OLNEY, ILLINOIS—A SQUIRRELY TOWN 1-28-02
I had a great time in Olney, home of the white squirrels. Olney first saw the unique animals in the early 1900s. In 1925, a city ordinance was passed that protects the albino colony and a white squirrel has the right-of-way on any street in Olney! In 1943 a bill was introduced in the legislature to protect the white squirrels. The Illinois State Law is as follows: Chapter 61, Article 174, Paragraph 40. "It is unlawful for any person to take white squirrels in this state at any time." A more pampered animal would be difficult to find! Residents delight in cracking nuts and ears of corn for the pink-eyed creatures, many of which are tame. Gwen drove me around town looking for "squirrel sightings," and indeed we found several. At one point we were walking around someones yard, each of us with a camera, when a gentleman drove up, rolled down his window, and said "Come over here! There's two of them in this yard!" And he was right! Without a doubt, he knew exactly what we were trying to do! Gwen gave me a magnet, and also a t-shirt with 2 white squirrels on it. Cross Harness & Embroidery gave me a baseball cap with a white squirrel embroidered on it. Spieth Photography developed a roll of film for me for free, and gave me a new roll of film to replace it. And today when I gave a talk at Olney Central College to the Student Nurses Association, they presented me with 2 t-shirts from the nursing program.
People were so nice in this town! The newspaper did a story, and the radio did an interview. In fact, because the radio announced where I was spending the wkend at, I received 2 phone calls from 2 people who recently had brain surgery because of their epilepsy! One call was from the parents of Courtney, a 5th grader who had surgery last August. We got together and visited for quite awhile. We even took some pictures of Courtney and I. The other was a 39 yr old man who had surgery just last month, and has so far been seizure-free. In fact, today when I went to a printing shop to have copies made, the lady knew the fellow who just had surgery and gave me my copies for free. On Saturday, Mrs Eva Fessel, curator, gave me the grand tour of the Carnegie Library and the Heritage House, even though the 2 museums are generally closed in the winter. I really enjoyed seeing the museums. It was there that I discovered that Robert Ridgway, leading American Ornithologist, was born near here at Mount Carmel, IL in 1850. As a youth he became interested in birds and sketched many specimens around his home. At the age of 17, he was appointed zoologist on a geological survey of the 40th parallel. From 1874 to 1929, he was connected with the Smithsonian Institution, first as an ornithologist and later as a curator of birds. Ridgway published extensively in his field and related areas from 1869 to 1929. His experience with the problems of color and color description in bird portraits resulted in a work entitled Color Standards and Color Nomenclature, which proved valuable in many fields besides ornithology. He also wrote an authoritative eight-volume study of the birds of North and Middle America. In 1916, Ridgway retired to Olney to continue his research at his home, which he called Larchmound. He also developed an 18-acre tract called Bird Haven, as a bird sanctuary and experimental area for the cultivation of trees and plants not native to this region. He died at Olney on March 25, 1929. I had a great time in Olney over the wkend, and met a lot of neat people and special friends. I know that someday I'll be back down this road again. On Tues I'll give a talk at Lawrencei High School and will then walk across the Wabash River and on in to Vincent, Indiana, my tenth state. Y'all take care and have a great day! KB
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