Column: When house flies were considered to be a real problem

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 8, 2003

Our present concerns regarding those pesky mosquitos are certainly justified. However, nine decades ago the common house fly was more prevalent and the focus of intense attention in Albert Lea.

In that era the mosquitos and flies were both real nuisances. Yet, an article in the July 22, 1912, issue of the Tribune was urging folks to kill flies so as to eliminate the source of some serious health problems. This article bluntly said, &uot;Kill every fly that strays into the home; his body is covered with disease germs.&uot;

Now, why were there more house flies buzzing around back in 1912? Part of the answer, honestly put, was based on lower sanitary standards and the numerous outhouses. Also, without going into details, the horse was the best booster ever created for both flies and sparrows.

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Folks did have fly swatters or what folks in some parts of the nation once called fly slappers. And for the lack of anything else, a rolled up newspaper or magazine could be used to swat persistent flies.

Then there were those pest strips which attracted flies and let them die a slow death stuck to the sticky surfaces.

The Tribune article emphasized that flies, like mosquitos, do their best (or worst) in hot weather with these comments:

&uot;July and August are the two worst months in the year so far as flies are concerned. Those are the hot months and is when the heat is most intense that flies thrive best.

&uot;The fly

… is victim of lethargy when weather is cool. Under ordinary circumstances flies are buzzing around by the millions as soon as the sun comes up on a July morning.&uot;

This same article also had instructions for making a homemade fly trap. So, for anyone so inclined to duplicate this 1912 creation, here are the directions:

&uot;There is no better way of exterminating the pest than by means of homemade fly swatters and traps. A good home made trap was one built by a Des Moines, Iowa, fireman. The fireman’s instructions for making traps similar to the one he used follows:

&uot;Take a half inch board and cut two circular pieces 12 inches in diameter. Then use a keyhole saw to cutout six-inch hole in the center of the same board. Take your wire screen and attach it to the circular pieces so as to make a cylinder about two and one-half feet high.

&uot;Make a cone of wire about six inches long with an opening about as large as a lead pencil at the apex. Fit this cone into the six-inch hole in the bottom of the cylinder. Replace the six-inch piece which you cut from the top and keep it in place until you are ready to dump your catch. Take four light strips of wood to brace the cylinder. Make them long enough so that they will raise the cylinder about an inch above the floor. Finally place a dish of sugar and vinegar or any other likely bait beneath the apex of the cone.

&uot;Attracted by the bait, the flies will crawl under the cylinder of the screen and feast

upon the food they find there. When satisfied they will fly straight upward through the little end of the cone into the prison from which there is no escape. They can never find their way out through the little hole by which they entered and will gradually die of thirst and hunger.

&uot;These traps can be made of any desired size. They are fine for use on back porches. They will aid greatly in ridding the premises of the pests.&uot;

I’ll conclude with three quick comments. First, the blending of sugar and vinegar for use as fly bait sounds might icky. Maybe this concoction could also be used as a cough suppressant. Second, the directions for the making of this fly trap are about as clear as a bucket of Fountain Lake water. And, third, flies are thankfully less abundant than they were

nine decades ago because of better insecticides and improved sanitary conditions.

(Tribune feature writer Ed Shannon’s column appears Fridays in the Tribune.)