Before ex-Beatle Paul McCartney canceled a concert in the Yale Bowl, beetle grubs almost ruined Yale’s football season

A lesson in obscure local history

Sir Paul McCartney at the Yale graduation ceremonies in 2008 received an honorary Doctor of Music Degree. Fifteen years earlier, he didn't make it into the Yale Bowl, to much disappointment. (AP Photo/Bob Child)

This is the true story about beetles, an ex-Beatle, and the Yale Bowl. The beetles are the Asiatic insects. Spelled differently but sounding the same, the ex-Beatle is Paul McCartney of the famous singing group from England. The Yale Bowl, the playing facility of Yale University’s football teams, was at one time involved with both the beetles and the ex-Beatle.

McCartney’s stage too big to get into the Bowl

There was much disappointment in the New Haven area and beyond in the summer of 1993 when Paul McCartney, the ex-Beatle, was forced to cancel a concert in the Yale Bowl about 10 days before it was to have taken place. His huge stage set could not fit through any of the entrance portals of the Bowl, and the cost of using cranes to lift it over the top rim would have been prohibitive.

wkqk2kkkpkzk1kvqrsuqdk8kf01qck7kok5kokmkf0uqzsnqtkwqak8khsvqf0bqrs5kvkxkvkikbk Before ex Beatle Paul McCartney canceled a concert in the Yale Bowl, beetle grubs almost ruined Yale’s football season
An adult asiatic beetle, in all of its creepy glory. (Photo courtesy: Bill Keim/BugGuide.Net)

It was not the first time, however, that beetles (spelled differently but sounding the same as Beatle) were prominently referred to in the annals of the Yale Bowl. In 1929 thousands of the Asiatic beetle family, not the kind that sing but those who feast on the roots of grass, were about to satisfy their appetites and thereby ruin most of Yale’s football season.

History lesson of Westville and the Bowl

What follows is a brief history lesson – a fascinating and little known sidelight about the Yale Bowl and Westville, mostly a residential and picturesque part of New Haven. The Bowl, which saw its first game 15 years prior to the beetle threat, and a good part of Westville, had been put in jeopardy of losing many of its lawns and other grassy areas by the infestation of thousands of grubs- the worms that develop into beetles. The fight to repel them had begun in 1926.

The culprits were the Asiatic beetles, whose scientific name is Anomala Orientalis Waterhouse. They are related to but somewhat smaller than the equally dangerous Japanese beetles. In 1920 they were discovered in a nursery in New Haven and by 1925 they had spread over 27 city blocks.

After being discovered, a quarantine was ordered by W. L. Sinte, Jr., a Director of the Connecticut Agriculture Experiment Station in New Haven, with the approval of Governor John Trumbull. In the summer of 1929 the beetles had worked their way to Bridgeport and the U.S. Department of Agriculture imposed its own quarantine in New Haven and West Haven.

yale bowl map Before ex Beatle Paul McCartney canceled a concert in the Yale Bowl, beetle grubs almost ruined Yale’s football season
The area affected by the beetles. (Photo: YahooMaps.com)

For those familiar with the streets of New Haven, visualize the area around Yale Avenue, Willard Street, Forest Road, Cleveland Road and Chapel Street, all within one or two miles from the Yale Bowl.

The quarantines prohibited moving soil or loam, plants with soil at the roots, plants in pots, turf or sod, lawn clippings, ground litter, weeds or compost, without special permits.

According to the International News Service (INS), Connecticut spent upward of $30,000 or $423,565 in today’s economy, “trying to get the beetle out of New Haven, and private land owners have spent perhaps just as much. Block after block of lawns in the Westville district here are as barren as if a frost had swept the area. This is the result of grubs that were found at the rate of 1,000 to a square foot of turf.”

What are grubs and what do they do?

t2002i grub Before ex Beatle Paul McCartney canceled a concert in the Yale Bowl, beetle grubs almost ruined Yale’s football season
Photo: Scotts.com

Grubs are actually worms or beetle larvae prior to becoming full grown beetles. Each female deposits from 40 to 60 eggs in the soil. When they hatch, devastation occurs. They don’t eat the grass but they attack the roots, causing the grass to wither and die. The dug up infested turf attracts birds, skunks and raccoons that will then feast on the little culprits.

It was a pretty dismal outlook for the still relatively new Yale Bowl. With the 1929 football season barely begun, there was concern whether Yale and its opponents would have a suitable field to play on the rest of the Bowl’s fifteenth season. The beetles were mainly in Connecticut, but The New York Times reported that they had been “an increasing cause of trouble on golf courses in the country.”

During the four years prior to 1929 the grubs were present in large numbers in Westville. However, they had not been known to have invaded the Bowl until the summer of 1929. By Oct. 12, 1929, they were feeding on the green mat of the field while Yale was away from home, playing (and losing) in Georgia.

The worms were mostly in the northern end of the Bowl, where the scoreboard is now located, probably attracted by the sunshine there. They are known to seek areas of warmth.

Yale sought assistance from the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven, which for four years had maintained the quarantine of the Asiatic beetle in Westville.

Arsenic of lead had to be used

Several thousand pounds of arsenic of lead were then applied to the infected area inside the Bowl, on the advice of Dr. Roger B. Friend, an entomologist at the Experiment Station. He was then satisfied that the grubs would be destroyed.

Yale went on with its football season before mostly large crowds. Perhaps relatively few among them were aware that the playing field, showing only the normal wear and tear of football cleats, could have looked more like a sandlot.

The beetle grubs lost their battle and the Beatle musician lost his concert

The games in the Yale Bowl during the balance of the 1929 season went on without interruption despite the threat caused by the Asiatic beetle grubs.

Too bad Paul McCartney, a musical Beatle in name, could not perform in the same Yale Bowl 64 years after the real beetles were banished.

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