Somerville produces an online sensation

On August 18, 2010, in Latest News, by The Somerville Times

Somerville artist Michael J. Epstein's online video scored almost 2,000 hits in a few days last week.

Popular web video latest in string of hits

By George P. Hassett

A dead squirrel, city official and local rapper have this in common: they’ve carved out a spot for themselves in the world of Internet sensations and put Somerville on the cyber map for funky, irreverent web humor.

Last week, Somerville musician Michael J. Epstein released a satirical web video purporting to show the unveiling of Mummified Squirrel National Park – “a place where mummified squirrels will be allowed to roam free without bias, without mistreatment” – at a small spot on the sidewalk on Elm Street.

After less than a week on the web, the video has been viewed more than 1,600 times and has a Facebook fan page.

Epstein, who created the video with Sophia Cacciola and Glenn di Benedetto, said the idea came after several months of taking pictures of a dead squirrel on his street.

“I started taking pictures and posting them on Facebook. Over months, it got moved around and its flesh disappeared so it was just hide and bones,” he said. “It became a fixture on that street and I went from hoping it would be removed to brainstorming ways I could make sure it wouldn’t disappear.”

Rapper Wally Sparks, who hosts Heir 2 Tha $treetz on SCAT, has a hit online

After his three minute video appeared on the web, Epstein said people in the neighborhood started to go to the spot to see the squirrel’s skeletal remains.

The mummified squirrel isn’t the only Somerville character with online noteriety.

In 2007, Tom Champion, a City Hall spokesman at the time, had a moment of Internet fame when Georgy Cohen created a Facebook page dedicated to Champion’s phone notifications of city snow emergencies. Wally Sparks, a local rapper and host of Heir 2 Tha $treetz, which airs on SCAT, is also behind the online reality series WallyTube – a string of YouTube videos with more than 26,000 viewers – in which Sparks takes the audience behind the scenes of a local MC’s daily life.

Champion said Somerville is a natural for producing online oddities. “Somerville is a real city with dynamic residents and institutions but it’s also small enough that people develop close relationships with the larger community,” he said.

“Somerville is well known for having a good sense of humor and whimsy,” Epstein said.

Champion said his Facebook fame seemed over the top at the time but “that’s what happens on the Internet. These things build a momentum and you can only hope that it’s fun while it lasts.”


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