October 17, 2013

EZRA’S ORACLE: Oct. 19, 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: Did co-founders Ezra Cornell and Andrew Dickson White not get along?

— Family Feud ’07

A: Overall, Ezra and Andrew made a pretty great team, with each bringing a very different background and perspective to Cornell’s unique founding philosophy and structure. But it’s safe to say that they occasionally disagreed on key points. Ezra was 25 years older than White, self-educated, and the son of a relatively poor potter and farmer. On the other hand, White was very well-educated and from a wealthy family of merchants and politicians. When it came to designing the University’s first buildings, Ezra liked practical and utilitarian plain stone buildings, exemplified by Morrill and White Halls. A. D. White was fascinated by architecture, and felt that the beauty of campus and its buildings had a direct impact on students. His influence can be seen in buildings like Sage Hall, Sage Chapel, and Uris Library. White wanted to locate the University in Syracuse, but Ezra insisted on using his land in Ithaca. Ezra envisioned an industrial campus with a chair and shoe factory where students could work for their education, while White argued that academic study was a full-time job. Fortunately, the final product of our co-founders’ compromises turned out pretty well.

Q: Why are there Cornell references in The Michael J. Fox Show, the new show on NBC this fall?

— Marty McFly ’11

A: In the premiere of The Michael J. Fox Show a few weeks ago, it was revealed that his character’s son is a Cornell University dropout. The son’s laptop even has a Cornell sticker on it. The series co-creator (and director of that episode) is Cornellian, Will Gluck ’93. Gluck is best known for his comedy films like “Easy A” (2010) and “Friends with Benefits” (2011), and is directing and co-writing the upcoming movie musical of “Annie,” starring Quvenzhané Wallis and Jamie Foxx. As a student, Gluck played squash and was involved with WVBR-FM.

Q: I heard Salmonella is named for a Cornellian. What other Cornell-related eponyms are there?

—  Linguistics Lover ’11

A: It’s true, the bacterium Salmonella is named for Daniel E. Salmon, who earned the very first D.V.M. degree in the U.S. from Cornell University in 1876, four years after he received a Bachelors Degree in Veterinary Science from Cornell. He went on to be the first chief of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Animal Industry. The Salmonella bacterium was actually discovered by his research assistant,fellow Cornellian Theobald Smith, Class of 1881.

Although perhaps not as common as salmonella, other Cornellian namesakes include the Atkins Diet (Robert Atkins MD ’55), Heimlich maneuver (Henry Heimlich ’41, MD ’43), Moog synthesizer (Robert Moog PhD ’65), Hammond organ (Laurens Hammond ’16), Drake equation (Frank Drake ’51) and countless locations, species, awards and companies that bear the names of Cornellians. There’s also the “sagan,” a slang unit of measurement equivalent to “billions and billions” of something, used as a humorous tribute to the late Prof. Carl Sagan.

Q: Why were the chimes moved from McGraw Hall to McGraw Tower? Aren’t both towers named for John McGraw, but we refer to the clock tower as Jennie McGraw Tower?

— Chimesmaster Wannabe ’14

A: The chimes have been part of Cornell since opening day on Oct. 7, 1868. The original nine bells were given by Jennie McGraw, daughter of charter trustee John McGraw, and were initially situated on a wooden stand near where Uris Library is today. When McGraw Hall (named for John McGraw) was completed on the Arts Quad in 1872, the chimes were moved to the small tower, where they could ring out over the valley. They were moved once again when the new University Library and clock tower were completed in 1891, giving the chimes an even more impressive elevation over campus. For both moves, the chimes followed the books. As architectural historian, Prof. Kermit Parsons MRP ’53 wrote: “In other colleges and universities, in earlier days, the chapel was the most significant building and the community timepiece was often attached to it, but at Cornell, an unsectarian institution, the bells and books symbolized what was most important about the place. President White seemed to sense the propriety of keeping them dramatically before public as well as University eyes and the best way to achieve this objective was to place both bell tower and book house on the high mid-point of the brow of East Hill.”

The clock tower was known simply as Library Tower for many decades. It wasn’t until 1962 that the Board of Trustees voted to rename the University Library to the Uris Undergraduate Library, thanks to a gift from brothers Percy and Harold Uris ’25 to fund renovations. According to trustee minutes, the clock tower itself was renamed simply McGraw Tower, not specifying either John or Jennie as namesake, although a variety of official sources (and Wikipedia) claim one or the other. Most likely, the trustees intended to commemorate both father and daughter, who were jointly committed to supporting the University — particularly its libraries.

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