Joel BrownFile 2003

Nothing says “Oak Park” like squirrels, our most numerous form of wildlife (we hope). And Oak Parker Joel Brown (whom we profiled on Dec. 10, 2003) is among the most knowledgeable about Sciurus caroliensis. Brown was featured in a Washington Post column last Sunday under the headline, “In the urban game park, nut-gatherers rule.”

Certainly sounds like Oak Park.

Metro columnist John Kelly, opened the article putting us in exclusive company: “Joel Brown lives in Oak Park, Ill., which is sort of the Chevy Chase of Chicago. Or the McLean. Or the University Park. That is, it’s a leafy, older suburb full of the sort of people who like to live in leafy, older suburbs.”

People who like to live in leafy, older suburbs. Yep, that pretty much covers us.

Brown, described as an “evolutionary ecologist,” had some interesting things to say about squirrels — such as the fact that 100 years ago, they didn’t exist here. He gave three reasons:

1) “They tasted good.”

2) “There were no rules or regulations about discharging firearms.”

3) “Most people grew gardens in the backyard, not as recreation but as income supplement. Squirrels were a threat to that.”

Well, if the NRA has anything to say about it, we’ll all soon be armed and out hunting squirrels again.

Brown, by way of Kelly, doesn’t mention it, but the story we heard is that Ernest Hemingway’s uncle, George (his name is carved at the top of a commercial building near Marion and Westgate), a prominent local real estate agent, started importing red squirrels through a mail-order catalog because he thought it improved the village’s ambiance.

Whoever’s responsible, those little balls of fur caught on. Now Brown describes modern municipalities like ours as “urban game parks.”

He also says they’re not as tame and domesticated as they might appear. Nonetheless, Brown keeps one in his basement, according the Washington Post’s photo caption. See for yourself at

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