LAST CALL: Albino squirrels draw media attention to small IL town

Many cities spend several years and thousands of dollars on high- powered image doctors to garner favorable national press. But the folks in Olney, IL say nuts to that.

Many cities spend several years and thousands of dollars on high- powered image doctors to garner favorable national press. But the folks in Olney, IL say nuts to that.

All Olney needs to get coverage is about 140 squirrels - white squirrels that is.

Olney is one of three US cities with large concentrations of the bushy- tailed albinos. Legend has it that a century ago, an area couple found a pair of the creatures in the country and brought them to town, where a tavern owner raised them to adulthood and later released them in a local park.

Nature ran its course, and the pallid critters have been part of the local scene ever since. They're literally everywhere in Olney, from the city website to police badges to banners around town.

Olney recently held a weekend of celebrations to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the coming of the white squirrels to the city of 8,600.

Events included a parade with a squirrel theme, games of pin the tail on the squirrel, a nut-rolling contest, and tossing acorns into squirrel houses. Visitors came from West Virginia and even New York to help in the annual squirrel count, when Olney residents hit the woods to do a census of the local white squirrel population.

Village clerk Belinda Henton thought a 100th birthday bash for white squirrels would be a sure bet with the media, so as she was planning the event, she contacted a reporter from the Decatur Herald & Review, who had written about Olney's squirrels in the past. Sure enough, he did a story that the AP picked up. Soon the Chicago Tribune was in town doing what would become a page-one story, complete with a picture of an Olney white squirrel.

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