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THE SINGULAR STORY OF THE MOSQUITO MAN






From: How To Write Special Feature Articles
(Category: PART II)

BY HELEN BULLITT LOWRY


"Now you just hold up a minute"--the bungalow-owner waved an indignant
hand at the man in the little car chug-chugging over the bumpy road.
"Now I just want to tell you," he protested, "that a mosquito got into
my room last night and bit me, and I want you to know that this has
happened three times this week. I want it to stop."

The man in the car had jumped out, and was turning an animated, and
aggressive, but not at all provoked, face on the complainer.

"Are you certain your drains are not stopped up?" he asked.

"Oh, those drains are all right. It's that damp hollow over in Miss K's
woods that's making the trouble."

"I'll go there immediately," said the aggressive one. "She promised me
she would fill that place this week."

"All right, then," answered the placated bungalow-owner, "I thought
you'd fix it up if you found out about it. I certainly wouldn't have
bought around Darien if you had not cleared this place of mosquitoes."

The aggressive one plunged into the Connecticut woods and began his
search for possible mosquito-breeding spots. He was the "Mosquito Man,"
the self-appointed guardian of the Connecticut coast from Stamford to
Westport.

He was not born a Mosquito Man at all--in fact, he did not become one
until he was forty years old and had retired from business because he
had made enough money to rest and "enjoy life." But he did not rest, and
did not get enjoyment, for the mosquitoes had likewise leased his place
on the Sound and were making good their title.

Came then big fat mosquitoes from the swamp. Came mosquitoes from the
salt marshes. Some lighted on the owner's nose and some looked for his
ankles, and found them. Three days of this sort of rest made him decide
to move away. Then, because he was aggressive, he became the Mosquito
Man. The idea occurred to him when he had gone over to a distant island
and was watching the building of houses.

"This place," he said to the head carpenter, "is going to be a little
heaven."

"More like a little other place," growled the head carpenter. "Here
they've dug out the centre of the island and carted it to the beach to
make hills for the houses to be built on. One good rain will fill their
little heaven with mosquitoes. Why don't the people around here drain
their country?"

That night the Mosquito Man telephoned to a drainage expert in New York
and demanded that he come out the next day.

"I don't like to work on Sunday," the expert objected.

"It is absolutely essential that you come at once," he was told. "Can
you take the first train?"

The first train and the expert arrived in Darien at 5:51. Before the day
was over a contract had been drawn up to the purport that the expert
would drain the salt marshes between Stamford and South Norwalk for
$4,000.

The Mosquito Man now began to talk mosquitoes to every one who would
listen and to many who did not want to listen. "That bug," the old
settlers called him at the time--for old settlers are very settled in
their ways. The young women at the Country Club, whenever they saw him
coming, made bets as to whether he would talk mosquitoes--and he always
did. Every property-owner in the township was asked for a subscription,
and some gave generously and some gave niggardly and some did not give
at all. The subscriptions were voluntary, for no one could be forced to
remove a mosquito-breeding nuisance from his property. This was in 1911,
and only in 1915 has a mosquito law been passed in Connecticut. The
Mosquito Man was forced to use "indirect influence," which does not
expedite matters.

A subscription of $1,000 came from the big land corporation of the
neighborhood, after the "indirect influence" had rather forcibly
expressed itself.

"I want $1,000 from you," said the Mosquito Man to the representative of
the president--the president was in South America. The representative
laughed, so the Mosquito Man spent several days explaining to him why
property is more valuable when it is not infested with pests. But every
time that the $1,000 was mentioned, the representative could not
restrain the smile.

"Well," the Mosquito Man said, at last, "I will make the drainage on
your property anyway, and it will cost me $2,000. If you want it left
you will have to pay me every cent of the $2,000, not just the $1,000
that I am asking now. Otherwise I shall fill up my ditches and let you
enjoy your mosquitoes."

The representative did not laugh at this, but cabled the president in
South America. As the president had just been at Panama, and had seen
the mosquito extermination work, the $1,000 subscription came back by
return cable.

The Darien Board of Health also was a spot against which in direct
influence was knocking, for it was a rich Board of Health with $150 at
its disposal--and the Mosquito Man wanted that appropriation to flaunt
in the faces of the old settlers.

"God sent mosquitoes," objected one member of the Board of Health, "and
it is going in the face of Providence to try to get rid of them."

All in all, the money was raised. Some whom he asked for $100 gave $25,
and some whom he asked for $25 gave $100, and some millionaires did not
give at all--but a sail-maker is still telling proudly of how he gave
$5, and "I haven't regretted a cent of it since."

The draining now commenced, and the expert and the Mosquito Man were of
the same stripe. The work was completed in six weeks. Just about this
time people stopped calling the Mosquito Man "a bug," and the members of
the Country Club even tried to make him talk mosquitoes to them, while
the sail-maker felt sure that his $5 had done the whole job. Hammocks
were swung out in the yards--and a hammock hung outside of the screens
is the barometer of the mosquito condition.

The Mosquito Man was feeling very satisfied the night he went to a dance
at the Country Club. But the east wind blew in the mosquitoes from the
Norwalk marshes.

