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News Maryland Carroll County Westminster

Westminster under attack, or, when bugs bugged us [Eagle Archive]

On June 27, 1895, a local newspaper at the time, the American Sentinel, reported that Westminster was under attack by bugs.

"(An) invasion from myriads of insects of the beetle species, which night after night swarmed about the electric arc lights on the streets and were found in large numbers on the sidewalks and doorsteps, and even in the houses nearest the lights. So annoying were they that some persons were constrained to retire within doors.

"The insects, which were about three-fourths of an inch long, and black, fell into the globes of the arc lights in large quantities, and in some instances to such an extent as to obstruct the illumination of the streets. In several cases they came in contact with the electric current and took fire. Their burning occasioned a most offensive odor…. Bushels of them were emptied from the globes from several mornings in succession. They are known as harvest bugs and are troublesome little pests."

Insects have not frequently made the news in Carroll County history. Internationally, on June 16, 2009, one not deterred by the legendary White House security measures made the news when President Barack Obama was interrupted by a pesky, deranged housefly during an interview with CNBC's John Harwood.

The ensuing drama was captured on video, a life and death struggle befitting a History Channel segment pertaining to World War III. The president stopped the interview, tracked the fly with Truman Capote cold, radar-like efficiency, swatted and killed it.

Many were impressed. That is, with the exception of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. PETA was less than amused and called it an "execution."

If PETA was alarmed by the president killing a fly, imagine what that august organization would have thought of the 1914 "Swat the Fly" campaign in Westminster.

According to "Carroll County Maryland, A History 1837-1976," by Nancy Warner, it began with Westminster's "first Civic League, organized in January 1913 with Mrs. Charles E. Stewart, president; Mrs. Frank Z. Miller, secretary; and Mrs. George K. Mather, treasurer…

"Some of the concrete accomplishments of the league included the placement of 'No Spitting' signs and public garbage cans on the streets, landscaping of school grounds, planting of flowers and trees, and swatting the fly.

"The Swat the Fly campaign sought to improve sanitation. Children were given ten cents for every hundred flies killed.

"The report for 1914 contained the figures of $159 paid and 1,500 movie tickets distributed in return for thirty-five twenty-pound candy buckets of flies. Grocers and butchers were encouraged to provide screens for their doors and windows and protective display cases for their meats."

It reminds me of an observation by the late Groucho Marx, who once said, "Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana."

When he is not swatting flies, Kevin Dayhoff may be reached at kevindayhoff@gmail.com or @kevindayhoff on Twitter.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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