Olney, Illinois is famous for white squirrels. In 1943 there were 1000 of the little guys but by the ’90s the population remained constant around 200. The town has implemented a rather strict set of laws to protect them. Dogs are not allowed to roam free anywhere in Olney and in 1997 cats were prohibited from roaming free as well. Running over an Olnean white squirrel, which has right of way on all streets, will get you a $200 fine.
Olney’s white squirrel community is a true albino population, which has managed to support itself for over sixty years. According to the White Squirrel Institute the Olnean squirrel population represents “mutants of some gene that delegates the use of the pigment (melanin) gene, not mutants of the melanin gene itself.”
There are two theories as to the origins of Olney’s white squirrel infestation both of which are more enjoyable if you play banjo music in your head while reading them. I found them both on the City of Olney community page:
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The William Yates Stroup Hypothesis:
While William Yates Stroup was hunting squirrels in the woods near his home in the southeast Olney Township he saw a gray squirrel run into a nest and shot the den killing the mother and knocking out two pure white baby squirrels. He put them into the pockets of his game bag and took them home with him, turning them over to his sons, George and Era Strop who raised them by hand feeding them milk by a spoon. The little squirrels lived, thrived and grew well. That fall farmer Stroup brought the squirrels to Olney and presented them to the Jasper Banks Saloon and displayed them in his window. They attracted attention and were a fine drawing card for what was called “JAP’s Place.”
The albinos were finally released when the Illinois legislature passed a law prohibiting the confinement of wildlife, which included squirrels. The squirrels were taken to Oakwood, the home of Thomas Tippit commonly called Tippit’s Woods and released. The Tippit residence was located at 802 N. Silver Street, but has since been torn down.
The George W. Ridgely Hypothesis:
George W. Ridgely moved to a farm about six miles southeast of Sumner, In 1899 George discovered a cream-colored squirrel and a white squirrel playing on his farm near Sumner. He tried to capture them but was unsuccessful. Finally he asked his neighbor John Robinson to help him, but they were unsuccessful. Finally the men constructed a box-like trap and a cage eight feet by six feet. They captured them and were able to raise several litters before bringing a pair to Olney in 1902. Mr. Ridgely sold the pair to Jasper C. Banks for $5 each. Mr. Banks made a green box for his albinos and displayed them in his saloon window, hoping they would attract customers and cause them to go inside and get a better look and have a drink.
Little known fact, Olney’s white squirrels love being picked up by their tails! Go ahead, don’t be shy.
Both of these stories raise the question as to why more bars don’t feature live squirrels? This sounds like the greatest idea since the MegaTouch machine (specifically Photo Hunt) was introduced to the bar top at Smokey Joe’s in West Philly.