"It was the most embarrassing experience I have ever had," said the
Mosquito Man. "I sat right behind a big fat lady whose dress was very
low and I watched the mosquitoes bite her; her whole back was covered
with red lumps. That night I telegraphed to the man who had done the
draining and he telegraphed back that all of Norwalk township must be
drained."

Norwalk proved to be a much severer task than Darien. In Darien the
Mosquito Man had found only indifference and prejudice; in Norwalk he
met active opposition. Property owners and city councils seem to be
afraid that the value of property will be brought down if any sanitation
scandal is advertised. It really appeared to be simpler and better
business to ignore the fact.

To do away with this opposition, the Mosquito Man handled his campaign
in a popular manner. The cooperation of the newspapers was gained and
every day he published articles on the mosquito question; some of the
articles were educational and others were facetious--while one came out
that brought the property owners crying "murder" about his ears. This
was the article in which he gave the statistics of Norwalk's health rate
in comparison with other Connecticut towns. The smallest subscriptions
were encouraged, for, after a man has given a dollar to a cause, that
cause is his. Many a child was received with a welcoming smile when he
brought to the campaign offices a ten-cent donation.

True, ten-cent donations were not suggested to adult contributors, and
the Mosquito Man did much to induce the well-to-do citizens to subscribe
according to their means. He still tells with relish of the club of
women which took up a collection, after his talk, and presented him with
two dollars, in small change.

"The women, though, were my greatest help," he adds; "I found that the
women are as a rule better citizens than the men and are glad to be
organized to fight the mosquito and fly menace. Of course, I found some
uneducated ones that owned a piece of property a foot square, and were
afraid that I would walk off with it in my pocket if I came to look it
over--but, as for the educated women, I could not have managed my
campaign without them."

A large contributor to the fund was the monastery at Kaiser Island. For
years this had been a summer resort for the monks, who filled the
dormitories in the old days before the mosquitoes took the island. Only
one priest was there when the Mosquito Man visited the place to ask for
a subscription.

"Very few come any more," said the priest. "It is because of the
mosquitoes."

"Will you contribute $500 to get rid of them?" asked the Mosquito Man.

Briefly, the Mosquito Man offered to repay the $500 himself if he did
not exterminate the mosquitoes. The mosquitoes went; the monks came back
to Kaiser Island.

Yet, in spite of the occasional generous giver, the $7,500 was never
quite raised, and the Mosquito Man himself had to make up the deficit.
The citizens of Norwalk, for instance, contributed only $150.

This all happened three years ago, and now not a child in the twelve
miles but can tell you all about mosquitoes and how a community can
avoid having them. The Mosquito Man is appreciated now, and the
community understands what he has done for them and what he is still
doing--for the contract merely drained the salt marshes, doing away with
the salt-water mosquitoes. There were still the fresh-water mosquitoes,
and there was still much work for some one to do. That some one has
been the Mosquito Man.

During the three years, he has made it his business to drain every
inland marsh within his territory, to turn over every tub which may
collect water, to let the plug out of every old boat which is breeding
mosquitoes, and to convince every ancestor-encumbered autocrat that his
inherited woods can breed mosquitoes just as disastrously as do the tin
cans of the Hungarian immigrant down the road. The Mosquito Man has an
assistant, paid by the towns of Darien and Norwalk--and together they
traverse the country.

"It was difficult finding a man who would go into mud to the waist when
need was," said the Mosquito Man, "but I finally found a good man with
the proper scorn of public opinion on the clothes question, and with a
properly trained wife who cleaned without scolding."

You can find traces of the two men any place you go in the woods of
Darien or Norwalk. In a ferned dell where you are quite sure that yours
is the first human presence, you come upon a ditch, as clean and smooth
as a knife--or you find new grass in a place which you remember as a
swamp. Perhaps you may even be lucky enough to come on the two workers
themselves, digging with their pick and spade--for all summer long the
Mosquito Man is working eight hours a day at his self-appointed task.

You might even find him in New York some off-day--and you will know him,
for surely he will be telling some rebellious apartment-house owner that
the tank on his roof is unscreened. For they do say that he carries his
activities into any part of the world where he may chance to be; they do
say that, when he was in Italy not so very long ago, he went out to
investigate the mosquitoes which had disturbed his rest the night
before.

"Now you must oil your swamp," said he to the innkeeper.

That night there was no salad for dinner, for the innkeeper had obeyed
the order to the best of his ability. He had poured all of his best
olive oil on the mosquito marsh.

* * * * *

_(Country Gentleman)_

Five half-tone illustrations, with the following captions:
1. "A Traction Ditcher at Work Digging Trench for Tile."
2. "Ditch Dug With Dynamite Through Woods."
3. "Apple Packing House and Cold Storage at Ransomville."
4. "Nelson R. Peet, County Agent and Manager of the Niagara
County Farm Bureau, New York."
5. "Part of the Crowd Listening to the Speakers."





Next: A COUNTY SERVICE STATION

Previous: THE NEIGHBORHOOD PLAYHOUSE



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