By Margaret O’Hartigan, adapted from her walking guide, “Walnut Park Revealed”.
Walnut Park is nestled on the western edge of King neighborhood and the eastern edge of Humboldt, its streets still dotted by old walnut trees originally planted so the neighborhood could live up to its name.
Things haven’t always been as peaceful in the Park as they are today. On July 30, 1920 the Oregonian reported “EARWIGS INVADE THE CITY — PESTS DESTROY FLOWERS AND SHRUBS IN WALNUT PARK”. Fred Cooper, transportation manager of the Portland Railway Light & Power Company – and Park resident – brought several hundreds of the pests to city hall and ultimately to the attention of the park bureau.
By the following day the crisis had grown: “EARWIGS CAUSING WORRY — RESIDENTS OF PEST-INFESTED DISTRICT SEEK AID” blared the July 31 Oregonian; “City Council Appealed To”. A dozen Walnut Park residents appeared before the city council to appeal for immediate action in fighting the pests. Commissioner Bigelow — in charge of the park bureau — was reluctant to give any assistance, contending that the fight against earwigs should be waged by individual property owners.
Cooper responded that “individual efforts would not conquer the earwigs and that it was the duty of the city authorities to interest themselves in ridding the city of the serious pest, in the same manner that the city takes steps to eradicate an epidemic.”
The next day the Oregonian reported “City Fights Earwigs”, adding that “Upon instruction from the city council…Park Superintendent Keyser detailed a gang of men to the Walnut park district.”
Keyser wasn’t happy, however. In “Pest Fight Transferred”, the August 6 Oregonian reported that “The city’s fight against earwigs in Walnut Park was yesterday transferred from Park Superintendent Keyser to James W. Jones, a sanitary inspector in the health bureau…Lack of enthusiasm on the part of the park superintendent in the fight that the city officials intend to wage against the pest was given as the reason for the assignment of the work to Mr. Jones.” Then Commissioner Barbur announced he would prepare an ordinance declaring the earwig a nuisance.”
“It was the duty of the city authorities to interest themselves in ridding the city of the serious pest.”
A letter to the Oregonian’s editor applauded such stern measures: “The city council has a great plan for combating the earwig pest, namely, to pass an ordinance declaring the earwigs a public nuisance. When they hear about this no doubt the earwigs will be so chagrined that they will curl up and die.”
Mayor George Baker claimed a lack of city funds precluded the appropriation of $1000 to fight the earwigs, as the August 14 Oregonian reported: “Earwig Fund Stopped.” Ultimately the fight against the invaders was left to individuals, acting on their own, in the great American tradition of rugged individualism.
In yet another great American tradition, the mayor at the time of the earwig invasion — George Baker – the following year posed for a photograph with bed-sheeted Ku Klux Klan members – proving once again his utter inability to respond appropriately to vermin when he came across it.
And the earwigs can be found in Walnut Park to this day.