the Freiburg mine, for all we know.
No. 2: Who discovered the creature? Was it one person? Was it a group of people? Did everyone in attendance see the monster or were they just relying on the hearsay of a few?
Dispel: The conclusion which I'm going to draw is that there was more than one person who viewed the figure. Every report I've seen on this subject makes a reference to "workers", guaranteeing at least two people within the range of vision and possibly more. My assumption is that if anything was seen at all, it was seen by a group rather than a few.
No. 3: Where exactly was the being in reference to the entrance? Was the anomaly standing outside the entrance in the rising sunlight? Or was it back a way, shrouded in darkness?
Dispel: In most mines, as opposed to caves, you will probably see several wooden or steel support beams inserted to stabilize the entranceway. Since I haven't seen a report placing the mystery outside, I'm going to assume that the monster's head was at least behind the first row of beams and probably much farther back. Some descriptions place the creature "in darkness", once again giving us the impression that the enigma was inside the shaft rather than out.
No.4: Why wasn't the creature's head described? Was it a bat's head? Was it a man's face? Was it a bird's beak? Did it have no head, or just eyes like the Mothman legend of West Virginia?
Dispel: Once the monster unfurled its godlike wings and started shrieking, it is very possible that fear and panic gripped the chests of the workers, causing them to flee without getting an adequate glance at its features. Also, by all counts it would have been gloomy inside the shaft, obscuring their view even further.
No. 5: Why weren't law enforcement officials called? If a business as bustling as a coal mine had a mad bomber threatening to detonate himself at their entranceway, they would surely call the cops, let alone a supernatural entity stopping workers from punching the time clock. Over an hour is more than an ample time frame, both to call, and to have police arrive.
Dispel: This is a difficult hurdle for the story's integrity to overcome. The only scenario I can employ to dispel this inconsistency is one where perhaps the length of time was exaggerated. I'm talking about the length of time in between the first sighting of the figure and the climactic explosion. Any amount of time in the presence of a supernatural monster should seem longer. Maybe the workers were still confused by the otherworldly events and simply miscalculated the time. We'll never know.
No. 6: Why wasn't the monster attacked or molested in any way? It seems to me that at least one out of the twenty-one hardened coal miners would have thought to pick up a weapon and confront the abomination. I don't know how likely the odds are that the workers would have had access to a gun. But the chances are 100 percent that they would have been able to wield a pick or an ax. If they thought that it was an animal, it seems more likely that they would have tried to challenge it, especially if they had a gun.
Dispel: Maybe there was no gun at the site. And even with a pick or an ax, who really feels like going hand to hand in a death struggle with a mystery monster at 6:45am? Perhaps they did not think it was an animal, but rather a ghost or an evil spirit. In which case, the shock and fear alone probably would have been enough to deter the men from attempting to battle the monstrosity. Not to mention the horror brought on by the hair-parting shriek for which it was named.
No. 7: Why would the workers concentrate on tasks outside the mine? I don't know about you, but if I encountered a supernatural behemoth blocking the door to my work environment in the wee hours of the morning, I'd probably consider calling it a day before I considered cleaning off the parking lot. It seems to me that once the creature let loose with its siren like shriek, anyone who started running wouldn't have stopped until they reached Berlin.
Dispel: This part could be the most perplexing. I just cannot believe that anyone would take the time to move rubble or operate heavy machinery while you-know-what was still inside the mine. This more than anything else makes the story start to smell like a hoax, since whoever relayed this version of the events seems to be throwing out a false time frame. One that, when you combine it with the inexplicable decision of the workers to remain outside the mine, does not feel realistic. Unless, as in question Number 5, they just guessed wrong about the amount of time which had elapsed. But this still would not explain why they didn't flee the area.
No. 8: The late date. If this legend had transpired in 1878 instead of 1978, it might be a bit easier to buy, since witnesses would be dead, and orators could claim that any proof of the case had been lost, and accurate facts garbled etc, etc,. As it stands, there are almost no newspaper reports and no known film clips on the subject—even though this event supposedly took place a mere twenty-eight years ago at the time of this writing.
Dispel: If this incident had occurred in the United States in 1978, they probably would have given the Shrieker its own TV show. We would have had round-the-clock updates from outside the mine, even after the creature was long gone. The fact that there was virtually no press coverage that we could find, never mind a film crew, seriously damages the story’s credibility.
