Squirrels certainly have their enemies – resulting from a long list of troubles they cause – but for the most part they maintain popularity. I waffle at times between disdain and admiration, but overall I agree that they are pretty impressive.
McFarlandbooks.com sent me a review copy of the new book, “Nuts About Squirrels,” by Don Corrigan, and I found a lot more things to like, mixed in with fair analysis of the problems they cause.
At 7 p.m. on Monday, May 20, Corrigan will hold a multimedia presentation about squirrels to promote his 226-page paperback at the Windsor Branch of the Jefferson County Library in Barnhart.
The longtime St. Louis-area newspaper editor and journalism instructor at Webster University based the premise of his book on how mass communication portrays squirrels today and in the past.
“I’m lucky that I work at Webster University, where they prize things like squirrel research,” Corrigan said, explaining that professors are encouraged to write and study in their field of expertise. “I had a much more academic title in my proposal. I took two semesters off to research and write.”
The most obvious component of the book is its depth of topics and historic stories. He covers squirrels in children’s books, cartoons, movies and advertising. My favorite chapter covered historic legends regarding American squirrels.
Readers of a certain age might select Rocky the flying squirrel who teamed up with Bullwinkle to foil the villainous Boris and Natasha in Cold War-era America as the obvious choice of most acclaimed.
Younger audiences might select as best the superhero Squirrel Girl, or Surly, the star of the recent animated film “The Nut Job.”
A strong contender for tops in the St. Louis region has to be the Rally Squirrel, who showed up during the St. Louis Cardinals’ quest for the World Championship in 2011. Between his (or her) first appearance in Game 3 of the division series against Philadelphia to the final out of the World Series 24 days later, the squirrel became a baseball phenomenon.
Rally was immortalized on the official World Series rings and has his own Topps baseball card, featuring him and the front foot of hitter Skip Schumaker.
Several colleges across the country have black squirrels as their team mascots. In places like Olney, Ill., white squirrels have become a tourist attraction.
“You have to be careful driving through town. If you hit a white squirrel with your car, it’s a $700 fine,” Corrigan said. “If you think Mickey Mouse is popular, it is absolutely amazing how popular squirrels are.”
Among the American legends is the story of the governor of Ohio calling on all squirrel hunters from the Buckeye State to descend on Cincinnati during the Civil War to defend the strategic town from a growing Confederate Army presence across the river.
The Confederates never fired a shot because word spread that more than 15,000 sharpshooters were armed and ready to take out any Ohio River crossers.
Another topic that really caught my attention was how North American gray squirrels have become an invasive species in the United Kingdom.
“After the Revolutionary War, some Brits took gray squirrels back to the island. They didn’t think much about how that might affect the ecology,” Corrigan said.
The native British red squirrel populations have seen a dramatic decline as the bigger, hardier and disease-carrying grays have moved in and proliferated. Estimates exceed 5 million for gray squirrels in the UK compared with less than 140,000 of the original species.
There is much more to like and learn in the book, and a good place to start would be at the library in Barnhart on Monday night.
John J. Winkelman is community engagement manager at Mercy Hospital Jefferson. If you have news for the Leader’s Outdoor News page, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow John on Twitter at @johnjwink99.