Tarrytown squirrels
Local History & Interest

Those Wild and Crazy Tarrytown Squirrels

Here in the pages of Sleepy Hollow Country we live and breathe the odd and unexplained. Today we tender a few offbeat stories on rather unusual behavior by a bunch of Tarrytown squirrels. Before we start it is only fair to point out our little furry friends aren’t the only critters to exhibit outlandish behavior in these parts. Goats, chickens, and even mosquitoes have had their moments. A student of literature, however, may recall a line from “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” that suggests it is the human residents of the hollow who have a propensity to see marvelous visions:

“They are given to all kinds of marvelous beliefs; are subject to trances and visions; and frequently see strange sights, and hear music and voices in the air.”

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Washington Irving

Tarrytown Squirrels Play Golf on Oil King’s Links

John D. Rockefeller and his wife Laura Spelman Rockefeller were widely known to adore squirrels. How much you ask? In July of 1906 The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported the oil titan, before heading off on vacation, hired extra security on his 5,000 acre estate to protect 30 imported French red squirrels from stray dogs and hunters.

Five years later in 1911 Rockefeller bought hundreds of gray squirrels to supplement the native population of the species on his the estate. He reportedly enjoyed seeing them scamper about the private golf course on the estate and was particularly amused whenever a squirrel carried off a lost golf ball to a hole in a tree.

With that in mind perhaps it is no surprise that while the Rockefellers were away the summer of 1912 a neighbor, Hiram Revere, claimed to see a bunch of gray squirrels on one of the golf course putting greens. Curious to see what the critters were up to, he hid behind a tree. The story of what he observed hit newspaper syndication across the nation.

“It was the prettiest exhibition of puttin’ I ever see,” Revere claimed. “Two big squirrels were playing the game and there were a dozen others standing around rootin’. ‘Pon my word, when one squirrel would make a good putt, the gallery would set up the wildest chatter. They had a golf ball and were usin’ their tails to putt with. They would carry the ball to the end of the green, and then one squirrel would hop on his hind legs, give his tail a twist and send the ball straight for the hole. I saw one of them hole out in two. The loser would always take a nut from his pile and give it to his opponent.”

Tarrytown squirrels take up golf on John D. Rockefeller’s course in this article in the Shannon County Democrat, Winona, Missouri. Friday, August 23, 1912.

“They played that way for fifteen minutes, when one of the squirrels had captured all of his opponent’s nuts. The winner’s crowd set up a great chatter and then hopped over the pile of nuts and had a feast. The losers took their medicine well, and after watching the feast for a few minutes, scampered up in the trees. I’m going to tell Mr. Rockefeller about it when he comes back in the fall.”

We don’t mean to sound unkind, but it seems to us the squirrels left one nut unclaimed.

Tarrytown Squirrels get Soused

Just two years would elapse before Tarrytown had its next squirrelly tale. In its January 26, 1914 edition The New-York Tribune ran a short article on the front page under the headline “Squirrels’ Spree Causes Fish Tale”.

Tarrytown resident “Bud” Weeks was well known for returning from a fishing trip with a good catch or a good story. This January day he brought back both. Fish tales are best direct from the source, so here in Bud’s own words is the story:

“As I was going along the lake road,” he said, “I saw two gray squirrels eating out of a small pasteboard box. When I approached them they staggered away like drunken men.

“I looked at the box and saw it was labelled ‘chocolate cocktails.’

“I watched the squirrels as they tried to climb a tree and get in their holes, and they were just like a drunken man trying to find the keyhole, and had about as much success.

“I went on fishing, and as I was coming home, what do you suppose I saw? Both of the little animals were sitting on the side of the lake leaning their heads against a cake of ice. They were a sick looking pair, I tell you.”

The New-York Tribune, January 26, 1914.
After devouring a box of chocolates filled with liqueur, a pair of Tarrytown squirrels allegedly tried to ice down their hangover headaches.

A Bread Thief

For this Tarrytown squirrel tale we look back to a time before supermarkets when Tarrytown had multiple small bakeries, most of which delivered directly to residential and commercial customers. In August of 1938 The Daily Item of Port Chester, NY ran a headline “Solved—At Last! The Big Theft.”

John Jannen, proprietor of a garage on South Broadway, was one such customer who received a daily delivery of a bag of fresh rolls. The baker would make his delivery early each morning inside a coupe parked in the yard adjoining the garage where Jannen made his home. During the summer of 1947 Jannen noticed his daily delivery of rolls was missing one roll—just one—leaving the rest untouched. Puzzled by a thief with such a meagre appetite, Jannen became determined to catch perpetrator. Rising as soon as he heard the baker drive away, he kept watch from a garage window.

The Daily Item reported, “A few minutes later he saw a squirrel clamber down the trunk of a large tree and enter the car through an open window. A few seconds later the rodent emerged carrying a roll in its mouth. As Jannen stepped out of the garage the squirrel scurried away into the tall grass.” The newspaper concluded, “A Squirrel Was At The Bottom Of It.” We conclude it must have been a slow news week in Port Chester.

“A few seconds later the rodent emerged carrying a roll in its mouth. As Jannen stepped out of the garage the squirrel scurried away into the tall grass.”

The North Tarrytown Squirrel Rampage

Once again we thank The Daily Item of Port Chester, NY for a story about Tarrytown squirrels. While squirrel attacks against humans are not unknown, they aren’t an everyday occurrence. Unless you happened to be on Beekman Avenue in May of 1948 when the squirrels seemed to go berserk.

Over the course of two days squirrels allegedly attacked three people on Beekman Avenue in North Tarrytown, today’s Sleepy Hollow. In the first incident, a squirrel leaped upon 16-year-old Evelyn Maccabee biting her on both wrists. The squirrel quickly turned its attention to Mrs. Laura Elderest, gnawing on her finger. The Daily Item reported “Both the victims of squirrels’ attacks were treated at Tarrytown Hospital and the Humane Society was called upon to send protection against the animals for the populace.”

The Tarrytown squirrel or squirrels attacked again two days later, biting Andrew Gaydos as he walked near the Van Tassel apartments. This time the SPCA actually sent a representative to investigate the situation but the newspaper reported “he searched in vain for the marauding beasts.” We think our friends in Port Chester searched in vain for a real news story.

Jim is superintendent of Sleepy Hollow Cemetery where he has researched the cemetery’s history for more than 20 years. He draws on an extensive collection of Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown historical resources for the material on Sleepy Hollow Country.

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