Downright Vicious

‘Skeeters, nature’s guerilla fighters

Illinois Times

June 16, 1978

Mosquitoes were a plague on my childhood during fetid mid-Illinois summers. I might have exaggerated the scale of the combat between man and beast in this piece, but I didn’t lie. I wouldn’t lie about something like that.


The mosquito putting the bite on us this year is of the ' 'flood water variety, says city health services director Jim Diekroeger. That variety breeds early, grows bigger and bites harder. He calls them downright vicious.

 Toby McDaniel

State Journal-Register

June 9, 1978


Two Saturdays ago I bicycled out to the Lick Creek end of Lake Springfield. There's a small woods there with a footpath that snakes its way along the shore of the sluggish, grass-clogged pond that marks the lake's westernmost terminus. Like everyone else in town, I'd heard the mosquitoes were bad this year. But I was not about to let a bunch of bugs get in the way of a pleasant morning's hike.


Mark those words, gentle reader. They are the utterances of a fool.


As I entered the tree-darkened corridors I heard a soft buzzing that seemed to rise in pitch ominously with every step I took. Then I saw them—hundreds of them in a boiling cloud, making straight for me with the unswervable determination of a process server being paid piecework rates. The buzzing rose to a shriek. They bit at my arms, my legs, my face. "Now I know," I thought to myself as I slapped furiously, "how the Denver Broncos felt in the Superbowl."


I had walked my bicycle in with me and let it fall with a clatter when the mosquitoes first hit. Suddenly at my feet I heard a loud, angry hissing noise. I glanced down at the bike and watched horrified as the hungry horde attacked the tires, puncturing them repeatedly until they were left dead and airless.


1 panicked and ran—farther into the woods. 1 couldn't see and tripped over a root or something—I found out later it was an old refrigerator—and fell headlong into a stinking mud pool. I scooped handfuls of the black muck out of the hole and smeared it on my body. That kept them off me for the moment. By then I was lost, and as I wandered around trying to get my bearings 1 saw, through a bright hole in the canopy, an impossible sight. It was a dog—an Airedale. I think, or maybe a Labrador—and it was flying! Then I looked again. It wasn't flying after all. It was being carried aloft by dozens of mosquitoes, who were flying the hapless creature off to some terrible end. As he disappeared around a bend I heard a pitiable whimpering, a sound I'd heard only once before, from the stenographer whose job it is to transcribe city council meetings every week. I turned my head, unable to watch any more.


"Raid," I mumbled to myself as I stumbled on through the woods, "I'd give my right arm for a good old-fashioned 16-ounce aerosol can of Raid Flying Insect Killer. The ozone layer be damned! I'll show 'em!" Everywhere I looked in that nightmare landscape I saw evidence of the mosquitoes' depredations. A toad sitting beside the path became, on closer examination, a leopard frog that had been stung into temporary wartiness. I noticed with a sickened feeling that the insects had even attacked plants; birch trees bore enough bumps on their bark to be mistaken by the amateur for ironwood, and even poison ivy plants—delicious irony!—were itching noticeably.


Near an open spot I stopped. I thought I'd heard a moan. I listened again. I was right. It was the voice of a man, weakly crying, "Calamine! Calamine!" as if he were dying of thirst and begging for water. I traced the sound to a loose pile of leaves and branches. He was hideously bumpy, almost cucumber-like, and his eyes burned with fear. As I sat next to him on the damp ground, beating off marauding skeeters with a stout elm branch like a coach hitting fungoes during infield practice, he told me his story.


He was a computer programmer for the state Department of Insurance, he explained. He and some friends had come to the woods on one of the Memorial Days to do some bird watching. They were attacked by mobs of mosquitoes—"as thick as politicians at a picnic," he said, trembling. His friends ran but his legs were already swollen like tackling dummies and he was forced to take refuge. He'd been there ever since. "I've already used up every last one of my personal days," he said, breaking into sobs.


