Gnomeville: A Local Legend in Olney, Illinois (A Guest Post!)

I was born in a small town in the middle of nowhere that you’ve probably never heard of.It goes by the name of Olney: population 9,108.

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To outsiders, Olney is really only known for one thing: white squirrels. There are a couple different theories about how these albino creatures found their way to southern Illinois, but they’ve emerged as a mascot for this working class town.

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But more recently, Olney has become known for something else…something that I personally take more interest in than any sort of pale-skinned rodent. A small community of gnomes has appeared along the west side of Illinois Route 130, just south of the Richland Country Club. After a seven-year hiatus, I finally made it back to my hometown to pay them a visit.

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You know you’ve arrived when you reach the sign marked “Gnomeville,” but you might just miss it if you blink. Over the winter holiday season, I convinced my fiancée and my parents to pull to the side of the highway so I could meet these gnomes for myself. I once called this place home and now they do, so clearly we had a lot in common.

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Olney’s Gnomeville has been around for a couple years now, and Cathy Fehrenbacher, who lives across from the highway display, has served as the unofficial caretaker for the gnome village.

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“It just kind of kept growing,” Cathy said. “It’s kind of stood on its own. It’s a group effort.”

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But unfortunately, the gnomes here are starting to look a bit weathered and are in desperate need of some tender loving care. I’m currently living in Atlanta, but if I only lived closer, I’d surely take them under my wing. Hopefully someone local will lend them a helping hand and keep the quaint and quirky tradition alive. This is a place where gnomes, albino squirrels, and my relatives can all coexist in peaceful harmony. And I look forward to paying them (gnomes, squirrels, and relatives) a visit next time I’m back home.

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Have you encountered any pop-up gnome communities where you live or have recently traveled? Keep an eye out, because these little guys and gals tend to settle in some of the most unexpected places!

*A version of this post is also published on Alyssa v. Nature and scheduled to be included in the spring edition of the International Gnome Club Newsletter!

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