Crickets & Blackbirds & Beetles, Oh My!

Warning: If you aren’t fond of beaks, barbed legs or beady eyes, you may not want to continue reading.

It seems the summer of 1938 was the summer of pests in Frederick city and county.

That August, thousands of blackbirds flew over the city night after night. Since the bird was protected by state law, they could not be shot, according to an article in The News, so other tactics were used to disperse the creatures, including clapping boards together, shooting off Roman candles and dousing the birds with water from fire hoses to get them to leave.

“Owls and larger birds make it no longer safe for the blackbirds to roost along the Monocacy river and outside town,” according to the news article. “They fear man less than their own kind, and the city serves as a refuge for them. Having hatched their young, they flock together, preparatory to the start of their migratory season in mid-September. … [A]lmost any tree may be observed with hundreds of birds on its limbs after nightfall. Some of the birds prefer roofs to trees, it would seem.”

Another pest, the Japanese Beetle, was on the decline at this time, though Brunswick, Lander, Point of Rocks and Monrovia had been the most affected in the county, and Baker Park saw the brunt of the beetles in the city.

But blackbirds and beetles had nothing on the real nuisance of the summer of 1938: crickets. We’re not talking about dozens or handfuls of crickets—though, for some, that would have been plenty. We’re talking swarms of crickets in downtown Frederick, Middletown and Jefferson, in particular.

“They were especially prevalent in downtown sections, where they swarmed under street lights, forming thick black masses wherever they alighted,” reported The News. “The marble steps in front of the C. Burr Artz Library were reported to have been black with the crickets and the doors had to be closed to keep them from entering.”

People employed various tactics to remove the swarms, including sweeping them with brooms and (again) spraying them with fire hoses to clear them from the sidewalks.

So the next time we hear the song of a stray cricket that’s found its way into our basement, let’s take a deep breath and be glad it’s only one … and not thousands as it was nearly 80 years ago.

Sources: The News, August 9, 1938, August 17, 1938 and August 18, 1938

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