Debby Summey: Shoo fly!

  • Friday, June 14, 2013

The song, “Shoo Fly, Don’t Bother Me”, has been sung, mostly by children, for well over one hundred years.
The last lines of the chorus are:

Shoo fly, don’t bother me, for I belong to somebody.

When I was a child, racin’ around the house swattin’ flies, I sang the military version:

Shoo fly, don’t bother me, for I belong to Company B.

There’s even another version substituting “Company G” for “Company B.”
 As a child, I used an all-metal swatter as if I were on the front line of a combat mission.
There was a certain skill necessary to patiently wait ‘til the fly landed, sneak up on him, and smash him to smithereens.

The flyswatter I have today is a sissy swatter, made of plastic, and I’ve only had to use it two or three times this year.  
Is the common housefly on the decline?

Or is it that we stay so shut up in our air-conditioned homes that they don’t have a chance to sneak in?

Back in June of 1913, the Civic Club of Georgetown announced an anti-fly campaign for the children of Georgetown that was to run through Sept. 15 of that year.

Boys and girls were to bring or send in the slaughtered flies to the office of G. Johnson, health officer. They were instructed to bring in “...not less than half a pint at a time.”
Half a pint? Georgetown must have been swarming with flies.

Prizes were given monthly to children bringing in the most flies. First, second, and third place winners received $5, $3, and $1, respectively. At the end of the anti-fly campaign, an additional $5 was awarded to the three children with the highest numbers collected over the summer.

The rules were simple. Flies could be killed by any method, including the use of fly traps and flappers (swatters), but flies caught with sticky paper did not qualify. I guess it would be difficult to insert a length of flypaper into a half-pint jar.

I was unable to find the names of the winners of the anti-fly campaign, but I found out the “why”. Earlier that month, an article was published in The Georgetown Times quoting a Dr. E.W. Saunders of St. Louis. Dr. Saunders said that experiments had “...practically established the fly as a carrier of infantile paralysis.”  
Also, flies were already being exterminated because experiments had indicated that flies were spreaders of typhoid fever.

Our public health officials took this to heart and on June 6, Dr. Olin Sawyer of Georgetown delivered a thirty-minute talk to school children on the fly, a “dangerous creature.”
It’s heartening to know that our medical community and public officials took swift action to wipe out the fly, a true (they thought) danger to the health of the community.
What I don’t understand is that they asked the children of Georgetown to eradicate the menace.
Polio and typhoid fever? What were they thinking?

To be fair, there were other items in the same newspaper which seem just as remarkable one hundred years later.
For instance, in the classified section there is an ad for property for sale in Hemingway.

“One lot, 190x67, with four-room dwelling and store (20x40). One two-story barn 12x16, two stables and two sheds. Dwelling will rent for $12.50 a month. Store will rent for at least $10 a month.”

Not interested in renting? The entire property could be purchased for $300 down and $1,235 payable in two installments.
The property was being offered through J.A. Doyle, Real Estate and Insurance, Hemingway.

Another property being offered was 300 acres of land, eight miles by road and six by water from Georgetown, with enough timber on it to pay the asking price of $3,000. Wow!

To the GCDL and The Georgetown Times ... thanks for the memories.

I may be reached at (843) 446-4777 or djsummey@gmail.com.    

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