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Aug. 21, 1911: Minneapolis children enlist in war on flies

Posted by: Ben Welter under Minnesota History Updated: October 13, 2014 - 3:35 PM
From Worcester, Mass., to Redlands, Calif., cities across the country declared war on disease-carrying houseflies in 1911. Children competing for cash prizes killed flies by the millions that summer. One Georgia boy alone turned in 2,199,200 dead flies to win the top prize of $10 in Savannah’s “Swat the Fly” contest.

“All the intense activity directed toward the destruction of the musca domestica,” the Jefferson Jimplecute declared with bemusement, “is the discovery that the fly – the common house fly, once treated almost as a pet – is one of the most deadly of all menaces to the human race."
The official logo: "The Tribune and I Swat the Fly."

The official logo: "The Tribune and I Swat the Fly."

The Texas newspaper was not alone in poking fun at the public health initiative, but for kids it was a chance to stave off summer boredom, kill helpless creatures and compete for cash. In Minneapolis, the top prize was a nothing-to-swat-at $50. The Morning Tribune, which sponsored the two-week contest, put up the money, laid out the rules and offered fly-killing tips. 

The rules:

“Entrants must be children under 16 years of age. Flies caught in any manner except by the use of sticky fly paper will be taken in the contest. Flies may be swatted, caught in traps, poisoned, exterminated by drowning, the use of sulphur fumes or other means.

“Boxes, made especially for the Tribune Campaign contest and given free by the Standard Paper box company of 501 Third street south, in which all flies are to be sent to the health department to be counted, will be given all entrants.

“The name and address of the contestant must appear on the box. The box must be tied securely. All flies delivered for the contest must have been killed by the persons to whom they are credited.”

What a disgusting task, you might be thinking, counting all those fly carcasses. The task was disgusting, I’m sure, but the flies were not counted one by one. Flies turned in around the country, and presumably in Minneapolis, were measured by volume. The calculation: 1,600 flies to the gill, or a quarter-pint. Happily, no recounts appear to have been demanded.

City Flyless Crusade
Starts This Morning

Minneapolis Children Ready for Campaign Against Disease Carriers.

Sub-Stations Open at 10 o’Clock to Receive Dead Pests.

Boys and Girls Devise Many Schemes for Trapping Victims.


Ten little flies all in a line;
One got a swat! Then there were
Nine little flies, grimly sedate,
Licking their chops – Swat! There were
Eight little flies raising some more –
Swat! Swat! Swat! Swat! Then there were
Four little flies, colored green-blue;
Swat! (Ain’t it easy!) Then there were
Two little flies dodged the civilian –
Early next day there were a million!
The great battle against the fly starts today.
The opening gun of the war against the disease-carriers will be fired at 10 o’clock when sub-stations in the 13 wards of the city will open to distribute supplies for the youthful soldiers who are marching against the hosts of Mr. Fly.
Flies spent their last peaceful day in Minneapolis Sunday. Without a thought of the war that opens today they hummed and buzzed in cafes, restaurants and houses. But it was the ball before Waterloo. They danced while Young America of Minneapolis was busy putting the finishing touches to fly traps and swatters. While the youth of the city were burnishing their arms, making last preparations for the march against the foe today, the fly bummed as merrily as ever.
Public Enemy No. 1: The common housefly

