Sarah, The Fly Swatter

Thousands of dead flies were sent to the Richmond City Health Department in 1912.

By Valentine Museum Staff

In June of 1912, the City Health Department and the Richmond Times-Dispatch sponsored a fly-killing contest, in order to raise awareness about the dangers of flies as disease carriers.  Thousands of people all over town entered, including a team of twenty-four Boy Scouts.  However, the winner was a lone swatter: fourteen-year-old Sarah Johnson of Church Hill, who racked up an astounding 689,640 kills.

Every evening, she took the trolley to the Health Department, to turn in her flies and have them counted.  Little Sarah became a Richmond celebrity that summer, appearing on the front page of the paper for two weeks during and after the contest, though a Times-Dispatch interview with her forty-four years later reveals that the contest coverage may have been a little misleading.  Turns out, she was not working alone.  Turns out, she had stolen the hearts of many Richmonders, who decided to help her championship bid.

“It was really terrible the way the paper made me seem like a heroine, killing flies single-handed, while the Boy Scouts and all the others were working in teams.  Why, people set up traps in stores all over town and turned the flies in at the Health Department in my name.  There were even some flies sent in my name from the State Penitentiary.”

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Authors Valentine Museum Staff
Work Title Sarah, The Fly Swatter
Published October 6, 2023
Updated May 24, 2024
Copyright © 2024 The Valentine Museum