Marionville’s claim to fame runs all over town – but only when visitors aren’t touring solo

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Squirrel_2+One of Marionville’s white squirrels poses for the camera.

Ask Marionville locals, and you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone who isn’t basically on a first-name basis with the town’s colony of white squirrels.

– “They’re everywhere,” says the local gas station attendant. “You can just be driving and ‘bam’ there’s one.

– “Oh yeah, I’ve seen ‘em,” says a man, taking a break from scratching his lottery tickets. “They’re not hard to find.”

– “I saw one playing just this morning,” recounts a man as he enters City Hall.

Furriners, however, are a different story. The squirrels’ white fur must give them supernatural abilities – some kind of psychic power – to know when an outsider is looking for them. It is a fact that they have disappeared when well-intentioned visitors whipped out their cameras and tried to catch a glimpse. Of course, once longtime Marionville resident Doris Rapp appears, they come out frolicking with careless abandon. But she says that the squirrels’ absence can be linked to timing, not conspiracy.

One time I was walking up around the manor…and I counted 13,” says Doris. “If you’re around at the right time, you can see all you want to see.”

“One time I was walking up around the manor…and I counted 13,” says Doris. “If you’re around at the right time, you can see all you want to see.”

But why are these curious critters in Marionville in the first place?

“Well, there’s lot of stories about that,” says Doris, who is also Marionville’s mayor and historian. “Some of ‘em claim they were genetically bred somehow, you know. Others say they escaped from the circus train. And another says some guy brought them home for his daughters and they got loose and they just started multiplying in town.”

Actually, little is known about when the squirrels arrived on the scene, either – just that they’ve been around since the late 1800s. “If you look, the Ozarks Methodist Manor has some old annuals from when it was a college,” says Doris. “And around that, they’ve got squirrels on those pages.”

These days, the squirrels are town’s collective pets. Feeders are a common sight, welcoming the animals that are even supported by law in Marionville. “There is a city ordinance that you’ll be fined $500 to trap one or to kill it or to do anything,” says Doris. “They are a protected species here.” Surprisingly, however, this love didn’t propel the squirrels to become the school’s mascot. “They never did the White Squirrels,” says Doris. “Could you imagine a basketball team named the squirrels? That wouldn’t be quite right.”

Although Marionville’s “never had a white squirrel census,” Doris guesses that the population is probably around 100 or more.  “I’m sure that the population is much greater now,” she says of the squirrels today versus in the past. “They’re feeding them and there are more of them around.”

While the squirrels have been acknowledged as town residents for years (hence the yearbook page), their fame didn’t escalate until the 1970s. At that point, the Lions Club and other organizations began capitalizing on the critters’ presence, introducing a plethora of postcards, shirts, mugs, plaques, caps, magnets, buttons and anything that could proclaim Marionville’s white-squirrel status.

However, Marionville isn’t the country’s only town that claims such fame. A couple of other towns – one being Olney, Illinois – also have a population of white squirrels. Although it’s unknown how Marionville’s colony showed up, there is an explanation from Olney’s. “The story was told that two young men that were kind of scalawags had trapped a pair of (Marionville’s) and that they sold them to Olney,” says Doris. “That’s what we think. Now, Olney may have a different story.”

Guide to spotting a white squirrel

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Tip 1: Go when the weather is iffy. “If it goes to rainin’ they’ll come out,” says Doris.

Tip 2: Be mindful of time. “The best time is early in the morning or late in the evening,” Doris claims.

Tip 3: Come with corn. The squirrels like to be fed. “Shade (and) food attract them,” notes Doris.

Tip 4: Location, location, location. “The manor is a habitat for them because people feed them,” says Doris. Also check out Western Street, where they tend to play.

Tip 5: Be detail orientated. “When white moves, you need to pay attention,” notes Doris.

Tip 6: Get Doris to give you a tour.