He'd seen some awful things in those five days. Two days earlier, he said, a boatload of drunken fishermen had chugged into the pond from the lake side, oblivious to the danger that awaited them if they got too close to shore. "I tried to warn them" my new friend said, "but they were yelling louder than I was." The mosquitoes descended on the tipsy revelers without warning. "It looked like the food stamp window at the post office on payday," he shuddered. It was then that the mosquitoes, themselves now filled with alcohol sucked in with the blood of their victims, turned nasty and belligerent. My friend had watched as thousands of them massed for a kamikaze attack on a passing Illinois Central Gulf freight train. "The noise was unbearable," he said, putting his hands over his puffed-up ears. "The clanging they made as they slammed against the tanker cars! Their bent-up corpses lay like Schlitz cans all over—in the water, on the bridge, everywhere." I calmed him as best I could, grateful that I had been spared the sight.


It will be some time before 1 will be able to write about our escape; all I can say now is that the Air National Guard performed magnificently. I am nearly fully recovered now except for some residual lumpiness around the kneecaps. My friend has gone back to work after a sympathetic supervisor wrote off his days in the forest as a state business trip and paid him $12 a day expenses as well as restoring his personal days.


The mosquitoes are still out there. There are growing reports of missing pets in the area and one or two of missing children; a Chatham farmer says half his beef herd has mysteriously disappeared. It's no mystery to me. Somewhere, deep in the woods, those mosquitoes are having a barbeque. If I were an ear of sweet corn. I'd leave the country until things quiet down. □



John Hallwas

Essential for anyone interested in Illinois history and literature. Hallwas deservedly won the 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Illinois State Historical Society.

Lee Sandlin Author

One of Illinois’s best, and least-known, writers of his generation. Take note in particular of The Distancers and Road to Nowhere.

Chicago Architecture Center

See Home Page/Learn/

Resources for a marvelous building database, architecture dictionary, even a city planning graphic novel. Handsome, useful—every Illinois culture website should be so good.

The Encyclopedia of Chicago


The online version of The Encyclopedia of Chicago. Crammed with thousands of topic entries, biographical sketches, maps and images, it is a reference work unmatched in Illinois.

Illinois Great Places

The Illinois chapter of the American Institute of Architects in 2018 selected 200 Great Places in Illinois that illustrate our  shared architectural culture across the entire period of human settlement in Illinois.

McLean County Museum

of History

A nationally accredited, award-winning project of the McLean County Historical Society whose holdings include more than 20,000 objects, more than 15,000 books on local history and genealogy, and boxes and boxes of historical papers and images.

Mr. Lincoln, Route 66, and Other Highlights of Lincoln, Illinois


Every Illinois town ought to have a chronicler like D. Leigh Henson, Ph.D. Not only Lincoln and the Mother road—the author’s curiosity ranges from cattle baron John Dean Gillett to novelist William Maxwell. An Illinois State Historical Society "Best Web Site of the Year."

Illinois Digital Archives


Created in 2000, the IDA is a repository for the digital collections of the Illinois State Library and other Illinois libraries and cultural institutions. The holdings include photographs, slides, and glass negatives, oral histories, newspapers, maps, and documents from manuscripts and letters to postcards,  posters, and videos.

The Illinois State Museum


The people's museum is a treasure house of science and the arts. A research institution of national reputation, the museum maintains four facilities across the state. Their collections in anthropology, fine and decorative arts, botany, zoology, geology, and  history are described here. A few museum publications can be obtained here.

Chronicling Illinois

“Chronicling Illinois” showcases some of the collections—mostly some 6,000 photographs—from the Illinois history holdings of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library.


I will leave it to the authors of this interesting site to describe it. "Chicagology is a study of Chicago history with a focus on the period prior to the Second World War. The purpose of the site is to document common and not so common stories about the City of Chicago as they are discovered." 




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A lively and engaging study . . .  an enthralling narrative.

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A book that merits the attention of all Illinois historians

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