Olympic Cornellians

24 02 2014


If I was a little better at timing things, I might have managed to get this entry out before the closing ceremonies in Sochi. But, better to get this out now than to wait for Rio in 2016.

In keeping with current events and the Cornell mouthpieces providing updates on Cornellians participating in the winter games, I decided to compile a few pieces of information regarding Big Red staff, alumni or current students participating in any Olympic games since their modern inception in 1896.

Originally, I was going to use a combo of a pdf that Cornell Athletics put out during the Vancouver games, a London 2012 update, and a current piece regarding CU representation in Sochi. But, whether it’s something new or something I missed the first time through, Cornell put out an updated sheet with a little bit of HTML.

Starting with 3 Cornellians in the 1904 St. Louis Olympics, Cornell has had a combined 98 Cornellians participate in the Olympic games (81 summer, 17 winter— the first winter game representative was Richard “Dick” Parke 1916, at the 1928 games in St. Moritz). Another 9 were alternates, 2 more were injured and could not participate, and 1 lost out due to the 1980 boycott. One of the injured ones, Helen Mund White ’57, had another chance four years later (Melbourne 1956), but gave up her spot on the Chilean diving team to her sister. Almost all of these Olympians were Cornell undergrads, but at least two were J.D.s, and one just has “graduate studies” for his year of graduation.

Of the 98 Cornell Olympians, 80 represented the United States; the others have represented 9 other countries (Canada, Chile, Greece, Guyana, Hungary, Mexico, Sweden, Trinidad & Tobago, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, which is permitted to have its own team). The 1964 games in Tokyo had 9 Cornellians representing, making it the deepest field the Big Red has ever served up to the Olympics, while Sochi has the strongest winter Olympics showing with 5. Given that most Olympians are on the young side, it probably comes as no surprise that many of these 98 were students while participating in the Olympics; I imagine that balancing the course-load was a challenge, to say the least.

If we count all the medals won by Cornellians, then the Big Red has earned 7 bronze, 16 silver, and 20 gold medals in the summer Olympics, and 1 bronze, 3 silver and 8 gold in the winter Olympics (included the 4 gold and the bronze earned this year at Sochi). In numbers of medals overall (55), that would put us between North Korea (49) and Kazakhstan (59), while 28 golds puts Cornell between Kenya (25) and Greece (30). In theory, Cornell is better stacked than about three-quarters of the participating nations.

The next time someone pokes fun at Ivy League sports teams due to their lack of strength in traditional “American” sports, feel free to cite this post as ammunition.

The Cornell Safety Car

28 01 2014

Except when traveling in and out of Ithaca, Cornell generally plays no role in my travels. Recently, I paid a trip to the vacation destination that is Detroit, Michigan. While on this trip, my hosts suggested a visit to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, where we came across this.

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This homely piece of 1950s Americana is the Cornell Safety Car. It was produced by the Automotive Crash Injury Research Center, run by John O. Moore at the Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory in Buffalo (previously briefed here), and built in 1956 with funding from Liberty Mutual Insurance. We take for granted the safety features of today’s vehicles, but in the 1950s, those glimmering bullets of metal and chrome were essentially high-speed death traps, with the number of fatalities increasing every year. Hence, a need was seen to try and improve safety for America’s road warriors.

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The lab was one of the first to do crash testing; first with airplanes in WWII, then with cars. Early on, before the use of realistic test dummies, Moore and his cohorts got in touch with their inner Frankensteins and used corpses, along with an array of high speed cameras and instruments to measure and analyze impact forces.

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Among some of the features that would later become vehicular staples – front seat headrests, wrap-around bumpers, bucket seats, and seat belts a-plenty. Among those that didn’t, or have faded out – rear-facing back seats, steering handles (because steering wheels collapsed and steering columns would break your heart in case of accident), panoramic windshields (a big selling point in the later ’50s and ’60s), accordion doors, a center position for the driver’s seat, and nylon webbing for rear seat head restraints. All of this encased in a perfect 1950s shade of teal, rocket fins included.

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My, how concept vehicles have improved with time to become more attracti-…nope, scratch that.

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Another Apartment Complex Considered for Cornell Heights

26 12 2013


Original concept description with renderings here, meeting minutes here. The project is a in-the-works proposal by Campus Acquisitions LLC, the design by Shepley Bulfinch Architects of Boston. Campus Acquisitions, if I have this correct, looks to be a Chicago-based investment group with projects generally clustered around Chicagoland, and a number of college towns along the West Coast and Interior West.