Public Enemy No. 1: The common housefly

Two weeks from today the enemy will have been exterminated. The campaign is starting with a rush this morning with the members of the troops of the Boy Scouts and the members of the Boys’ club leading the fight. Thousands of Minneapolis children thronged the sub-stations yesterday attempting to secure supplies for their fight against the fly but all were refused.
Supplies at Sub-Stations.
At 10 o’clock this morning every child in the city who wishes to enter the contest should visit the sub-station in the ward in which he lives. There cardboard boxes made for the contest by the Standard Paper Box company, 301 Fifth avenue south, and given free to the children will be distributed by [the city’s Department of Health. … Yesterday several clerks and employes of the department went over the card index system putting the cards in their place and arranging for a gigantic tabulation system by which the results of each day’s battle against the fly can be kept.
Daily records of the day’s death toll will be kept. Each child’s name will be put on a card as soon as a box of dead flies has been received at the department, bearing the name and address of the killer. The number of flies contained in the box will be entered on the card and as each day passes additional figures of the flies killed by that contestant will be added to the card. Totals of the entire number killed will be recorded each night and The Tribune will every day print the standing of the leaders in the contest. The names of all the contestants and their standing at the close will be printed in the Sunday Tribune of Sept. 3.
Take Flies to Stations.
The sub-stations will give out supplies until 11 o’clock this morning, opening at 10, and will be open again in the afternoon between 3 and 4 o’clock. Dead flies must be taken to the sub-stations before 1 o’clock in the afternoon. No flies will be received after that time. Wagons from The Tribune will make a trip around the city every afternoon, visiting each sub-station, collecting the dead flies and leaving new supplies. The first trip will be made this afternoon. If you have any dead flies be sure and get them to the sub-station before 1 o’clock this afternoon.
Many are the schemes several small boys near Lake Harriet are resorting to to secure fly traps and places to set them. One lad Saturday called on four grocers in the Linden Hills District and asked where they kept their flies.
"We have no flies – what do you want with them, anyway?” asked one grocer of him.
“I want to catch your flies for you. Where do they congregate the thickest?” the boy asked. The grocer showed him. At the back door of the store thousand of the disease carriers were feasting on the remains of a crushed watermelon.
The boy eyed them. Then he made the grocer this proposition:
“If you’ll give me 50 cents I’ll catch al those flies for you, keep them away from you for two weeks and by the end of that time if there are still any flies around the door in any number I’ll keep them away for two weeks longer for nothing,” he told the grocer.
Boy Scouts were among those heeding the call.

Boy Scouts were among those heeding the call.

“Do you mean to tell me you’ll stand here at this door every day for two weeks and brush away flies for the small sum of 50 cents?” asked the grocer, taken aback by the offer.
“No, I didn’t say that,” returned the boy. “I said I’d catch the flies and keep them away; not that I’d stand here all that time. That has nothing to do with my keeping them away. I’ll buy two traps with the 50 cents, put them here at this door with some bread and milk bait in them and before half a day has passed I’ll have the traps filled twice. That will take away a larger number and I’ll fill the traps every half day from then on for the rest of the two weeks. I will send the flies to The Tribune sub-station, get the $50 prize and you’ll be rid of your flies, and I’ll have enough money to last me all winter at school. Will you do it?”
“Guess I will,” the grocer said. The bargain was made and the traps will be set this morning.
East Side Boy’s Scheme.
Over on the East side another boy went to the owner of a liver stable and asked permission to put some traps on the manure box at the end of the stable. The proprietor, bewildered, asked what kind of traps.
“Fly traps, of course,” said the boy.
“Well, why do you want to catch flies for me?” asked the liveryman.
“It’s not for you,” replied the boy. “It’s for The Tribune contest, and because flies are disease spreaders and germ carriers that we want ’em. There are enough flies at the rear of this livery barn to win a contest if I could get them all by myself, but there will be so many kids here to see you and want to catch your flies that I’ll have a hard time getting very many after the contest starts Monday.”
The liveryman helped the boy make a trap. The trap was made out of a half barrel. They adopted the principle of the little wire screen cage trap, which has an inverted conical inlet for the flies extending upward from the base, where a bait of sweetened water or bread and milk is put to draw the flies. Applying this principle, they took a common sugar barrel , replaced the top with a cover of wire screen, sawed a hole 12 inches in diameter in the center of the bottom and into this inserted a cone made of wire screen, having a diameter at the base equal to the hole in the barrel and an aperture at the smaller end about three-quarters of an inch across. When thus fixed and made fly tight, except for the inlet, the barrel was placed on supports which raised it from the ground a few inches so that the bait could be placed beneath to draw the first flies. When a good number of flies have been trapped the very buzzing will attract other flies from all directions.
FOLLOW-UP: For two weeks, updated standings were published daily in the Tribune. The competition for the top three spots was especially fierce and full of strategizing, with the eventual winner holding back thousands of flies until the final day. When the carnage, er, contest ended on Sept. 2, more than 3 million flies had been killed. The death toll was less than that of contests in Eastern cities, according to health officials, because of a superior garbage-collection system. Minneapolis required that garbage be wrapped in paper before being placed in cans, eliminating a major breeding ground. In its final report, the Tribune, perhaps caught up in the excitement, declared Minneapolis to be “practically flyless.” And 13-year-old George Knaeble was crowned lord of the flies.

The top prize-winners, along with the number of flies killed:

First prize, $50: George Knaeble, 13, 515 Plymouth Av., 266,340.
Second prize, $25: Theodore Bedor, 12, 4114 Blaisdell Av., 264,660.
Third prize, $15: Henrietta Beck, 10, 2218 Aldrich Av. N., 189,480.
Fourth prize, $10: Edward Hirt, 11, 1909 Fourth St. N., 154,340.

