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Forest Grove mystery noise draws theories from across nation, world

It's cover-your-ears, air raid-siren loud.

No, not that loud — just a high-pitched squeal.

Noise? What noise?

That about sums up neighbors' reactions to reports of an unusual and mysterious sound coming from somewhere near their homes along Gales Creek Road between Vista Drive and Knox Ridge Terrace.

While no one has yet discovered the source of the sound, a new and bigger mystery might be how the noise mystery blew up into a national — and international — news phenomenon this past week.

After recording the sound in a video she posted to Facebook, Roxe Drive resident Paula Lynch called Forest Grove Police to report it on Feb. 12.

"A resident reported a very loud and strange noise that could not be explained," Forest Grove's Police Log reports in the Feb. 17 News-Times. "Officers could not confirm the source but suspect a pipe or valve of some type being turned on under pressure."

Oh, how unimaginative those officers were.

After the story appeared on national news stations, people from across the country began theorizing about the sound's origin, helpfully calling or emailing the city's police department, public works department or mayor, as well as Washington County's 911 dispatch center and the News-Times.

A man from Maine suggested the sound might be a loud clarinet or oboe.

A man from New Jersey suggested sewage booster pumps with a broken shaft bearing.

Another man suggested a feedback loop (think microphone next to a speaker) coming from electric boxes interfering with security sirens.

A Texas man suggested a "resonance tone" produced by the climate and geology of the area under certain conditions.

A "former White House Presidential Innovation Fellow" suggested the city build a simple "very directional microphone" — perhaps using a microphone and a Pringles can mounted on a rotating tripod — to determine where the sound is coming from: "You use three of these and based on triangulation you can identify where the lines cross and this should be the source of the sound."

A neuroscientist from South Carolina specializing in sensations and perceptions offered to identify the sound for $50,000 or to make it go away for $100,000 — just $20,000 if he tried to identify it and failed.

Forest Grove Fire & Rescue spokesman Dave Nemeyer — who has heard the recording but not the noise — has received "voicemails and emails from all over the country," he said. "One person politely suggested it might be mating frogs."

After talking to public works and water service officials, Nemeyer and a Light & Power technician drove to the neighborhood to try and make sure the noise wasn't being caused by something dangerous.

"After we got there, the first thing we heard was a frog," Nemeyer said. "But based on the video Paula showed us, it sounds like something mechanical to me — metal on metal, not leaking gas."

Lynch, who has had reporters knocking on her door, declined to speak to the News-Times but commented on Facebook that she wished she had never posted about the noise.

Many of her neighbors are just plain confused about the whole thing.

"The only squealing I've heard is my kids," said Roxe Drive resident Jaimie Curry, who moved into a home less than 100 feet from Lynch earlier this month.

At least seven other neighbors — one of whom was contacted by a New York news agency — said they'd heard nothing, including Edward Willer, who runs an accounting business out of his home and is in the area most the time.

"I'm thinking it's just somebody trying to get attention," said Alyson Crawford, who lives across the street on Roxe.

Next door to Lynch, however, Dean Pittman and his nephew Jordon tell an entirely different tale.

"It's a pitch and decibel level unlike anything I've ever heard," Dean said. "It's cover-your-ears loud, like an air raid siren."

"I've heard it six or seven times every other week for the past couple months," said Jordon. "It doesn't come for several days, then you'll hear it out of nowhere."

And just down the road on Vista Drive, Pam Kelso and Jean Aull say they heard something strange on a Saturday about two weeks ago.

"At first, it sounded like it was in the house, like something electronic," Kelso said. "It wasn't loud enough to hurt your ears, but it was a high-pitch squeal."

"It was loud enough to hear in the house, like a real high-pitch car alarm," Aull said.

Kelso said she heard the sound more than once in half an hour, but Aull said she only heard it the one time.

Whatever the noise is, and wherever it's coming from, will remain a local mystery for now.

Public Works Director Rob Foster said he's not investigating because the city never received an official complaint besides the one Forest Grove Police already investigated.

The Texan who weighed in by email offered a final comment:

"If it's not a natural cause ... then it's time to go conspiracy theory like the X files [sic] and blame the Government running test on your town or something," he wrote, but adding at the end: "I think it's kinda cool your town makes a sound."