Lying within the Tualatin Valley of Oregon, in the United States, just 25 miles from the major city of Portland, is the rustic suburb of Forest Grove. Originally sprouted from a farming community, the quiet town has a population of just over 20,000, and is usually a peaceful place outside of major news and the noise of the city. However, in 2016 the usual quiet was rudely broken when terrified residents of the rural town began to report hearing an unearthly loud shrieking noise piercing out from the surrounding countryside at night that no one could explain, and which would go on to generate national news and baffle experts.
To those who heard it, the sound was described variously as being a shrill squeal, a flute-like blare, the screeching of car brakes, a steam whistle, a mechanical scream, metal scraping against metal, an off-kilter siren, or a banshee like moan, but it was agreed by all that no matter what exactly it sounded like it was a truly intense and nerve-wracking racket which purportedly kept people awake and was said to drive pets nuts. The weird noise was also described as coming from the trees, from backyards, and even from the middle of the street, and no one could quite figure out where or what it was emanating from. The story was propelled even further into the mainstream consciousness when a video made by resident Paula Lynch was released purporting to contain one of the mystery shrieks, and the Internet went nuts trying to figure out what it was. One Dave Nemeyer, fire marshal of Forest Grove Fire and Rescue, investigated and said of it:
It’s definitely a horrendous noise. I have no idea what the noise is. [The resident] described to us that it was coming from the middle of the street. To me, it sounds like the sound of train tracks, that metal screeching sound, but there are no train tracks near her home … so that’s obviously ruled out.
Several other people began to come forward with their own recordings of the anomalous noise, which supposedly typically lasted from 10 seconds all the way up to several minutes, and the whole mystery deepened further. It was widely thought that the sound perhaps came from some broken pipeline or leak, but when this was checked out it was found that the sound did not really match this audio signature. For their part, Forest Grove Public Works and the gas company Northwest Natural denied that the sound could be coming from them or a ruptured gas line, and that even if it had it would have absolutely released a strong odor of gas, and the fire department also put to rest the idea that it was coming from a fire alarm somewhere. The Department of Forestry also said that whatever it was did not originate from them. Additionally, the nearby train tracks are rarely used, and authorities explained that this could not be the origin of the sound either. Some suggested that pranksters could have been behind it, but there was no evidence of this. Forest Grove Police Capt. Mike Herbs said of the noise:
There would be a city ordinance violation if somebody was creating a noise like this, that late at night, on purpose to annoy people. At this point, we don’t have information that would lead us to believe that’s the case. It sounds to me like some kind of release valve or some kind of pipe that’s under pressure. We’ve had different suggestions from folks that it’s an alien mother ship or a warning sign of something to come.
Yes, of course aliens come into the picture. The wilder theories included that the sound was made by UFOs or that it was the wailing of some strange creature or entity like a ghost or Sasquatch, or even the portentous trumpeting of angels from Heaven. Indeed, whole forums were dedicated to the unexplained noise, where there were theories ranging that it was produced from vast underground bases and government mind control experiments, to the inscrutable activities of government installations or more paranormal explanations like ghosts and UFOs. Whatever it was, the mystery shriek of Forest Grove was all over the news on websites, in newspapers, on news shows, and on TV programs such as Inside Edition and World News Tonight.
Then, almost as suddenly as it appeared the noise stopped and the town was quite again. In the void of silence left by the lack of the mysterious squeal, the speculation has continued and theories remain rampant, with people of all opinions sticking fast to their own ideas on what it could have been. The most rational explanation is still that this was some sort of problem with a pipe or a valve, and a physics professor at Forest Grove’s Pacific University, an Andy Dawes, has thrown in his two cents by saying:
An audio analyst from Florida emailed me a fairly detailed report that certainly agreed well with the hypothesis that it came from a faulty valve within an HVAC (or heat pump) unit. If the original source was a failing valve, then it may have gone away completely when the failure was complete.
Is that all this was, some leaky pipe? Or was there something more to this? Was it perhaps something beyond our ability to rationally explain? Whatever it was, the mystery shriek of Forest Grove has never been solved, and continues to baffle all who hear it. Considering that it has not been heard since, there is the very real possibility that we may never know what caused it, but for now it seems as if the residents of the area can rest easy. At least for now.