By Dani Halliday, 2016
There was a heavy chill in the air that clung to our bones. A thin fog hovered above the ground of the Brevard College campus, making the empty campus feel abandoned and creepy. We were here for a reason and would not leave without seeing the elusive white squirrel of Brevard.
Images of white squirrels were everywhere in the tiny mountain town of Brevard, NC. There was a white squirrel store, white squirrel statues in the hotels, white squirrel forms on the traffic lights, and even a giant mural of a white squirrel diving into a pile of nuts painted on the side of a restaurant.
The white squirrels weren’t residents of the town initially, but according to the Transylvania Times (the local newspaper of Brevard and other towns in Transylvania county), a carnival truck overturned in 1949, releasing two white squirrels with gray streaks down their backs into the wild of the Great Smoky Mountains. The squirrels were found by Mr. Black, who found them eating in his pecan grove. Black passed these squirrels to H. H. Mull, who subsequently passed them along to his niece, Barbara, to attempt to breed them, which failed. Eventually, one of the squirrels escaped and then Barbara released the other. Breeding apparently was easier in the wild of the mountains because now there are significantly more white squirrels than the original two. In 1986, the white squirrels became a protected species in Brevard with a vote by the Brevard City Council stating that is “shall be unlawful for any person to hunt, kill, trap, or otherwise take any protected squirrels within the city.” This law does not extend to the non-white squirrels of the area, though. While there are other white squirrel sightings in other states, such as Kentucky and Illinois, only Brevard holds a White Squirrel Festival every May.
The receptionist at the Holiday Inn we had stayed in the night before recommended the college campus as the place where we would most likely find these rare creatures. We set out into the brisk 35-degree air at 9:00 am to begin our search.
We scoured the campus, which housed only 729 students, seeing beautiful brick buildings, massive trees, and copious amounts of brown squirrels, yet no people or white squirrels. Brevard College is a private, four-year institution, home to the Tornadoes. It stands on the outskirts of downtown Brevard, a prime location, and is about 120-acres. These are 120 acres that white squirrels can roam free on without any fear for their safety.
We passed underneath a clock tower which was built with bricks engraved with names from back in the 1900s. The brick buildings, white pillars, and trees scattered around campus reminded me of Elon on a much more rural scale. We wandered aimlessly around campus scanning the ground and the trees for a flash of white. We knew they were out there. We would find one.
Finally we saw it. It hopped around the ground, standing out a stark white streaked with gray against the fallen yellow and brown leaves and the dark green grass. It looked just like any other squirrel: same tail, same twitching nose, same large dark eyes—except for the white fur of course. We had to wonder as we followed the creature, much too close for its liking, whether the white squirrels were treated differently by their brown squirrel brethren. Were they allowed near the other squirrels? Did the white squirrels act as an exclusive group and not let the brown squirrels into their white squirrel club? These were questions only the white squirrels could answer for us, yet our friend had darted up a tree, out of sight.