Historic buildings have many unique qualities about them, but they can present some unique problems as well. In addition to almost constant maintenance, there are other issues that pop up, especially with larger buildings such as barns. Barns have nooks and crannies that are difficult to locate and even harder to determine a route to and from. Such was the case recently for the museum staff. Late last year we began noticing an aura of skunk around our 1930s Cooper Barn. Wildlife is not uncommon on our grounds. We have a fairly good-sized herd of squirrels that make their presence known with chattering and chewing on our buildings. So a skunk would not be an unusual occurrence, but a potentially unfortunate visitor still.
Our animal whisperer/groundskeeper/the list could go on, Marty Powers, tried setting live traps on dozens of occasions. He succeeded in trapping and relocating one skunk, only for the smell to return several weeks later. Once he and I figured out the most probable location within the barn for the new skunk, another round of countless nights with live traps was undertaken. We had high hopes of finding a better home for our black-and-white friend, but our efforts were to no avail. Numerous critters—two cats and a possum among them—greeted Marty from behind the bars of the traps, but never the critter most sought-after.
Due to the impending arrival of spring, it was decided that a much more aggressive approach was needed. Several possibilities were debated, with an emphasis on the most gentle and least smelly approach. It was decided that since the skunk was not forthcoming with us, we must take the initiative and encourage the skunk’s relocation.
Peeling away some of the original sheet metal in the barn, we discovered a closed-in den-like place the skunk was obviously calling home. We hoped the skunk would be cooperative in leaving on its own. I stood by (willing to assist Marty as much as possible without being in the direct line of any spray), armed with a camera for documentation of the event. After several tense minutes without any sign of movement, Marty carefully shined his light into the skunk den. With the ever-present recognizable odor of skunk enveloping us, we spied a black-and-white tail. The tail was watched for any sign of movement, but none was seen. Timidly, Marty applied pressure to the tail, ever-mindful that a wrong move could result in a dash to the grocery store to buy gallons of tomato juice to douse Marty with (tomato juice being the proverbial remedy to get rid of skunk smell).
Alas, the skunk, who had been more or less present on the museum campus for weeks, was no longer with us. We respectfully dispatched the carcass and repaired the barn. So ended the tale of the skunk, and hopefully any future visits from skunks looking for a residence.
Just remember, when you have a rough day, you could instead be toiling away at a museum, seeking skunks in confined spaces of a historic barn.
Aaron Loehndorf is the collections and education assistant at the Shiloh Museum.