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Thursday, 08 July 2010


ImageActors who have attended Cornell include the late Christopher Reeve '74 of Super-man fame; "L.A. Law" and "West Wing" star Jimmy Smits, MFA '82; Ellen Albertini Dow '35, MA '38, who has played a spunky senior citizen in films like The Wedding Singer and Wedding Crashers; and Jane Lynch, MFA '84, currently cast as the abrasive cheerleading coach on "Glee." Peter Ostrum, who was Charlie Bucket in the original 1971 Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, earned a DVM from Cornell in 1984; Frank Morgan 1909, immortalized in the title role of The Wizard of Oz, dropped out after freshman year. Famous fictional Cornellians include Charles Foster Kane of Citizen Kane, unrelenting Big Red booster Andy Bernard of "The Office," and animated sidekick Sideshow Mel of "The Simpsons." Cornell has also figured in a number of recent films, including Up in the Air (as the alma mater of George Clooney's ambitious protégé) and The Informant, about the escapades of ADM whistleblower (and multi-million-dollar embezzler) Mark Whitacre, PhD '83. At the end of the film, Whitacre is seen leaving federal prison wearing a Cornell sweatshirt.


ImageWhen Earle gives presentations to students, the question he's asked most often is, "What's the story with the clocktower pumpkin?" So his lecture includes a detailed account of the day in late October 1997 when the campus woke to find a gourd mysteriously speared atop McGraw Tower. The story immediately caught on with national media; as Earle jokes, "The New York Times basically had a beat writer assigned to it."

The University cordoned off the grass around the tower with police tape, lest the vegetable fall and kill somebody, and set up a "Pumpkin Cam" with live video streaming on the Web. East Hill was agog with pumpkin mania. Engineers tried to design a device to go up and take samples; the Glee Club sang a pumpkin-themed parody of the Alma Mater on the national news; when the pumpkin failed to rot with the advent of spring, plant science students debated whether it was real.

Ultimately, the administration decided to play it safe and take it down, bringing in a crane and planning a gala ceremony—but during a preliminary run, a gust of wind knocked the crane into the spire and the pumpkin fell off. Ultimately, it was determined to be a genuine, hollowed-out gourd that had been freeze-dried by the Ithaca winter.

So how did it get up there? Years later, a plausible story emerged: skilled rock climbers had attended a chimes concert and hidden in the tower until everyone left, then put tape over a door lock on their way out. They retrieved their equipment and returned to the tower, where they took the stairs to the top, cut open a locked hatch in the roof, and scrambled up to deposit the pumpkin by cover of night. "No one ever took responsibility," Earle says, "but it has been said the local climbing community is very aware of who the perpetrators are."


Image"Probably the best spooky story about Cornell is Rulloff," Earle says. "He's Ithaca's most famous criminal." In the mid-nineteenth century, Edward Rulloff was a schoolteacher in nearby Dryden when his wife and infant vanished; around the same time, a neighbor was asked to help Rulloff carry a large trunk to his carriage. He was assumed to have murdered them in a rage and tossed them in the lake—but since their bodies were never found, he was prosecuted for kidnapping. He escaped from custody after befriending the son of the jailkeeper and continued his life of crime. A sociopath who fancied himself an unsung genius in the field of philology, he was eventually arrested for the murder of a Binghamton shopkeeper. After being convicted in 1870 in what Earle calls "the O. J. Simpson trial of the mid-1800s," he became the last person publicly hanged in New York State. A jailhouse interview shortly before his death cemented his legend. "He said, 'You cannot kill an unquiet spirit, and I know that my impending death will not mean the end of Rulloff. In the dead of night, walking along Cayuga Street, you will sense my presence. When you wake to a sudden chill, I will be in the room. And when you find yourself alone at the lake shore, gazing at gray Cayuga, know that I was cut short and your ancestors killed me . . .' He gave this really spooky statement, and afterward there were sightings of Rulloff's ghost along Cayuga Lake." While not strictly a Cornellian, Rulloff lives on as the namesake of a popular Collegetown eatery. His brain, which is on view in Cornell's collection in Uris Hall, is among the largest on record.


What are Earle's favorite Cornell "facts" that prove to be way off base? The main one that audiences often ask him about is the University's supposedly astronomical suicide rate—which, despite the gorge deaths last spring, is actually in line with that of other schools. Also, Earle says, "There's a story that says the Dairy Bar ice cream isn't FDA-approved or legal to sell off campus, because the fat content is too high. That's actually not true; they just have chosen to keep the operation on a smaller scale since its focus is on education, not making money." Another bit of dairy-related apocrypha: "It was never a requirement to milk a cow before you graduate—though it is on the list of '161 Things to Do,' so most students do try to get some milking in."