Sept. 28, 1916: A correction for the ages

Posted by: Ben Welter under Minnesota History Updated: October 7, 2014 - 7:52 AM
Dr. Caryl B. Storrs, a "natural born storyteller," interviewed fascinating men and women of the region in a series of stories published by the Minneapolis Tribune in 1916. His story about Minnesota pioneer John Daubney resulted in this correction.


In the article under the headine "Visitin' 'Round in Minnesota" by Caryl B. Storrs, dated from Taylors Falls, Sept. 16, the statement was made that John Daubney, a resident of Taylors Falls for 72 years, was at one time divorced from his wife. 
It has since been learned that this statement was incorrect and that no divorce was ever granted to either Mr. or Mrs. Daubney, but that they lived together in perfect accord for more than 60 years.

Oct. 22, 1906: Censorship in libraries

Posted by: Ben Welter under Minnesota History, Newspapers, Religion Updated: October 6, 2014 - 11:59 AM
This Minneapolis Journal editorial about the impact of censorship on boys and girls reminded me of a feature in the Catholic Bulletin – now the Catholic Spirit – many years ago. Each week, the archdiocesan newspaper listed the movies being shown on TV and in theaters, along with a one-letter rating for each. The list was intended as a guide to parents about which movies should be avoided. But I can attest that many young people used it the opposite way. The “O” rating – morally objectionable in whole or in part because of strong language, violence or sexuality – indicated a TV movie that was not to be missed.

Censorship in Libraries.

There is a practice in some public libraries in England that is being suggested for adoption on this side [of] the water. Librarians are “blacking out” from the newspapers left on file in the library certain portions which are not considered best for young people to read. The “poison” is carefully excised so youthful readers will get only what is good for them, and will read even newspapers with untainted mind.
This censorship might serve some purpose if there were no other copies of the newspapers accessible, but when the papers are in common circulation it can only have the effect of drawing attention to the great black marks and setting the young readers out to discover what they missed. They will read the blacked-out sections with the greater zest because they are forbidden, and therefore must be interesting. The English librarians black out betting and racing news, in order that a taste for gambling shall not be cultivated in the library precincts. No doubt their well-meant efforts serve only to direct the attention of British boys to the subject of racing and betting on races.
The way to turn the attention of boys and girls away from reading that does not improve is not to make it forbidden, but to show them how interesting the good things are, and give them a bent toward good reading that will of itself exclude vitiating mental dissipations.

Sept. 18, 1904: 3-year-old toddles onto skylight

Posted by: Ben Welter under Minnesota History Updated: September 18, 2014 - 8:30 AM
This early example of a child-in-peril story, a staple of American newspapers in the middle decades of the 20th century, has a familiar ending: The wayward tot, reunited with "its" relieved parent, gets a “well directed and well meant” spanking.  Note the pronoun used for the child. Perhaps the baby’s gender was unknown to the reporter, who most likely learned of the incident second-hand. 

From the Minneapolis Tribune:


A baby 3 years of age and as active and mischievous as children of that age go caused many a tremble in the hearts of people on the second floor of the Federal building.
This baby’s particular stunt of the morning and the one which caused all of the excitement was to toddle out onto the glass roofing over the huge mailing room and there prance about like a wild Indian.
The mother, Mrs. Chaplewski of 1500 Marshall street northeast, stood aside trembling in fear lest it might fall through the glass and into the mailing room below. She pranced back and forth and beside the railing that surrounds the open court until she nearly wore out the soles of her shoes and she called for help until hoarse.
Mrs. Chaplewski and the baby had come downtown, the mother to transact a little business in the money order department on the second floor. While she was in the money order room the child was left to its own devices. The first thing that it did was to climb over the railing onto the grass roof. The sensation was novel and the pleasure exquisite. The mother returned and saw the predicament in which her child was.
Finally a janitor appeared, and he, after trying for five minutes to coax the unwilling one back to mother and safety, walked out on the beams that support the roof. He got within four feet of the youngster. The latter, however, stood in the middle of a large pane of glass which was strong enough to hold the child, but not the man. The latter begged and entreated and finally made a lunge for the wayward little thing.
His lunge was a successful one, and baby, dear baby, was taken back to mother screaming, belligerent and generally unhappy. The mother, just to show her authority, administered a few well directed and well meant spanks. That closed the incident.
The federal courthouse and post office in downtown Minneapolis in about 1904.