The parcels of land in question are “150 and 152 Highland Avenue”, an underutilized lot (152), and a bungalow built in 1920 (150). The bungalow appears to be a 2-unit home owned by Travis Hyde properties. 152 Highland is a heavily wooded, steeply graded vacant parcel, but has a little bit of Cornell lore associated with it, as it was home to Phi Kappa Sigma’s swimming pool (the house, named “Greentrees”, is now Pi Kappa Phi, the pool is now unused and decaying). The 2.49 acre parcel was originally bought in 1996 by Travis Hyde properties with the intention of apartments, but nothing came of the parcel. The property was on-again off-again in local real estate listings (asking for 200k), and was last delisted (sold?) in June 2012.


The image above uses one of the old design concepts. The bungalow is proposed for renovation, though I am not sure what role, if any, Travis Hyde properties has in the development (something in conjunction with the other parcel, maybe?). The original conceptuals for “1 Ridgewood” proposed as many as 70 units, later reduced to 64 units (four floors over an underground garage) in the first design proposal, released this past fall:



This didn’t work for multiple reasons. For one, many of the deep-pocketed local land owners are strongly opposed to more development; I’ve known for years that the venerable widow who owns the house south of the property on Highland (she was a fixture at my fraternity’s annual wine-and-cheese event, and a pleasure to chat with) has been fiercely opposed to any construction on that site. For two, the property is in the Cornell Heights historic district, which subjects it to more stringent and evolving design and massing guidelines. The latest concept calls for 45 units in 3 smaller structures, with a mix of surface and underground parking. At some point in the near future, the formal proposal will likely appear on the planning board’s agenda.



How Does One Fill A Former Sorority House

8 12 2013

Image property of O’connor Apartments

This one was forwarded to me by an observant reader, L.D. It’s a listing on Craigslist for rentals available for June 2014 at 114 the Knoll (I always thought it was 115 the Knoll, but the listing photo matches my photos), which has served as a chapter house for a few different sororities over the years, the last being Alpha Xi Delta, which moved to another house on Ridgewood Road in 2010. More recently, the house has been occupied by a campus Christian group, Chesterton House. Chesterton’s house website notes a 2014 goal for purchasing a property near campus to serve as their permanent home, and I’m assuming that if this posting is up, then there’s a strong chance they succeeded in achieving that goal (if anyone knows where they decided to settle, feel free to comment or email me).

Quoting the listing:

“Beautiful arts and crafts house on North Campus available for June 2014. $750 per bedroom for 16 bedrooms plus utilities. Can hold up to 22 for the same price. Large living room with leather furniture. Banquet size dining room. Cook’s kitchen. You have to see to believe. Use [sic] to be a sorority. Email or call [redacted]“

This seems like a more unusual, and perhaps somewhat more difficult way to fill a large group home. Although the email links to the O’Connor Apartments property group, I don’t see it in their property listings, and I think they’re only handling the rental aspect of the house on behalf of another entity. My guess is that Delta Phi Epsilon sorority still owns the property, and with no short-term prospects of restarting their chapter, they need some way to try and keep revenue coming in for upkeep of the house. On one hand, they could sell to Cornell, which takes care of the tax issue, but then they’re at Cornell’s mercy – the house most likely becomes a dorm and there’s nothing Delta Phi Epsilon would be able to do, especially since they’ve gone a decade without an active chapter (there were attempts to re-colonize about three years ago, which did not materialize – the whole process being the subject of enough gossip at the time that one could have written a book about it). Yet another option is another private sale, like the home at 210 Thurston that was sold a couple years ago to the wealthy parents of a Cornell wrestler, renovated, and now serves as the home of Cornell wrestling team.

This is one of those houses that seems to routinely pass between groups at Cornell. I’ll be curious to see what happens.

Edit 1/23/14: Maybe I’m wrong about DPhiE still owning the property. I forgot that it was listed in July 2009 and sold in January 2010. Perhaps now the O’Connor Apartments firm owns the building.

The Keyword Bar XX

2 11 2013

1. “pearl buck house ithaca” (10-27-2013)

That’s a bit of a tricky question. Pearl S. Buck, Nobel-winning author of “The Good Earth”, lived in Ithaca in 1924-1925 (she completed her M.A. at Cornell in 1925). Her first husband, John Lossing Buck, did a BS at Cornell in ag economics in 1914, and an MS in the same subject that was completed in 1925, and finally, a PhD in 1933. It would appear, based off a Cornell Sun article, that she once again lived in Ithaca from about summer 1932-1933. So most likely, one looking for the house she lived in would be looking for two different places in the Ithaca, the one from the mid-1920s when she was doing her degree, and the second in the early 1930s, when her increasingly-distant husband was completing his PhD. Not sure which time time this pamphlet refers to, but at least some of that time appears to have been spent in Forest Home.

