The world of our great-grandparents in the first quarter of the 20th century was a dirtier, smellier place than we often realize:
Outhouses were vastly more common than sewers in rural areas. Even though Salt Lake City had built its first sewers in 1890, those systems served only a small part of the city, leaving outhouses in use throughout the Valley. South Salt Lake City didn’t vote to raise funds for building its first sewer system until late in 1938. And even the few sewers in operation were not sanitary in any sense – the early ones drained sewage into open canals that emptied into the Great Salt Lake.
Horses were still in use as motive power. This meant quantities of manure deposited on city streets, and even larger piles of manure in the stabling areas of businesses and private homes. And horses died – there were laws for the proper removal of carcasses, laws which were not entirely effective.
Many rural families, and even some in urban areas, kept a cow and chickens near the home. Milk goats were not unknown in Salt Lake City during those years.
Garbage pickup service did exist in urban areas. Plastic garbage bags and trash cans were unknown, though, and leaking fluids and escaping odors were routine facts of life.
Homes and businesses were heated by coal and wood, resulting in air pollution most of us can only vaguely imagine – the air in cities was so dirty that the cleaning of wallpaper by use of doughy commercial products was an annual chore in most households. While the temporary home-lot storage of ashes didn’t necessarily add to the urban odor problem, ash cans and ash piles contributed to the overall grime of the home environment, which conceivably led to increased litter and general dirt.
One result of all of that? Flies. Lots of flies. Plagues of flies.
Public campaigns to clean up fly-breeding messes were a regular part of life in the United States. Although I can’t find a reference this moment when I need one, I have seen Salt Lake newspaper articles about bounties being offered for pints and quarts of dead flies.
So why write about that on a Mormon-themed blog?
Because Primary children were regularly enlisted in the battle against flies. Primary manuals from the early 1920s include fly-trapping and garbage cleanup as suggestions for implementing lessons on beauty in the home and service to the community.
Over and over, to the point where I have lost track of how many times I have seen it, this illustration for “An Effective Out-of-Door Fly Trap” appears in the lesson materials for Primary classes, Boy Scouts, and the Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Association. Other models are occasionally given, but this one appears so often that I have dubbed it the “Model Mormon Fly Trap”:
To make [it] we need a wooden box, such as a soda cracker box or any box you may have. Cut the sides of box so as to form legs about two inches long. In the top of [the] box cut a round hole about 7 inches in diameter. Make a funnel of wire netting with an opening three-fourths of an inch at top. Tack this funnel to the edge of the hole. Then tack enough wire netting to go around box and extend up above box about twice as high as the funnel-shaped wire. Lap over, pin, using nails as pins, the ends of wire together, both on the side and top as shown in the picture.
Place a shallow plate containing a fish head or some sugar and water under the trap directly under the large opening. The flies go to the bait, then rise into funnel and so enter the trap. They soon die and can be emptied out into a piece of paper and burned. (To remove the dead flies, take out the nail pins at the top and empty.)
If a fish head is used for bait, protect it from cats and renew it at least twice a week. No matter what bait is used, care must be taken to burn it because it will contain a great number of fly eggs.
So should you ever have the need of a fly trap, here’s a model with a claim on your loyalty. It’s part of your heritage!