White Squirrel Wars
Olney, IL; Marionville, MO; Kenton, TN; Brevard, NC; Exeter, ON
Not one, but five towns use albino squirrels as their claims to fame, and none is particularly happy about the others.
Kenton, Tennessee, accommodates about 200 of the furry rodents. Residents insist that the squirrels "have been here the longest" and claim they were left by a "Gypsy caravan" in 1869. Is Kenton, we asked, where the other towns got their white squirrels? "Well, they had to come from somewhere."
Olney, Illinois, is the loudest booster of all albino squirrel towns, titling itself Home of the White Squirrels. It scoffs at the other towns' albinos. "Most of theirs have dark eyes," they told us. The town conducts and promotes an annual white squirrel count, when locals scour the landscape inch by inch to determine population or migration trends.
Laws on the Olney books give the squirrels right-of-way on every street; residents are fined if they try leave town with one. Local police patches bear an outline of a bushy-tailed albino. Big Squirrel is watching you.
Marionville, Missouri, also calls itself Home of the White Squirrels, and fines anyone $500 who tries to trap or sell one. This is a sensitive subject for Marionville, where the local lore is that Olney's first white squirrels were in fact kidnapped from Marionville. Former mayor and town historian Doris Rapp couldn't pinpoint exactly how Marionville got its white squirrels -- maybe a traveling circus, maybe a local mad scientist -- but she was certain that they'd been there since the 1800s.
Brevard, North Carolina
As "Home of the White Squirrel," Brevard, North Carolina, also appreciates their white squirrels, although they have dark eyes and are not albino. There has also been some interbreeding between the white and grays [According to tipster Dan Hay, "causing some to have gray caps and sometimes gray strip down back."].
Brevard College's "White Squirrel Research Institute" has charted the geographic distribution of pale critters in their region. Brevard's white squirrels are legally "protected." The town holds a White Squirrel Festival around Memorial Day Weekend.
The northernmost white squirrel enclave is over the border in Canada. The town of Exeter, Ontario appears bent on total White Squirrel Supremacy, celebrating an annual White Squirrel Festival and cheerily publicizing their pale pals. A 1986 naming contest dubbed the mascot "White Wonder." There's even a song and a music video.
But the Exeter squirrels aren't albinos -- their eyes are dark.
These communities revere their mascots, to the point of enacting stiff fines if humans should intentionally harm or even annoy a white squirrel.
Still, calamities do happen, whether it is a fall from a power line or an inattentive SUV driver on a cell phone (wait...that's all of them). Road crews quickly spirit away remains, shielding townsfolk and visitors from unpleasant views.
Marionville had come up with the best solution, preserving its most intact critters on ice and then shipping them to the Funeral Home with Perky Animal Dioramas, as we discovered during a visit.
Then there are ... Black Squirrel Squabbles.
Note:We are primarily interested in towns that promote their squirrel populations as symbols of civic pride. If your town has an annual squirrel festival, or you were Miss White Squirrel 2010, by all means let us know.