2. “carl sagan’s secret tunnel” (10-27-2013)

One of the stories that enhances Carl Sagan’s mystique is that he somehow had a tunnel from his house to campus. That’s not feasible (there’s a gorge in the way), and perhaps some of its inspiration came from Ezra Cornell’s utility tunnel across the gorge from Sagan’s property at 900 Stewart Avenue. It seems he just preferred to you the back trails along the gorge to walk to his office and back.

3. “cornell prelims” (11-1-2013)

A word fairly unique in its use at the university, prelim is shorthand for “preliminary examination“, and in American usage, are normally applied as a synonym for the qualifying exam one takes to become a PhD candidate. The use of the term at Cornell, as a substitute to describe all non-midterm and final exams, dates back at least to the early 1900s.

4. “does cornell cals accept mostly ny state students?” (10-23-2013)

Cornell in general has about 29 to 30 percent of its freshman class arrive to its door from elsewhere in New York state. This SUNY 2013-2014 guidebook seems to peg CALS’s NYS enrollment proportion at 47 percent. I’ve had it understood that the difference in proportion was more because of the state tutition discount than it being “easier”, but it does look like the SAT scores in the contract schools in the 2013-2014 guidebook are lower than the university average. Speaking strictly from a numbers standpoint. I have no interest in humoring Ann Coulter’s wet dreams.

5. “where was zinck’s, ithaca, ny” (10-21-2013)

Zinck’s, or at least the Zinck’s referred to in “Give My Regards to Davy”, refers to “The Hotel Brunswick” lager beer saloon and restaurant that Theodore Zinck ran from about 1880 until his suicide in 1903. Zinck’s was located in the old Ithaca Hotel at 108-110 North Aurora Street; the building was torn down in the late 1960s, a victim of urban renewal.



Cornell Likes Having Friends

30 06 2013

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The majority of buildings at Cornell are named for faculty, staff, and alumni with deep pockets. A few others just have generic titles. Occasionally, a building on campus is named for someone with no association with Cornell, except that they helped out the university (usually from a financial aspect). Some of buildings named for “Friends of Cornell”, as Alumni Affairs likes to call them, are detailed below.  One exception I make is that early on, some folks who were Cornell trustees (but had no association otherwise) have buildings named for them, such as Henry W. Sage, John McGraw and Hiram Sibley; but since they served Cornell in an official capacity, I’m excluding them here.

Morrill Hall (1868)  – Like many land-grant institutions, Cornell’s Morrill Hall is named for Justin Smith Morrill, author of the Morrill Act that allowed the sale of federal lands to raise funds for colleges focused on the agricultural and technical trades (some of the other schools include Purdue, Rutgers and MIT; Morrill is known best for this legislation, with his anti-Mormon work a distant second). Morrill had no official association with Cornell, although he did pay a visit to the university at least once, in 1883.

Morse Hall (1890), Franklin Hall (1883) and Lincoln Hall (1888) – In the Gilded Age, engineering and science buildings had the pleasure of being named for “great men” that contributed to the then-present condition of the university and STEM studies. Hence, Samuel Morse (inventor of the telegraph), Benjamin Franklin (politician, scientist, and all around bad-ass), and Abraham Lincoln (president who oversaw the passage of the Morrill Act). Morse Hall burned down, and Franklin Hall became Tjaden Hall (for prominent female architect Olive Tjaden ’25 ) in 1980.

Rockefeller Hall (1903) – Named and partially paid for by John D. Rockefeller, the wealthiest man in the world at the time (and, proportionately, believed to be the wealthiest man ever). Rockefeller has recently retired from Standard Oil and was just beginning his philanthropies, funding schools he believed to be practical. Rumor has it that he was so disappointed with the (then considered unattractive) appearance of Rockefeller Hall he vowed to never donate another cent to Cornell. Which hardly dampened his funding of institutions.

Fun fact, Walter Teagle, of Teagle Hall fame, was a vice president of Standard Oil a few decades later.

Baker Lab (1923) – Funded by George F. Baker, a sort of Warren Buffet of his time, and one of the wealthiest Americans on the early 20th century. Baker also provided much of the funding for the Harvard Business school, and made his way through the Ivy League with his donations, including Columbia’s Baker Field and Dartmouth’s Baker Library.

