[In honor of "Squirrel Appreciation Day" -- today, Jan. 21 -- we're re-posting this fascinating post.]
Most people think of squirrels as just another everyday feature of American parks. But, according to a new paper published in the Journal of American History, this wasn't always so. Etienne Benson, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, explains that it wasn't until the first half of the 19th century that you could see a squirrel in a park in the U.S. -- and even then, they were likely to be pets.
In most cases such pets had been taken from nests while young, and many were probably abandoned, killed, or had managed to escape after they matured. Nonetheless, they provided opportunities for urban Americans to form opinions about the habits and character of squirrels that complemented and sometimes contradicted those opinions formed in the context of hunting and farming.
Then, in the 1840s and 1860s, Boston and New Haven, Connecticut began the first introductions of squirrels into urban parks were begun. The lucky pioneers were even provided with nesting boxes and food (luxuries that today's squirrels can usually only dream of). Some of the squirrels even got so fat that they fell out of trees. The animals were seen as a great boon to the parks, Benson writes: