At the end of last year, the City of Ithaca’s Parks Commission unanimously rejected a proposal to install a memorial plaque near Ithaca Falls for Nathaniel Rand ’12, a student who died in a swimming accident at the gorge site in July. Jacob and Maggie Rand, Nate’s parents, said the two foot-by-two foot sign was intended to both commemorate their son’s life and prevent future would-be swimmers from entering the gorge’s deadly currents.
Yet city officials were worried that the memorial would prove problematic for several primarily logistical reasons, said the chair of the commission Prof. Dan Krall M.A. ’84, landscape architecture, in an interview this week.
Krall said that, “as sympathetic as we were to the family,” the commission’s members feared that the sign would saddle the city with long-term maintenance costs. He added that, since police presence in the area is minimal, the commission believed the sign would not remain long before being stolen or defaced.
City officials also believed approving the Rand memorial could set an undesirable precedent, making it difficult for the city to justify rejecting future applicants, Krall said. "We did not want to set a precedent that you could place memorials in public parks," Krall said.
Additionally, Krall said, Rand was a Cornell student, and should therefore be remembered with a memorial at the University — not in the city.
“We just didn't know if it was appropriate to put [the memorial] down there because it’s city space, not Cornell space,” Krall said. “Cornell should have a place on campus that’s a memorial spot for students who have died while at Cornell … like this unfortunate fellow who drowned.”
Rand’s parents, however, said Krall and the commission “missed our main point” — to prevent further gorge deaths.
“[Krall and the commission] seem to be more concerned about the number of memorials, maintaining plaques and Nate having been a Cornell student when their all-important concern should be to eliminate the need for them in the first place,” Jacob and Maggi Rand wrote in a co-signed email Tuesday.
Since their son’s death, the Rands have fought to demand action to reduce the number of gorge deaths at Cornell and in the city. At a memorial in September, the Rands forcefully criticized the University for, they said, failing to take “substantive action to put an end to these tragedies.”
Several students died in separate accidents this summer while gorge swimming, a popular pastime for students looking to cool off during the sweltering summer months.
On May 30, just a day after he graduated, Kendrick Castro ’11 was wading upstream in the area in the Fall Creek Gorge with a group of friends when he slipped and was swept downstream. Passersby could not save him.
Then, on July 2, Rand and Stanislaw Jaworski, 26, a graduate student from Gdansk, Poland, died within hours of each other.
Rand and a group of Cornell students were swimming in the gorge when Rand became trapped underneath the water near Ithaca Falls. The incident occurred just three hours after police recovered the body of Jaworski, who fell into the gorge after apparently losing his footing while walking along the gorge trail.
The Rands said the rejected memorial was intended to ensure that more students do not suffer similar fates this summer.
“We sincerely hope that our efforts in memorializing Nate and the reason for his death will help to spare future families and friends from experiencing similar unnecessary and preventable tragedies,” they said in an email.