The federal courthouse and post office in downtown Minneapolis in about 1904.

Nov. 10, 1888: Jack the Ripper’s 9th victim

Posted by: Ben Welter under Crime Updated: September 11, 2014 - 9:57 AM
After more than 125 years, an “armchair detective” claims to have used DNA evidence to solve one of  history’s most grisly killing sprees. The story below marked the first time that “Jack the Ripper” appeared on the front page of the Minneapolis Tribune.

Warning: The detailed descriptions of the murder scene are not for the squeamish. Or even the near-squeamish.


Jack the Ripper Startles London with Another Whitechapel Murder.

As Usual, the Victim Is from the Lowest Strata of Society, and the Body is Horribly Mutilated.

A front Room on the Ground Floor of a Dwelling the Scene of the Murder, the Ninth Recorded.

Sir Charles Warren’s Bloodhounds a Failure, as Predicted – No Clue to the Fiend of Fiends.

London, Nov. 9. – (United Press Cable.) – The murder fiend has added another to his list of victims. At 11 o'clock this morning the body of a woman, cut into pieces was discovered in a house on Dorset street, Spitalfields. The police are endeavoring to track the murderer with the aid of blood hounds. The remains were mutilated in the same horrible manner as were those of the women murdered in Whitechapel.

The appearance of the remains was frightful and the mutilation was even greater than in the previous cases. The head had been severed and placed beneath one of the arms. The ears and nose had been cut off. The body had been disemboweled and the flesh was torn from the thighs. The womb and other organs were missing. The skin had been torn off the forehead and cheeks. One hand had been pushed into the stomach.

The victim, like all the others, was a prostitute. She was married and her husband was a porter. They had lived together at spasmodic intervals. Her name is believed to have been Lizzie Fisher, but to most of the habitues of the haunts she visited she was known as Mary Jane. She had a room in the house where she was murdered. She carried a latch key and no one knew at what hour she entered the house last night. Therefore it is hardly likely that her assassin will ever be identified. He might easily have left the house at any time between 1 and 6 o'clock this morning without attracting attention. The doctors who have examined the remains refuse to make any statement until the inquest is held.

Three bloodhounds belonging to private citizens were taken to the place where the body lay and placed on a scent of the murder, but they were unable to keep it for any great distance, and all hope of running the assassin down with their assistance will have to be abandoned.

The murdered woman told a companion last evening that she was without money, and would commit suicide if she did not obtain a supply. It has been learned that a man, respectably dressed, accosted the victim and offered her money. They went to her lodging, on the second floor of the Dorset street house. No noise was heard during the night, and nothing was known of the murder until the landlady went to the room early this morning to ask for her rent. The first thing she saw on entering the room was the woman’s breasts and viscera lying on a table. Dorset street is short and narrow, and is situated close to Mitre square and Hanbury street.

The murder is undeniably a continuation of the series which was for a time interrupted for want of opportunity or inclination. In this case the murderer worked leisurely, as is made evident by the fact that the murder was done in a room fronting on the street, on the ground floor and within a few yards of a temporary police station, whence officers issued hourly to patrol the district. Although the metropolitan police system is not yet discredited, the bloodhound theory is entirely thrown out, since the murder was not discovered until 10 o'clock in the morning while the streets were teeming with people and traffic was going on uninterruptedly.

Gen. Sir Charles Warren [head of the London Metropolitan Police] was early on the scene and told a reporter that all the precaution in the world could not prevent the work of such murderers. The sole chance remaining to the police, he said, was to catch them red-handed, and their change of tactics increased the difficulty. In the open air, where the killing had been done hitherto, the chance of their apprehension was slight, but in the case of an indoor murder, such as the last, the hope of arresting the perpetrator was almost barren of fruition. This latest murder will undoubtedly cause a large number of arrests on suspicion. But the monster will be brought to bay is a matter of extreme doubt, since he has left no clues not worked over by the officers investigating the previous cases.

The most annoying feature of the case is that the arrest of a number of innocent persons on suspicion will have to be repeated. The opinion of Archibald Forbes and Mr. Winslow that the assassin is a homicidal maniac is confirmed by the latest murder, and the prediction had become general that another murder will soon follow. The brutality of the mutilation to which the last body was subjected surpassed all the others. In the room to which the corpse was taken chunks of flesh and portions of the viscera were strewed upon the floor, and the dissecting table and the stomach of one of the surgeons gave way at the spectacle.


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