From the Archives: Squirrels at Notre Dame
Spencer Kelly, Thomas Dobbs and Lilyann Gardner | Wednesday, April 20, 2022
From the Archives has covered some important stories this year. From the 20th anniversary of 9/11, to the origins of the “Fighting Irish,” to the attempted merger of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s, this has been a fruitful year of historical inquiry. But we realized that one very significant stone had long been left unturned. A dominant campus demographic had been silenced in the historiography of the Archives project. Until now, we had not devoted an edition entirely to squirrels.
A search query for “squirrels” in The Observer archives produces a whopping 283 results. Ultimately, we chose three stories highlighting some positive and negative student opinions on squirrels, and even some perspectives from the squirrels themselves. However, whenever you inevitably see another squirrel scampering around campus, know that their prominent presence in the tri-campus community has a rich history — the depths of which we can only begin to describe in this short edition.
The internet’s fascination with Notre Dame Squirrels
Sept. 19, 2001 | C. Spencer Beggs | Researched by Thomas Dobbs
While Notre Dame advertises its stellar academic environment, gameday atmosphere and family-orientated culture, they too often omit their outstanding squirrels from the front-pages of admissions marketing.
On Sept. 19, 2001, C. Spencer Beggs (‘04) hoped to draw attention to this disparity by promoting Jon Gottshall’s now defunct website dedicated to reviewing and ranking colleges on the quality of their squirrels. The website rated campuses based on a variety of traits in its squirrels including cuteness, charm and friendliness.
Perhaps to many students’ dismay, the squirrels were not rated on their propensity to steal food, an act that might score highly in cuteness and charm but lower in categories such as trustworthiness or honesty.
While it is tempting to attribute the exceptionality of Notre Dame squirrels to our campus alone, Gottshall revealed that Notre Dame merely benefits from its geographic position, and that the infamous squirrels with bushy orange tails are common to the region.
Amidst Beggs’ investigations, he discovered that not all sites shower squirrels with the laudation that they have come to expect. In fact, “at www.scarysquirrel.org, web surfers can read anti-squirrel propaganda. The site has reams of bizarre diatribes railing against the ‘nut devils.’”
Interestingly, this site promoted anti-squirrel behavior in a game titled “Notice to Vacate” in which players are asked to defend a house against a force of “raiding” squirrels. Beggs shared that The Observer staff at the time recorded a high score of 361,200 points.
In this realm, the raiding squirrels parallel Notre Dame’s own curious bunch, best known for stalking picnics on sunny spring weekends or for stealing a forgotten bagel from the trash outside of Einstein’s.
The Notre Dame squirrels’ enduring legacy for curiosity and food theft perhaps serves as a reminder that students should practice their own skills in the squirrel-defense game: to protect themselves and to refrain from rewarding squirrels’ mischievous behavior.
A case against the Notre Dame squirrels
Feb. 22, 1990 | Glenn G. Fogarty | Researched by Lilyann Gardner
The all important question of “friend or foe?” dominated the conservation surrounding Notre Dame’s ever-growing squirrel population in 1990.
The furry-faced creatures, once a friendly site to many, quickly gained a reputation of deceit and ferocity. Viewpoint columnist Glenn G. Fogarty (‘91) spoke out about their sinister activities across campus.
Fogarty’s article showed that some of the squirrels had undoubtedly become menaces, and the underhandedness of a few was enough to stir up the emotions of disdain and hatred in many students’ hearts.
“One particularly dark Sunday morning, as I was heading to an early mass, an obese squirrel jumped on me, obviously mistaking me for some sort of movable tree, something which I never knew existed before,” Fogarty wrote. “I imagine that this squirrel was none too intelligent.”
The Viewpoint columnist shared his frustration when no action was taken against the squirrels and believed that this injustice would lead to further chaos and disarray. There must have been some truth to Fogarty’s words, as he cited another incident involving a tragic betrayal and subsequent potato chip theft.
“If this wasn’t enough, the other day, out of the pure goodness of my heart, I stooped down with a bag of potato chips in one hand and the loose chip in the other, to a panhandling squirrel. This rodent, after spying both hands, grabbed the bag and ran away at breakneck speed,” Fogarty wrote, although the story actually came from a friend.
