NEWS & VIEWS OF PHILLIPS SINCE 1976
Saturday June 24th 2017

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“The Tribune and I Swat the Fly”

•Dr. Holl was born in New Ulm on August 19, 1862--on the very day that the Dakota Conflict came to New Ulm. His mother must have been in labor during the battle.  •	Newspapers always spelled his name Hall that people would know how to pronounce it and it made him sound a little more American. •	Dr. Holl was voted out of his post by the city council in 1913 despite a letter of support signed by more than 100 doctors in the city. While in private practice for the next five years he wrote an informative daily column on health and medicine, “Health and Happiness,” for the Minneapolis Tribune. •	In 1918 he accepted the post of superintendent of Minnesota’s Ah-Gwah-Ching Tuberculosis Sanitorium near Walker. He remained in that position until his death in 1928. •	He was an amazing, if somewhat eccentric, man. He and Annie only had one daughter and she died in infancy--the baby is buried in Layman’s. Peter and Annie are at Hillside with other members of his family.

• Dr. Holl was born in New Ulm on August 19, 1862–on the very day that the Dakota Conflict came to New Ulm. His mother must have been in labor during the battle.
• Newspapers always spelled his name Hall that people would know how to pronounce it and it made him sound a little more American.
• Dr. Holl was voted out of his post by the city council in 1913 despite a letter of support signed by more than 100 doctors in the city. While in private practice for the next five years he wrote an informative daily column on health and medicine, “Health and Happiness,” for the Minneapolis Tribune.
• In 1918 he accepted the post of superintendent of Minnesota’s Ah-Gwah-Ching Tuberculosis Sanitorium near Walker. He remained in that position until his death in 1928.
• He was an amazing, if somewhat eccentric, man. He and Annie only had one daughter and she died in infancy–the baby is buried in Layman’s. Peter and Annie are at Hillside with other members of his family.

Dr. Peter Holl was a man of rock-solid opinions and an all-consuming commitment to improving public health. In addition to being one of the shakers and movers who helped save Minneapolis Pioneers and Soldiers Cemetery in the 1920s, he served for a number of years as Minneapolis’ Health Commissioner where he supervised the city-wide vaccination of school children, placed people with smallpox in quarantine, monitored the municipal water supply and tested the city’s lakes to make sure that they were safe to swim in. He wrote a daily column for the Minneapolis Tribune in which he answered questions from the public about their health concerns. He also maintained a private practice. He was a man of enormous energy and drive. He was also a bit of a showman.

In 1911, Dr. Holl teamed up with the Minneapolis Tribune to sponsor a contest aimed at turning Minneapolis into a “flyless” city. Flies were known to be carriers of the bacteria that caused typhoid fever and the thinking was that if the city could rid itself of flies, it would be well on its way to ridding itself of typhoid. If the idea of a fly-swatting contest sounds a little crazy, the goal of getting rid of typhoid was not. More than 820 people buried in the cemetery died from the disease.

The contest was always referred to in the paper as a “war” on flies, and, so, beginning at 10 a.m. on August 21, 1911, the Minneapolis Tribune, armed the city’s children, ages 16 and under, for battle. Boy Scouts, the Boys Club, Sunday School classes and individual children throughout the city enlisted in the war against flies.

Every day, between 10 to 11 a.m. and from 3 to 4 in the afternoon, children could pick up their fly-catching supplies (special collection boxes that were furnished by the Standard Paper Box Company and a button that read “The Tribune and I Swat the Fly”) at one of the city’s 13 drop-off sites. For children with greater ambitions than merely swatting flies, the Tribune printed photos of home-made flytraps (usually a tomato can fitted with a mesh screen). Children fanned out across the city in search of the best locations to set their traps; grocery stores and livery stables being preferred locations. The Tribune also ran photos of traps built and baited by Dr. Holl that demonstrated that flies preferred a diet of bread and milk over a diet of molasses or egg.

Children had to submit their entries before noon each day to have them tallied in the day’s count. And each day, the Tribune printed a list of the top contenders. This, in turn, led to some strategizing—children withholding their flies in order to fake out their competitors. Each day, the Tribune sent a wagon to each of the 13 drop-off sites and brought the flies back to the health department to be counted and credited to the children’s accounts. The paper never mentioned who had the unenviable task of counting all of those flies.

The contest ended at 11 a.m. on Saturday, September 2nd. The winner was a 13-year-old boy named George Knaeble; he won a $50 prize for turning in 266,340 flies. Teddy Bedor won the second-place prize of $25 with 264,660 flies, and Henrietta Beck took third place and won $15 by collecting more than 186,000. In all, 3,028,578 flies were turned in. (Sadly, no children living within Phillips’ borders placed in the top 10).

Did catching flies work in reducing typhoid? It’s really not possible to say because typhoid was spread through other means, as well. And, Minneapolis Pioneers and Soldiers was not necessarily representative of the entire city, but it is interesting that in 1910, one year before the contest, there were 15 burials for people who died from typhoid. In 1911, there were three cases, and there were three in 1912, as well. Coincidence? You’ll need to decide for yourselves. Meanwhile, we can be thankful to Dr. Holl for saving many lives in his role as Health Commissioner and physician and for saving our Cemetery.

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