November 29, 2011

Unknowing Cornellians Call Famous Alumni’s Rooms Home

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When Michael Dijamco ’15 moved into room 120 in Risley Hall this August, he tacked his Smallville poster of Superman near the door. Little did he know, Christopher Reeve ’74 — who played the first motion picture Superman — occupied that very room his senior year at Cornell.

Old student directories in Olin Library reveal the many places notable Cornellians called home while on East Hill.

Thomas Pynchon ’57 lived at 1804 Kline Road, Bill Nye ’77 leased 219 Linden Avenue, Bill Maher ’78 took 226 Linden Avenue and Keith Olbermann ’79 occupied 207 Delaware Avenue. Nobel-prize winning theoretical physicist Sheldon Lee Glashow ’54 bunked at 217 West Avenue, while his co-recipient Steven Weinberg ’54 crashed nearby at 300 West Avenue.

Few current residents of these houses, however, realize that they share a window with history.

“I had no idea this was the home of Superman — Reeve kept his clothing right in that closet,” Dijamco said upon finding out. “It feels amazing.”

Tim Carswell ’14 was similarly surprised to learn that Kurt Vonnegut ’44 lived in his third-floor double in the Delta Upsilon fraternity house.

“I didn’t find out until this September or October,” he said. “It makes you feel connected to our alumni and realize how old Cornell is.”

In the 1940s, Vonnegut called the two-room suite “Blue Moose Lodge” for its deep blue paint and large moose antlers mounted on the wall, according to the records of George Nichols ’45, obtained by The Sun.

According to Nichols, Vonnegut and his roommate Dave “Buck” Young ’44 strung a large bra between the antler ends and created a new game called “Tit Polo” by bouncing a tennis ball off the wall and into the bra’s “pockets.”

Carswell said the antlers and accompanying game no longer exist, but “it all makes you speculate: If I become famous, what people will ask about Tim Carswell’s room decades from now.”

He is not alone wondering about the lives of eminent — and potentially eminent — Cornellians.

“We all share a common bond,” said Corey Earle ’07, associate director of student programs in the Office of Alumni Affairs and professor of American Studies 2001: The First American University, a course on Cornell’s history. “Most people probably don’t think their freshman hall neighbors are the future groundbreaking researchers, generous philanthropists, professional athletes and corporate leaders.”

Many famous Cornellians began the work that they’re known for while in Ithaca. As a senior on 614 East State Street, Peter Yarrow ’59 began composing “Puff the Magic Dragon” based on a poem given to him by his friend. Vladimir Nabokov — who taught Russian literature at Cornell from 1948 to 1959 — penned part of Lolita while living at 957 East State Street.

Nabokov listened to schoolgirls talk on buses to absorb their mannerisms and lingo, according to Cornell history buff Ryan Gomez ’09.

Few current students seek famous dorm rooms or famous Collegetown houses, according to Carlos Gonzalez, assistant director of residential and event services. Unlike Princeton and Yale, Cornell neither tracks nor preserves the accommodations of celebrated graduates.

As a result, 4546 Dickson Hall — the freshmen single of US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg ’54 — is now a maintenance closet.

Some locales may even seem too remote for many students. Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Junot Díaz MFA ’95 lived at 702 North Cayuga Street his last year at Cornell. Joe Nieuwendyk ’88 — three-time Stanley Cup winner and Hockey Hall of Fame inductee — held a pad all the way down on 207 Williams Street.

James Rainis ’14, current Sun Arts Editor, lives in Ezra Cornell’s bedroom in Delta Phi fraternity — otherwise known as Llenroc. He said he pulled the worst number in Llenroc’s housing lottery.

“Room 3 is on the second floor and pretty loud, so most people don’t want it,” he said. “The guest bedroom next door is bigger.”

Cornell’s master suite still boasts an impressive fireplace, large windows and ornate woodwork that are “way too nice for a fraternity bedroom,” Rainis said. The gothic revival mansion lists on the National Register of Historic Places.

Absent last year from Risley’s housing draw, Bret Casey ’14 likewise received a low pick. Casey’s friend chose Reeve’s small sophomore single for him, but Casey said he sees it as “a poor consolation prize.”

“It’s fun living in 237 to joke about channeling Superman powers for upcoming prelims,” he said. “But that’s all there really is.”

But Dijamco, whose first-floor room overlooks a parking lot, maintains that cohabiting with history bestows worthwhile bragging rights.

“If you see multi-color lights coming from a room in Risley as you walk across the Thurston Avenue Bridge, know that’s the Superman room,” he said with a grin.

Original Author: Dan Robbins