Mudd Hall (the west wing of Corson-Mudd Hall, 1982) – Named for Seeley G. Mudd, a prominent philanthropist. The foundation established with his fortune explicitly earmarks donations for the construction of academic buildings – the wikipedia list shows no less than 30 schools that have benefited from his funds. Otherwise, Dr. Mudd has no connection to Cornell.

Gates Hall (2013/14) – Not unlike Mudd Hall, Gates Hall is funded with a hefty donation from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the philanthropic org maintained by Warren Buffet and  Microsoft overlord Bill Gates.


The Cornell Stories

18 01 2013


Back in the day, before the internet, TV and even radio, the best way to indulge one’s interest was by the printed word. Novels,  serials and newspaper articles were much more valued. It was also around a hundred or so years ago, when the idea of college went from the dank halls of seminaries and obscure studies of little practical worth, to a sort of idyllic playground of stories and mischief, casting collegiate life into a much more positive light.

During this time, several publications focusing on the wonders of college life were produced. Perhaps the best known are the Frank Merriwell serials, and his exploits at Yale. There were several other works of various quality produced around the same time.

Here, I offer The Cornell Stories (1898), written by James Gardner Sanderson, Class of 1896. The stories are light-hearted and fictional, but the setting and the descriptions conjure up images of a simpler, slower time, the Ithaca of a century ago.

Here’s my recommendation – make a cup of hot chocolate, settle into your favorite chair or couch with a blanket, and enjoy a good read.

A “Nobel” Accolade

4 10 2012

In the proverbial confidence-measuring that is academia, one of the things that colleges and universities like to throw out there is the breadth and depth of their Nobel laureates. The reasoning is simple enough; it’s a measurement of prestige, and the caliber of alumni and faculty.

Cornell lays claim to 41 such folks, according to a fall 2009 issue of the Cornell Chronicle, and according to wikpedia, that number has held steady. Within those 41, 3 are current faculty, 13 are alumni, and the other 25 are former faculty (moved, retired or otherwise). The last recipient was Jack Szostak Ph. D ’77, who won the Prize in Physiology/Medicine in 2009.

So let’s take a brief look at how Cornell stacks up against its peers: First, the top 20 schools, as compiled by U.S. News and World Report, since that tends to be the most commonly used ranking system:

U. Chicago
U. Mich
Johns Hopkins
UC Berkeley
Carnegie Mellon

Now their Nobel laureates:

Columbia 80 (or 97, depending on your definition)
U. Chicago 87
MIT 77
Stanford 54
Yale 49
UC Berkeley 47
Harvard 46
Cornell 41
NYU 36
Johns Hopkins 36
Princeton 35
Caltech 32
Penn 28
UW-Madison 19
U. Mich 19
Carnegie Mellon 18
Duke 12
Northwestern 8
Brown 7

Interestingly, U. Illinois-Urbana-Champaign has 26, but doesn’t appear in the top schools list from USNWR. International students may be annoyed at me for leaving of non-U.S. schools, and granted, there’s a few that have similarly high rankings and accolades. Forgive my blatant nationalism for the moment.

This exercise proves to me, on a very general level, that universities with Nobel affiliates tend to be more prestigious. However, there are some obvious issues- schools with large research programs tend to have more laureates, and we haven’t even explored the Nobel laureates per capita at each institution (an exercise in futility, since I would also require historical enrollement figures I don’t feel like digging for at the moment).

But whatever floats your boat Cornell P.R., and keep your fingers crosses at the next Nobel award ceremony.

The Freshman Beanie

11 06 2012

Distinguishing between the years of students of Cornell can be rather difficult after about the first month of the academic year.  Unless it’s orientation, Greek rush, or some other telling factor, you can take a glance at some random person crossing the quad and have no idea whether or not they’re a freshman, a junior, or perhaps even a young grad student (whereas for older grad students, they might be mistaken for professors). However, it’s not like anyone worries about that; except in the case of love and relationships (senior to senior: you’re dating a freshman? Robbing the cradle much?), someone’s year usually doesn’t merit much attention. Well, things were a bit different back in the day.

In the days of yore, it was traditional for freshman males at Cornell (known as “pikers”, like those referenced in “Give My Regards to Davy”) to wear a rather peculiar-looking felt cap called a “Beanie”, which was like a snow hat (wikipedia directs the query to “tuque”, a word I’ve never used in my life), red in color with a grey button on the top. Examples can be seen in the below photo, which dates from a 1919 Cornell football game.

Image Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Beanie was part of the mandatory rules for freshmen, and they were required to wear it in public until the spring, when all the freshmen burned their caps in a ceremonial bonfire. This was a kinda cutesy little sentimental event meant to instill class camaraderie and make warm fuzzies, when the sophomores weren’t trying to kick the crap out of freshmen in the occasional class battles.