Yet another common falsehood is that the University's infamous swim test was initiated by a wealthy alum whose child drowned, inspiring a donation to Cornell—with the stipulation that all students learn to swim. "That isn't true," Earle says. "It started in the Nineteen-Teens as a Red Cross program for women. Then, as part of military preparedness, men began taking it. For years, men had to do fifty yards and women had to do a hundred. It wasn't until the Seventies that they equalized it to seventy-five yards for everybody."


Willis Carrier
Willis Carrier 1901

Cornell educated the inventors of SuperGlue (Harry Coover, PhD '44), the Heimlich Maneuver (Harry Heimlich '41, MD '43), air conditioning (Willis Carrier 1901), and chicken nuggets (Robert Baker '43). The latter was a Cornell food science professor who made it his mission to design new uses for poultry. Says Earle: "He was sort of the George Washington Carver of chicken."


ImageAmong the Cornellians who had the most influence on the wider world of sports was Glenn "Pop" Warner 1894, who not only coached the Big Red football team but invented the tackling dummy and pioneered such now-standard practices as putting numbers on uniform jerseys. "He credited himself with more rule changes than anyone else—and that's because they had to create the rules because of things he was doing," Earle says. "He had creative strategies like sewing a fake football on everyone's jersey, so it looked like they all had footballs. They also had to make a rule saying, 'You can't hide the football under your jersey,' because he would instruct his players to do that."

Comments (29)Add Comment
written by Peter Mack, July 10, 2010

Thanks so much for on behalf of many for resurfacing, protecting, and popularizing so much rich Big Red Tradition! We're very fortunate to have you.

Be well,
written by Meredith, July 13, 2010
I took Cornell History as a freshman writing seminar. Tell the story of the tracks on the Arts Quad in the snow (rhino? Elephant? whatever it was). That's my favorite. :-) Best prank ever!
'79 MBA '80
written by Dan Mansoor, July 13, 2010
Here's some more Cornelliana from a recent trip. TEST: Cornell, Wisconsin, Cornell, Michigan, or Cornell, Illinois. Which one has no CU connection?
written by Graham Anderson, July 13, 2010
Pretty cool, Corey! I am not at all surprised to see your extensive knowledge featured in the Alumni Magazine. Congratulations!
written by Jeffrey Allen, July 13, 2010
These stories made me miss my many wonderful days, weeks and years at Cornell! Thank you for keeping these alive and refreshing our memories!
written by Maira Bundza, July 13, 2010
When I attended Cornell in the 1970's dogs were allowed on campus, even in the classrooms. The story at that time was that someone made a large donation to make Cornell a dog friendly place. Does Earle or someone else have more information on this?
written by John Lambert, July 13, 2010
Thanks Corey for sharing some of Cornell's rich history in this article and for championing our Alma Mater's deeply interesting past. I sit 6,000 miles away from the Hill and am thoroughly enjoying the nostalgia after reading your entries. Your father was my favorite professor - please tell him I said hello.
written by Max Mattes, July 13, 2010
And don't forget Hugh Troy and his escapades. Milt Kogan, basketball player and MD, is also an actor, recently (I'm told) in new movie with George Clooney.
written by Jane, July 13, 2010
Read your last piece in the Sun before you graduated and this is a great trip down memory lane. Good to see you're still spreading the facts and legends of our alma mater, Corey!
Ph.D. 1969
written by David Lightner, July 13, 2010
I too recall hearing the legend of the donor and the dogs. Do the latter still have the run of campus? When I became a teaching assistant in 1964, I was told that my most important duty was to break up any dog fights in the lecture room, by grabbing one of the critters by the hind legs and chucking him out the door. I did it once. Also, I think every grad student from my era must remember climbing over the immense Saint Bernard that was always asleep blocking the steps to Sage Hall.
written by Claire Perry, July 14, 2010
You're the man, Corey. Great to be reminded of Cornell's present presence and of decades past. Schedule international speeches? The world needs to know more about you and our school.

written by Stella Mayhew Ardire, July 14, 2010
Speaking of dogs... I don't recall what class I was attending or the year, but one day during a lecture in the old, theater-like building, near the old Martha Van, a couple of dogs walked across the stage. Just before they exited behind the curtain to the left of the stage, one of them urinated on the curtain! The professor briefly stopped speaking and the students clapped!

