September 5, 2013

EZRA’S ORACLE: Sept. 6, 2013

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Ezra’s Oracle welcomes inquiries from members of the Cornell community about anything and everything related to the University. We seek out answers to campus mysteries, research rumors, and investigate issues of relevance to Cornellians. Questions can be submitted via email to [email protected]

Q: How can I access the tunnel from Olin to Uris?

— Subterranean Explorer ’15

A: Made famous by #63 on the “161 Things Every Cornell Should Do” list, the underground tunnel between Cornell’s two main libraries is much less exciting than most people realize. Because Olin Library doesn’t have its own loading dock for large shipments, the Uris loading dock is where the latest collections arrive for Olin & Kroch Libraries. A plain underground hallway connects the two buildings, right underneath where students walk. The tunnel is regularly used by staff members, but kept locked in part because of the valuable materials that move between libraries. Befriend a librarian, and maybe you can get a private tour.

Q: I heard that Ezra Cornell’s ancestors were murderers. Is that true?

— Bleeding Big Red ’13

A: Our University’s founder does have some macabre history in his family tree. Ezra Cornell’s great-great-great-grandfather was Thomas Cornell, who was tried and executed for his 73-year-old mother’s murder in 1673. Whether Thomas was guilty remains a mystery, and evidence against him included testimony from the victim’s brother, who claimed to have been visited by his sister’s ghost. Thomas’s genealogy includes at least seven other alleged murderers, including the infamous Lizzie Borden (Ezra’s 4th cousin 2 times removed). The story is told in the 2002 book, Killed Strangely: The Death of Rebecca Cornell, which, fittingly enough, was published by Cornell University Press.

Q: Who lived in the A. D. White House?

— Architectural Admirer ’15

A: Built in 1871 as the home for Cornell’s first president, Andrew Dickson White, this beautiful villa is one of the oldest buildings on campus. President White and his family lived there until his death in 1918, although other faculty helped house-sit during his lengthy diplomatic travels as Ambassador to Germany and Russia. Cornell’s fourth and fifth presidents, Livingston Farrand and Edmund Ezra Day, also resided there. From 1953 until the Johnson Museum of Art was built in 1973, the A. D. White House was the University’s art museum. Today, it houses the Society for the Humanities, providing space for offices, seminars, conferences and luncheons. The building and back lawn are particularly popular for summer weddings and receptions as well. If you get a chance, explore the decorative stonework, antique furniture, and other art throughout. Historical plaques commemorating visits by notable individuals — Ulysses S. Grant, James A. Garfield and Dwight D. Eisenhower, for example — are on the mantel inside. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

Q: What is the percentage of Cornellians that marry each other?

— Looking for Love ’15

A: According to Cornell’s alumni records, there are approximately 11,000 Cornell marriages where at least one member of the couple was still alive (as of 2011). With about 265,000 living alumni, that means probably somewhere around 6 percent of Cornellians have Big Red spouses, though this wouldn’t take into account marriages that aren’t in Cornell’s database or divorces. In 1998, the Director of Alumni Affairs quoted the number at 6 percent as well. The percentage has likely dropped over the last 150 years as more universities began educating women. An investigation from 1895 revealed that 55 percent of married female Cornell graduates had married a Cornell student or instructor. A later study concluded that 38 percent of married women graduates from 1919-1921 married Cornell men.

Q: Where are the boundaries of Cornell’s campus? It seems to bleed into the surrounding communities.

— Cornell Cartographer ’16

A: There’s no easy answer, since Cornell’s land is not one contiguous piece of property. In fact, according to the Cornell Real Estate website, the University has “over 731 real estate interests located in 24 states, and 4 foreign countries.” The Tompkins County Department of Assessment provides some helpful tax maps online, which identify ownership and help delineate the primary parcels of land around campus.

To the south, Cornell’s main campus extends across the gorge to the edge of Collegetown and includes properties like the Williams St. parking lot, Cascadilla, the Schwartz Center, and Sheldon Court. As you head east, Cornell owns most land right up to Oak Ave., and then dipping farther south to include East Hill Plaza, the Oxley Equestrian Center, and a large area around it. Nearly all the land from central campus to Game Farm Rd. is Cornell’s. The northern boundary extends through the Robert Trent Jones golf course (excluding the Forest Home community) and right up to Cayuga Heights past A-Lot and North Campus. Heading west, Cornell owns property extending beyond West Campus and Stewart Ave., all the way down to University Ave. in some places.

Cornell’s land ownership may give a glimpse into the future campus. For example, the 2008 Cornell Master Plan suggests significant development of an “East Hill Village” for administrative offices, graduate housing, and athletics where East Hill Plaza is today.

Curious about Cornelliana? Looking for Cornell lore behind a legend? Submit your questions to [email protected] Ezra’s Oracle appears alternate Fridays this semester.