Mosquitoes, Matrons, and Biting Flies

Oh, constant singer in the night
And ruthless prober of my skin,

You flimsy, winged satellite,
How did you manage to get in?

Your whining voice inside the screen,

Tells me you’re much disturbed
As to whether “in” is really “in”,
Now that your liberty is curbed.

I’m long past the point now,

I don’t care if you bite,
But please stop your crooning
And let me sleep, one night.

No, I didn’t write this ditty. It’s called “To a Mosquito” and it was written in 1943 by Gilbert Byron, a Delaware poet. Mosquitoes and biting flies have been a part of coastal Delaware’s history since the time of the early settlers.

In the early 1900s, it’s been reported, clouds of mosquitoes enveloped Rehoboth at sunset. And up until the late 1930’s, according to a guide book of the times, farm families huddled around “smothers” of smouldering green leaves, and farm animals were driven to bellowing madness by swarms of stinging insects.

One still encounters mosquitoes and biting flies in Rehoboth. The “salt marsh mosquito” is the primary pest species in coastal Delaware. It can fly great distances to find a blood meal. The “salt-marsh greenhead fly” so named because of its large green eyes, most common during the summer, is the most abundant and annoying of the biting fly species on the salt marshes and nearby bathing beaches at Gordon’s Pond State Park. The biting flies at Gordon’s Pond are particularly irritating when the wind blows from the west and pushes them onto the beach. Thankfully, the problem is manageable. Due in part to Mrs. H.B. Thompson, whom I like to refer to as “the mosquito queen of Rehoboth.”

Mrs. H.B. Thompson was a wealthy summer resident of Rehoboth. She hailed from Greenville, Delaware, and she led a group of women in an effort to rid Rehoboth of its mosquito problems in the 1930s. Largely through her efforts with the Village Improvement Association, Rehoboth undertook a massive ditching project. Civilian Conservation Corps soldiers armed with shovels began in the marshes surrounding Rehoboth Beach but soon spread north and south along the length of the state’s coastline. The intent was to drain the marshes of expanses of standing water that served as mosquito breeding grounds.

By 1938, more than 2,000 miles of ditches had been dug, which helped curb the plague of salt-marsh mosquitos in the state. In her battle with Rehoboth’s mosquitoes, Mrs. H.B. Thompson consulted with experts from President Theodore Roosevet’s administration who had experience with mosquitoes during the building of the Panama Canal. She brought valuable tactical advice back to Rehoboth: massive doses of kerosene spray, drainage ditches, and proper disposal of debris and discarded automobiles and tires. Makes you wonder what this place looked like…

One of the state’s most influential women, Mrs. H.B. Thompson was also instrumental in establishing the Rehoboth Art Leage. She detested bright lipstick on women and even led the fight to defeat giving women the right to vote in Delaware. When the bill was defeated in the State Legislature, the story goes that the anti-suffragettes raised Mrs. H.B. Thompson up on a chair and carried her around he State House in triumph. Her summer cottage is still around, if you’re interested in taking a look — its the tasteful shingled house at the corner of Park Avenue and First Street that goes by the name of “Mon Plaisir.”

It’s her writing that is the photo for this story. I photographed it from a letter she wrote to Irenee du Pont in 1928, inviting him down to spend the weekend with her in Rehoboth. Irenee and Mrs. H.B. Thompson wrote each other frequently. His correspondence was often addressed to her as “Dear Queen.” Of course it was.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s