Also,in 1970,I baby-sat for an off-campus family with 5 children. Their Mom was divorced and a PE teacher who coached after school. They had a golden retriever, named Barney, who thought he was one of the kids. After the kids had breakfast and went off to school, Barney made a beeline for campus. He apparently spent most of the day, until the younger kids returned from school, on campus being his lovable, friendly self and begging for food whenever the opportunity presented.
vet 60
written by Lyn F Comans, July 14, 2010
Loved it! as I never was an undergrad I had only heard a few of thes alluded to and enjoyed the real stories.
written by Art Flatau, July 14, 2010
I heard the same story about dogs when I was at Cornell in the late 1970s and early 80s (wealthy donor gave lots of money if dogs could run free). At graduation in 1982, at Schoellkopf, while president Frank Rhodes was speaking a dog wandered up to the stage and urinated on the flowers in front of the stage. Rhodes did not miss a beat and said that the Vet School Dean (I forgot his name) assured him that this was not a commentary on the ceremony. I do not know if that is my favorite memory of Cornell, but it is certainly my favorite (and most lasting) memory of graduation.
written by Corey Ryan Earle, July 14, 2010
Many thanks for the comments! It's great to hear from so many others who enjoy the Cornell lore as much as I do.

As for the questions...
Meredith: Ah, the infamous rhinoceros footprints story! Much has been written about storyteller Hugh Troy '26 and his brilliant practical jokes, both at Cornell and beyond. One particular prank involved him and a friend borrowing a wastebasket made from a rhinoceros foot (which belonged to Professor Louis Agassiz Fuertes). They tied a rope to the foot and made footprints in the snow across campus, leading to a massive hole in the Beebe Lake ice. When the footprints were discovered the next day and determined to belong to a rhinoceros, some people said that the campus drinking water (from the lake) tasted like rhino. Although the story has been retold in countless sources, there are no contemporary accounts from the 1920s or 1930s when it's supposed to have occurred. Many historians actually question whether the vast majority of Troy's stories and pranks are factual, or if the creation of such legends was Troy's true creative talent. However, I did meet an alumna from the Class of '65 at Reunion this year who insists her late father was the man that helped Hugh Troy make the rhino footprints. Whether it actually happened remains a mystery...

Dan: Cornell, Illinois, of course! I encourage readers to check out Dan's blog ( on the city of Cornell, WI and the pinelands that Ezra once owned there.

Maira, David, Stella, and Art: Stories about dogs on campus abound, and there have been many canine personalities over the years. My favorite story is of the dog that went on stage at Bailey Hall during a Rachmaninoff concert circa 1920 and began sniffing the famed pianist's hand in the middle of a particularly long piece.
Alas, dog's no longer roam campus freely due to stricter leash laws and the era of litigation and allergies. The story of a wealthy donor insisting that dogs run loose is untrue, but it was perpetuated by the fictional novel "Fool on the Hill" (1988) by Matt Ruff '87, which features dogs among the main characters.

Max: See above for a bit about Troy. Some more of his stories are told on Wikipedia:
And yes, actor (and former Big Red basketball captain) Milt Kogan '57 is a proud Cornell alumnus who actually returned to Cornell fifty years later to finish his degree and march with the Class of 2007. He will be appearing in the 2011 film "The Descendants" with George Clooney.

Keep the stories coming! I'll do my best to answer any questions.
written by Dick Landsman, July 15, 2010
Speaking of Cornell actors , remember Franchot Tone '27 and Adolph Menjou '10 .
written by Nate, July 18, 2010
I always enjoyed the story of why there is a dent in the ceremonial mace. At a commencement ceremony in the mid-to-late 1960's, a student decided to rush the stage and the professor holding the mace decided that he would allow such tomfoolery. So, he gave the student a solid whack, thus denting the mace. I'm less clear on who was the professor in the incident -- I want to say Morris Bishop.
written by Lory Peck, July 19, 2010
Re: the dent in the mace. It was Prof. Bishop (I'm fairly sure) hitting C. David Burak '68 when Dave (one of the SDS leaders that year) tried to interrupt a speech during graduation in 1969 (after the Straight Takeover, etc.). For a while, Burak was the only alumni banned from campus. He did return a few years later and got a Masters in Children's Literature (if my memory serves).
written by Doug Shore, July 19, 2010
If my memory is correct, Professor George Harris Healey (of Brit Lit fame) wielded the mace in the mid-60s.
written by Corey Ryan Earle, July 20, 2010
Dick: Although not a household name today, Franchot Tone '27 is perhaps Cornell's most famous actor. As a student, he starred in the first production in the Willard Straight Hall theater, followed by a very successful stage, film, and television career. His Best Actor Academy Award nomination for a supporting role in 1935's "Mutiny on the Bounty" helped lead to the creation of the Best Supporting Actor category the following year.
Adolphe Menjou '12 never completed his degree, but went on to earn a Best Actor Academy Award nomination for "The Front Page" in 1931. Both Tone and Menjou have stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Nate, Lory, and Doug: This is one of those stories that has been retold so many times that the facts have changed over the years. It was at Commencement in 1970 that a group of protesters disrupted the ceremonies and were forcibly removed from the stage by campus officers. C. David Burak '67, a well-known campus activist, was one of three protesters who afterward faced charges of disorderly behavior and resisting arrest. However, it was Melvin Morgulis, a non-Cornellian protester, that was fended off with the mace by University marshal and historian Morris Bishop '14. A widely-publicized Associated Press photograph gave the incident national coverage. You can read Burak's description of the incident here:
And here's a photo of Morris Bishop ready to strike: http://cdsun.library.cornell.e...