Fogarty and friends felt that these two events were proof enough that the squirrels were in opposition of du Lac. They even went as far as accusing the squirrels of breaking parietals.
It was deduced that measures needed to be taken to shrink the squirrel population. So, Fogarty posed four potential solutions, the first of which involved selling squirrels as merchandise at the bookstore.
“New [squirrels] could be sold for $20, and if you get bored with your squirrel, the bookstore could buy it back from you for fifty cents, reselling it as a ‘used’ squirrel for $19.99,” Fogarty wrote in his ingenious business plan.
The second proposal arose out of Fogarty’s belief that the Peace Institute was unhappy with the violence of Notre Dame’s notorious mascot, the “Fighting” Irish. He felt that a more appropriate mascot such as the “Notre Dame Pacifist Squirrels” would solve two problems at once. The Peace Institute would be appeased, and the squirrels would simply travel to away games and find their new homes at other colleges across the country when they were mistakenly left behind.
The third option for squirrel removal was substantially more dangerous as Fogarty suggested a hunt sponsored by non-varsity athletics.
“Now, some might say that such an event might make the place a lot more dangerous, but it really couldn’t be any more risky than being murdered by an opening door in O’Shag,” Fogarty wrote in response to criticisms.
The fourth and final proposal shifted away from potential animal cruelty as a more religious approach was offered.
“Irish legend holds that the reason why there are no snakes in Ireland is because St. Patrick chased them all away,” Fogarty wrote. “Now, I’m sure St. Pat wouldn’t mind too much getting rid of a few excess squirrels as well.”
Unfortunately for Fogarty, the prayers to St. Patrick clearly went unanswered. as squirrels can still be seen eating cereal outside of the dining halls and lounging atop rocks by St. Mary’s Lake.
While there is no predicting if or when the mischievous creatures will strike again, the squirrel population seems to have found favor with present students and administrators. A few miscreants are not enough to stave off the joy of seeing the little animals scamper across God Quad at all times of the year.
What the squirrels have to say
Dec. 4, 1981 | Robert Wack | Researched by Spencer Kelly
We have heard squirrel outlooks and opinions from the human perspective — some complimentary, some derogatory. Now, the time has come to hand the microphone over to the squirrels themselves.
This feat is possible only due to the heroic efforts of intrepid humor writer Robert Wack (‘83). In 1981, Wack daringly decided to seek the perspectives of “the little buggers.” His findings were extraordinary and enlightening.
One day, Wack encountered a strange scene. He saw a priest squatting with two squirrels, feeding them peanuts and joking as if they were friends. Wack’s interest was piqued.
A week later, Wack witnessed squirrels pulling a prank. One squirrel led an unsuspecting young couple to a tree where his two friends were perched on a branch. Once the couple was situated under the branch, the two squirrels unloaded, and “the couple was showered with a barrage of rodent refuse, wetting their hair and staining their Izods.”
By this point, Wack knew that “these weren’t ordinary squirrels.”
Finally, Wack happened upon a squirrel rummaging through a trash can. When the squirrel noticed him, Wack bravely posed a query.
“What is the purpose of suffering, O squirrel? Why must there be hurt and pain?”
Wack was met with a blank stare, and he started to walk off in embarrassment. Then, he heard a voice.
“Maybe it’s a part of living. Life is a problem to be solved and suffering is a factor in the equation.”
Stunned, Wack spinned around. Sure enough, that was the squirrel responding. Wack’s new furry friend explained himself.
“I’m double majoring in philosophy and math,” the squirrel explained. “ND is one of the few schools that has a Philo program for talking squirrels.”
“We couldn’t always talk, y’know,” the squirrel continued. “It all started when that Radiation Lab was built many years ago. When the University found out about us, they tried to cover us up for fear we’d turn the school into a tourist attraction and ruin its academic reputation. So we sort of blackmailed them. They give us a free education, we keep quiet.”
Claiming he’d said too much, the squirrel bade his farewell. But before he departed, the reflective rodent related some parting words.
“Life at ND isn’t all winning football and good grades,” the squirrel said. “Just like in the real world, everyone’s got to have a bad day now and then. Tighten up and stay cool.”
As we move into finals week, and even moving forward into the future, we would all do well to remember what this squirrel had to say.