People love sharing their squirrel encounters on social media.
On Tuesday, someone on Reddit posted a close-up video of a gray squirrel that appeared to be mere inches away from the camera lens, sniffing around a handbag on a bench in the Boston Public Garden. The rambunctious rodent had no qualms about being so close to a human.
“These squirrels are so brave,” the caption on the video read.
Others have turned to Twitter recently to share their thoughts on the overly friendly squirrels scampering around Boston Common. One observer remarked: “Holy crap! The squirrels are out in force today at the Boston Common. Watch your peanuts.” Another tweeted about a squirrel that came right up and put its paws together, as if it were begging for food. “Half convinced it was a person turned into a squirrel — half upset I didn’t have any food to give him,” the user wrote.
Such tales are common among Bostonians. Anyone who spends time downtown knows how fearless the fluffy-tailed critters can be, especially when they’re hungry.
But it’s not a new phenomenon by any means. Boston’s squirrels have long been known for being bold, and they’ve had this reputation for well over a century.
A Globe story from July 21, 1907, described the behavior of the “Famous Squirrels of Boston Common,” and how they seemed to recognize people who fed them regularly.
“Probably nothing on Boston Common makes a deeper impression on the visitor who sees the park for the first time than the squirrels, which are so tame that they eat nuts from the hands of children and even jump on the shoulders and arms of those who feed them,” the article stated.
Gray squirrels were first introduced to Boston Common in 1855 under the direction of Boston Mayor Jerome V. C. Smith, according to an article in the December 2013 issue of the Journal of American History.
The author of the article, Etienne Benson, (who happens to be a Harvard and MIT alum) wrote that living conditions for squirrels in American cities “improved significantly from the 1870s onward, in large part due to the landscape park movement led by Frederick Law Olmsted.”
The expansion of urban parks led to increased interactions with humans, which, in turn, resulted in more people feeding squirrels . . . and the rest, you could say, is squirrel history.
“Squirrels were particularly well suited to the role of recipient of kindness because they not only accepted human charity but also seemed to actively seek it,” Benson wrote. “Their habit of approaching a potential feeder and then sitting up on their hind legs with empty paws held in front of their chests, as if in supplication, was widely noted, as was the sense of obligation that such apparent begging created in susceptible park visitors.”
Over the years, the Globe has photographed people of all ages feeding squirrels on Boston Common and the Boston Public Garden.
In 1948, Globe photographer Gil Friedberg snapped a picture of Hollywood actress Terry Moore feeding a squirrel pecans on Boston Common.
“Isn’t he SWEEEE-T!” she exclaimed. “Look at him — his little paws folded across his chest!”
Another Globe photo from June 1909 shows a little girl in a dress approaching a squirrel with food in her outstretched hand. “The squirrels find a great many friends . . . they like the children especially,” the article stated. “It is a common sight to see a squirrel sitting on a child’s knee or diving into a pocket to get a nut.”
Fast forward more than 100 years: The person who posted the squirrel video on Reddit wrote: “This happened in the public garden! I swear, like 3 different squirrels were bullying me. They knocked over my coffee!”
Another Reddit user expressed sympathy for the poster’s plight.
“One legitimately climbed up my right leg last week in the Public Garden while I was taking photos of the tulips,” the user wrote. “I am sorry rat with furry tail, I’m just not into you invading my personal body space. #insertnutjokehere”
Emily Sweeney can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.