Skunks seen through the lens of history

— Before winter finally puts the beasts to sleep, let’s consider our aromatic pests – the skunks – one last time. Looking through the lens of history, it turns out that polecats have plagued the village of Liverpool for more than a century.

Sycamore Street resident Mike Romano recently reminded me to check out “A Village Diary: Frank S. Gleason, 1857-1923.” In his entry for Friday, Oct. 12, 1894, the diarist noted that “A Skunk has caught 11 of my chickens & I have to set a trap for him tonight.”

The next night Gleason’s trap snapped shut on a big black-and-white. Frank failed to chronicle how he disposed on the animal.

A burly and busy shopkeeper, Gleason lived at 314 First St. with his wife, Carrie, and children Sherm, Susan and Helen.

On a “warm and balmy” day, Oct. 290, 1894, Gleason reiterated his resolve to put down the pestilence.

“I have kept [the trap] set every night since Sunday & last night I caught another one in the trap but he broke away & took the trap with him. I have borrowed another one & have set it to-night.”

With warm weather “hanging on well,” the skunks remained active through that Indian summer. On Wednesday, Oct. 24, 1894, Gleason trapped another stinky critter. “Helen stayed from school to-day,” he wrote. “She claimed that the smell of the skunk which I caught last night made her sick. I guess she will go to school tomorrow.”

Frank kept setting out a trap every night, but it had remained empty through the month.

The problem persists

Here in the 21st century, the problem persists. This past summer, the village was often awash in the repulsive aroma of skunks.

At least in Gleason’s day pet dogs ran free discouraging weasels and woodchucks and skunks from burrowing into village yards and outhouses. Nowadays, the dogs are universally leashed, allowing the varmints free reign.

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