Contest Winner was Pretty Fly for Her Day


August 10, 2015


The rules of the contest, as printed in the Toronto Star.

The Toronto Star looked to its archives recently to unearth the life story of Beatrice “Beattie” White, who in 1912 was 15 years old and dreaming of winning a fly killing contest so she could spend the prize money on music lessons.

The summer of 1912 was so thick with flies, the city turned to hosting a “Swat-the-Fly” competition for boys and girls 16 and under. With a first prize of $50 dancing in their heads, the children brought in pint jars of dead flies to the Medical Health Office.

At the final count in August, 3.5 million flies had been killed,” the article reports. “Beatrice White was in first place, responsible for 543,360 of them.” Her closest competition, a seven-year-old girl who lived next door to a manure heap, had  234,400 flies. (The chief medical officer, Dr. Charles Hastings, recorded 3,200 flies per full glass.)

The stories the Star uncovered while chasing White, who later became Mrs. Efner, Mrs. Russell and finally, Mrs. Abbey, are greatly entertaining. Take this story, for example:

On July 17, contestant Russell McCallister brought his flies in alive. Hastings took the lid off the boy’s cardboard box and a “pint of the most lively specimens” tried to escape. He quickly slammed it shut.

“How am I going to measure live flies?” he demanded.

He told Russell he’d have to “dose them with something” but warned that wet flies wouldn’t measure as well as dry ones.

“Couldn’t you dry them out again?” the boy asked.

“What, with a towel?” Hastings asked.

“Naw, in the oven,” Russell replied.

In 1968, the newspaper had tracked Beattie down long enough to have Toronto City Council present a formal thank-you to the elderly widow (along with a can of insect spray). An 85-year-old niece is living in Florida today, but when Beattie passed around 1980, the fly-killing champ was interred in an unmarked grave with no one to claim her.

There’s still a silver lining, though, according to this latest article: “The engraving is filled with dirt, grass and ants. There are no flies in sight.”


About the Author

Heather Gooch

Heather Gooch is the editor-in-chief for PMP magazine. She can be reached at or 330-321-9754.

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