The mysterious case of the Augie bronze squirrels has been cracked like a nut.
Almost eight years after a small collection of bronze squirrels was hidden across the Rock Island campus of Augustana College, a student has finally located all of them for the first time. Megan Anderson, class of 2022, found the last one Tuesday, May 3 — just 19 days before her graduation.
A native of Crystal Lake, Ill. (whose father Kirk is Augie’s chief financial officer), Anderson is a chemistry and engineering physics major, who first found out about the animal sculptures when she was in high school.
After her father started his job, in fall 2015 Megan attended an Augie football game. College president Steve Bahls and his wife Jane sat with them and disclosed the bronze squirrels story, noting one of them was on top of the press box at the stadium.
An anonymous donor presented 13 bronze squirrels to the college in 2014, and by 2015, they were placed and affixed to secret locations (most up high) around campus, said Kai Swanson, special assistant to the president.
“We wanted to have a goal to get students to look up from their screens and their books, to realize what a lovely campus this is,” he said Wednesday. Since 2015, a few of them have been stolen, including one by a fraternity student who later returned it, wracked with guilt.
That one has sat on a bookshelf in Swanson’s office, and Anderson posed this week with it, next to Steve Bahls.
Per the donors’ wishes, Megan is now entrusted with the secret names of all nine squirrels and their backstories. “In the finest tradition of Norse mythology and Scandinavian folklore, this means she wields thrall over them,” Swanson said.
Before Anderson found the locations of the nine current squirrels, only Swanson and Bahls knew where all of them are, she said Thursday.
A four-year hunt fulfilled
Anderson said that during welcome week as a freshman, Swanson told students about the squirrels (the college mascot is the Vikings, in honor of its Scandinavian roots) and that “fueled the fire” of her quest.
“I think that people sort of know about them and know that they are hidden on campus, but I don’t know how many people are actively searching to find them all,” Anderson said.
“My friends are aware of them because I have been so driven about it and I thought about it a lot,” she said. “But outside of that, I think people more have just noticed them and not taking it upon themselves to hunt them all.”
Through her expert sleuthing (including talking with staff from the college facilities and receiving departments), Anderson also found the locations of former squirrels that were pilfered.
One of the more obvious locations of a current one is up at the entrance to the Tredway Library, Anderson said. Upon finding the ninth one, “I was over the moon. I was so excited,” she said Thursday.
“So I had been at 12 squirrels for like a year and a half — in the beginning of junior year was when I found the last one,” she said. “So it took me a really long time to find this last one.”
There was no prize for finding them all from the college (beyond their secret names and stories), and when asked if the names are Swedish-related, Anderson said: “I don’t know if I should say that.”
Similar sculptures in South Carolina
The bronze squirrels echo a similar project in Greenville, S.C., where nine bronze mice have taken up permanent residence along Main Street. Conceived as part of Jim Ryan’s high school senior project (back in 2000) and inspired by the children’s book Goodnight Moon, the mice were brought to life by local sculptor and illustrator Zan Wells,” according to VisitGreenvilleSC.com.
Author Linda Kelly joined the team and “Mice on Main” has become a beloved Greenville institution, the site says.
Swanson at Augustana said the squirrel donor had no prior connection with the college. “It was someone who loves Augustana dearly,” he said.