George Healey, Professor of English and Curator of Rare Books, was responsible for the ordering of the mace (and University baton) from designer Sir Eric Clements of the Goldsmiths' Guild of London in 1962, at President Malott's direction. Healey was indeed the macebearer in the mid-1960s, including the Centennial Commencement in 1965.
written by Terry Davis, July 22, 2010
Congratulations Corey!! These stories are fabulous!! We are trying to get one of the grandkids to attend Cornell years from now as they would be 5th generation on Duane's side.....Again so enjoy your work!!
written by Bill, July 22, 2010
Corey, I don't think I've mentioned this before, but your passion for Cornellian history has been an inspiration for me (1) to learn as much as I can about Pittsburgh and its history and (2) to share that history with others. I'm not exactly winning any book-collection awards yet, but my library on the subject has been growing.
written by Candida Haasch, July 22, 2010
Going on about dogs: I clearly recall a lecture in Bailey Hall in Biol 101/102 -- must've been fall of '73 or spring of '74, therefore -- when a pair of dogs ran onto the stage and began copulating right behind the lecturing professor. His topic that day. . . ? Reproduction, of course. It brought down the house.
written by Linda Healey, August 16, 2010
To Doug Shore, July 19:
During Cornell commencement, my father was proud to carry the Cornell mace, which had a place of honor in his office in Olin Library the rest of the year. He was horrified by the whacking. (I remember not a dent, but that the golden Cornell bear at the tip was bent.)
written by Nancy Wallack, October 10, 2010
Re Nate, Lory Peck, Doug Shore: Delicious story. It was at our 1970 commencement that the professor who had carried the mace (symbol of the university and its power) in procession used it for practical defense (to knock the breath out of then-head of SDS, who failed to take control of the microphone and the event). Memory says it was Prof Morris Bishop...wonderfully appropriate as he was also the historian of the university.
written by Loring CHien, October 18, 2013
you forgot Clifford Irving and the fake Howard Hughes autobiography.

The Cornell English grad got a rep as an investigative reporter. He convinced McGraw-Hill that Howard Hughes had picked him to ghost write his autobiography and got a huge advance for H.Hughes that his wise posing as Hega Huges cashed. He was banking that the reclusive Billionaire was either really dead and could not contest, or was alive and would not appear publicly. However he did come out of hiding and sued McGraw Hill. Clifford Irving was exposed for fraud and went to jail.
written by Peter Thaler, February 28, 2014
I love this dialogue about the things that are (or should be)part of the shared memories that make us Cornellians. Do
you remember a campus favorite (husky I believe)named Tripod because of a missing leg, who got around with the best of them in the mid 50's? I remember sitting in a zoology class in Stimson hall when a large dog in the center aisle started to disturb the lecturer who then gave us his views about vivisection at which point the dog barked once and ran out of the room.
written by Barbara Eaglesham, July 09, 2014
You forgot to mention the mistaken notion that dogs were allowed in classrooms back when I was in school because a wealthy alumnus had contributed to Cornell with that as his stipulation. I do miss the dogs, though.
written by Josh Kiem, November 29, 2016
I distinctly remember eating at WSH, and making room for a St Bernard that wore a CoOp dining ID, complete with the dog's name and picture, around his neck. This would have been in the 1975-78 timeframe. I believe he was owned by Sigma Chi, but it's been a very long time.

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Last Updated ( Thursday, 08 July 2010 )