Assuming that we could overcome these hurdles to believable reality, which we haven't been able to do a very good job of, let us still ask the question, just for the sake of speculation: What was the Freiburg Shrieker?
Here are several theories:
No. 1: A ghost or an apparition. The existence of ghosts has never been officially proven, although the circumstantial evidence and the sheer volume of the sightings are undeniable. Most experts believe there are two kinds of hauntings. The first is thought to involve both good and or malevolent spirits, which have somehow become trapped in between our plane and the next world, wherever that is. The second is thought to involve some type of supernatural retelling or replay, an ectoplasmic projection of a traumatic or troubling death or event in the deceased's life. Since no history is mentioned of either a traumatic event at the mine, (not counting the visit by the Shrieker, of course) or of a longstanding visit by a familiar ghost, I think we can rule this theory out.
No. 2: A Bat. The largest bat in the world is the Malayan Flying Fox, a mite which boasts a six-foot wingspan. Although there are twenty different bat species hanging around in Germany, none approach this size, which is not even as intimidating as it might sound. With its wings folded, the 'Flying Fox' doesn't really look much larger than a common house cat. Nowhere near approaching the massive size of the Shrieker. Unless we're dealing with something prehistoric, no known bat could have caused this big of a commotion (or made the sound of a locomotive)—and why wouldn't a bat have flown away when the explosion commenced? No mention of the remains of a bat or any other animal were found in any of the reports.
The Malayan Flying Fox
No 3: A Mothman type entity. If we were going to put our faith in the Shrieker's existence, this is the theory which would fit the best. For some of you who may not be familiar with the legend, The Mothman was a flying monstrosity which appeared to over 100 witnesses in the small burg of Point Pleasant, West Virginia, throughout the hectic and terrifying months of 1966 and 67. The sightings abruptly ended with the collapse of the Silver Bridge which links the town to the State of Ohio. Dozens of cars plunged into the inky depths of the Ohio River and 46 souls never reached the shore alive. Many believed that the Mothman had been sent to warn the citizens of their impending doom, perhaps from outer space or another dimension. This ties in with the Shrieker's mode of operation, since many felt that the Shrieker had saved the men's lives with its terrifying presence. Also, many of the participants in the Mothman saga reportedly died untimely deaths, although some, under scrutiny, could have been attributed to natural causes. Many of the workers at the mine supposedly fell victim to a similar curse, perishing in their prime or for no good reason at all—although this, like so many other aspects of this case, was never sufficiently documented. Could the Shrieker have been a first cousin to the legendary Mothman? Some sort of all-knowing being, instinctively drawn to areas of imminent disaster? Although this is a fascinating axiom, it is still unlikely at best.
No. 4: A Hoax. If the story actually occurred, it would not be possible to perpetrate a hoax this complex. First of all someone would have to dress up in a costume or hang a remote control creature. Second, they would have to have a speaker system which would emit incredible volume to imitate the Shrieker's scream. Third, and the most difficult of all, they would have to either predict or cause a cataclysmic explosion inside the mine. Even if someone were foolhardy enough to don a giant bat costume for the occasion, it is absurd to think that they could string that type of sound equipment, in what would have to be pitch black night conditions inside the mine. No jokester would risk a murder charge by causing the explosion. Whoever wore the costume would be literally risking their life.
No. 5: A Tall Tale. Although I hate to say it, this is our most likely scenario. Although acting out the hoax would be akin to impossible, hoaxing the story would be very easy if the hoaxer could simply get the bogus tale into the hands of an outside media outlet, one say, from a different country, like America. They wouldn't need any fancy props; all they would need is the story. It would only take one tabloid to run with it, or even a legitimate publication which would not or could not check the source, or may even have the source verified by a second hoaxer wearing a flashlight hard hat, and the next thing you know, the Shrieker's eating a Whopper at Burger King. And who could really prove or disprove whether or not it had onion rings?
It's fun to believe in the Shrieker, and it's a fascinating case, But until or unless we can gather more information about the mystery, it will remain buried underneath the rubble, inside the collapsed halls of a coal mine that we don't even know the name of.
Sources: American Monsters; Mothman Central; Organization for Bat Conservation
Tom Hamilton's work has appeared in over seventy publications including 'Bathtub Gin', 'The Rockford Review' and the 'Old Crow Review' among many others. Along with his wife Mary Theresa and their two small daughters, Tiffany and Hope Ann, he lives in Memphis TN.