The cap rule, along with other rules such as not walking on the grass and not wearing any high school or prep school emblems, tended to be strictly enforced, and with harsh consequences. Violators were liable to have their heads shaved or go for a quick dunk into Beebe Lake.

Of special note regarding the beanies is the case of Frederick Morelli, a freshman originally of the class of 1924, who absolutely refused to wear his beanie. After numerous dunkings and warnings from his peers (including a double dunking into a public fountain and the lake, with a placard hung on his neck saying “Moral: wear a frosh cap”), Morelli ended up being pursued by a mob of angry upperclassmen, and had to be saved by the president of the university to avoid serious injury. The Sun actually condoned the mob’s behavior. But George Lincoln Burr, the most senior faculty member at the university at the time, threatened resignation over the manifestation of “lynch law” on the campus. Fred Morelli withdrew from the university, but returned a couple years later and graduated in the class of 1926. Perhaps his penchant of pushing his bounds played into his undoing; after graduation, he became a gangster and nightclub owner, and was gunned down outside of his club in Utica in 1947. Fun fact: the city of Utica was run by the Mafia and its associates for decades, up through the early 1990s.

The caps faded out, as did the class battles, as a result of the changing demographics post-WWII. Frankly, after killing men in trenches, and now married with children, most vets who came in under the G.I. Bill as freshmen could not give two salts for collegiate antics. When the sophomores made an attempt to enforce the rules in 1949 by shaving the heads of three frosh, the enraged students brought their grievances before the mostly G.I.-composed Student Council, who promptly banned enforcement of the practice. The beanie remained voluntary up to the early 1960s, when it faded out completely.

So nowadays, students can feel completely to engage with members of the other classes. Unless it involves doing a walk of shame to Collegetown from a freshman dorm. That would be awkward.

A Nominal Nod to Cornell

18 12 2011

Whether or not one likes or dislikes Cornell and its environs, the university has been around long enough and produced enough graduates to have a fairly recognizable name as colleges and universities go. I happened to hear from a friend recently who had moved out to Colorado after graduation, and their experience in the Collegiate Peaks of Colorado. When I checked Wikipedia, I was dismayed to find that their were mountains named in those peaks named for Oxford, Harvard, Princeton, Yale and Columbia, but not Cornell. For what it’s worth, it appears they were named in the late 1860s and 1870s, when Cornell was still a fledgling school. But, I decided to do a google search for a “Mt. Cornell”.

While there wasn’t a “Mt. Cornell” anywhere in the world, there is a Cornell Peak named in honor of the university. The 9,750 ft. mountain is part of the San Jacinto Mountains in Southern California.  The mountain earned its name from a USGS topographer camping in the valley below with a geologist friend who was a graduate of Cornell, and remarked how the peak resembled McGraw Tower in appearance. Personally, I don’t see it, but the topographer named the mountain in honor of the university. Of much lesser note, there is a 3,860 ft. “Cornell Mountain” in the Catskills that is named for Thomas C. Cornell, a distant relative of Ezra.

Looking northward to a place even colder and less inviting than Ithaca in winter, on the west coast of Greenland there exists a “Cornell Glacier“. Similarly to the Collegiate Peaks, there is a collegiate set of glaciers in Alaska that Cornell was not a part of, the set consisting of the four aforementioned Ivies and Johns Hopkins.

On the more civilized end, the town of Cornell, Wisconsin (population 1467 as of the 2010 census) is named for Ezra and the university, due to its placement on the lands that the university once held as part of the Morrill land-grant in the late 19th century. The university has given this some light attention to this connection by writing an article referring to a blog written by a Cornell alum and his fact-finding adventures in the small community in northern cheesehead country. Apparently, the town was originally named Brunet Falls and is famous for having the only surviving pulpwood stacker, and like many other small towns with minor claims to fame, they make a festival out of it (considering my hometown’s claim to fame is the method a hose is laid on a fire engine, I have no right to be critical). Although it’s hard to tell whether communities named Cornell are named after Cornell U. or someone who happens that surname, at least two unincorporated communities are named for the school far above Cayuga, one in the U.P. of Michigan and one in Southern California north of Malibu (and a fair 100 miles from Cornell Peak). Cornell, Illinois and Cornell, Ontario are not related to the university.

Lest one try to limit themselves to the Earth, an asteroid was named in honor of Cornell in 1999 (8250 Cornell). I guess the next astronomical goal should be a large crater somewhere.

If it’s any consolation to the folks associated with Cornell College, they have a species of tropical fly named for their school.


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