May 5, 2004

Football Was King; Beebe Lake Queen

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Already 17 years old, the Cornell football program had something of a banner year in 1904. The legendary Glenn “Pop” Warner 1894 returned to Cornell for his second year as head coach. The team captain was James Lynah 1905, who would later become the Cornell athletic director. The Red went 7-3 that year, outscoring its opponents by a prodigious 226-92.

That memorable season was a small part of the athletic samplings enjoyed by Cornellians one hundred years ago. Ranging from the football team at it’s home on Percy Field to winter sports on Beebe Lake, sports enjoyed huge popularity among students spectators and participants. Team sports included basketball, fencing, wrestling, and crew. But football was king.

And the undisputed king of football was Pop Warner.

Perhaps best known as Jim Thorpe’s football coach at the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, Warner helped to revolutionize football in America. Over his 44-year coaching career, he compiled a 319-106-29 record with stops at Cornell, Georgia, Carlise, Pittsburgh, Stanford, and Temple. His affection for Cornell never waned throughout his illustrious career. In 1950, he endowed the Pop Warner Most Valuable Player Award for the University football program, which is still given to this day.

Warner’s commanding presence was best matched by his captain on the 1904 team, James Lynah. Lynah was a standout athlete who later became Cornell’s athletic director and was an early proponent of the Ivy League’s formation in the late 1930s.

The football team garnered nearly constant attention from on the Cornell campus. Weekday practices were events of public interest rivaled only by the games every Saturday of the fall.

Prior to football games, The Sun announced meetings to go over and practice cheer songs, including the Cornell Yell:

Cornell, I yell, yell, yell, Cornell!
Cornell, I yell, yell, yell, Cornell!

The cheer may sound easy, but was easily misspoken, as a letter to the editor on Nov. 23, 1903 made clear:

“Many alumni returning to Percy Field have noticed that the Cornell yell has been considerably changed during the past few years.

The student of to-day is not cognizant of the fact but it is true just the same. …

To-day the yell is given very rapidly. The words are run in together and sometimes cannot be distinguished. In the nineties every syallable was pronounced distinctly and with emphasis and force. It was a long ‘Cornell!’ with an emphasis and drive on each syllable of the word and then a forceful ‘I yell,’ then another ‘yell’ with a sledgehammer drive on the word, and then another ‘yell’ with the same determined, forceful drive, and so on throughout the yell. ….”

Off the gridiron, cross country and fencing were popular fall excursions for many Cornellians. The fencing club drew as many as 40 participants to some events.

Cross country meets were held on weekends as events in which members of the varsity team and other students both participated. Several “hare and hound” meets were held, in which a member of the team would “set the trail,” and be followed by other members of the team as well as the more casual participants.

Indoors, basketball and indoor track and field were also popular sports.

The Class of 1904 graduated the year in which several changes were planned for the future development of Cornell’s athletic culture. In the spring of 1904, work began on the original Alumni Field, which was set aside for use by the varsity teams for many years to come.

Zip Down Beebe Lake

Construction began in 1904 on the Toboggan Slide that for 35 years would blast students at a speed of over 45 miles per hour over three quarters of a mile of ice on Beebe Lake. Beebe Lake was a central winter sporting grounds for students, a place where students skated, practiced their curling (the popular Canadian sport — shuffle-board on ice, with brooms) and atheletes played league hockey games.

Under the tutelage of mechanical engineering Prof. John Parson, the Cornell Skating Association — to which Henry Hasbrouck 1904 paid dues every year — cleared the snow from the ice and tested it for safety every year.

Association receipts from 1903 were $984 and expenses were $833. The remaining balance of $150.99 was used to erect the new slide, which was 70 feet high and 300 feet long, according to the Dec. 2 1903 Sun. Costs ran around $700 for the construction and maintenance of the slide, necessitating further fundraising.

All tobogaans were required to have a flat steel runner of at least three quarters of an inch. With such exact requirements, the shute avoided being constantly cut up by narrow and round steel runners. The shute was iced 8 inches thick.

Beebe Lake was not the only place students went tobogganing. Three students were seriously injured on Dec. 14, 1903 when their toboggan swerved to avoid overtaking another tobogganer on Buffalo Street.They jumped the curb and were thrown against a tree, resulting in one broken pevlis bone, one broken finger, gashed heads, bruised arms, legs and shoulders.

Such accidents were inevitable, and the Toboggan Slide would have its fair share. The slide was torn down in 1940, when disrepair, liability and distractions such as movies relegated the tradition to the trashbin.

— Peter Norlander

Archived article by Owen Bochner
Sun Sports Editor