November 14, 2013

EZRA’S ORACLE: Nov. 15, 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]

What is the history of Sibley Hall, and what is the height to the top of the dome?

— Sibley Sleuth ’15

Many students don’t realize that Sibley Hall was actually built in three pieces. The west wing was the original building, opened in 1871. East Sibley was built in 1894 as an almost exact replica. The dome, which originally housed a 922-person auditorium, was finally added to connect the two buildings in 1902, with a height of 105 feet and 3 inches according to a 1901 article in The Cornell Daily Sun. These buildings were the home of the College of Engineering before the Engineering Quad was built, with architecture students taking over in 1959. The donors and namesakes were Hiram Sibley and his son, Hiram W. Sibley, who both served on Cornell’s Board of Trustees. The elder Sibley was an industrialist and entrepreneur from Rochester who became involved with the telegraph. Originally a major competitor with Ezra Cornell, Sibley eventually merged his telegraph interests with Cornell’s to form Western Union. Cornell later recruited Sibley’s financial support for engineering education at his radical new institution, Cornell University.

Where did Richard Feynman live in Ithaca when he was at Cornell?

— Physics Phanatic ’11

Richard Feynman was an assistant professor of physics at Cornell from 1945 to 1950, having previously worked on the Manhattan Project (among many former and future Cornellians). He won the 1965 Nobel Prize for his work on quantum electrodynamics (inspired in part by a Cornell student spinning a plate in a dining hall). To track down his address, the Tompkins County Public Library has a collection of old Ithaca directories available online. The 1946 directory states Feynman was rooming at 611 E. Seneca Street. By 1949, he was rooming at 505 The Parkway in Cayuga Heights.

What buildings and libraries are open 24 hours?

— Night Owl ’16

The Cornell University Library website has a handy tool that shows what libraries are open on any given day. Uris Library is generally open 24 hours on Monday through Thursday. The study spaces in Carpenter Hall (Engineering Library) and Clark Hall (Physical Sciences Library) are also usually available 24 hours. The CIT website lists a number of 24-hour computer labs, including those in Mann Library, Phillips Hall, Upson Hall and Carpenter Hall. In fact, there are many campus buildings that stay open all day and night, whether its for nocturnal researchers or sleep-deprived students. Next time you stroll through campus at 4AM, enjoy the nighttime peace and quiet of a nearby building.

Who was Willard Straight? I’ve heard some interesting stories.

— Happy Dave ’15

Willard Straight undoubtedly had a big impact on Cornell and the world, although he died at only 38 years old in 1918. A Class of 1901 architecture student, he spent his time on campus involved with numerous student publications as a contributor, artist and editor. He also served on the committee in charge of Spring Day (the predecessor of Slope Day) and is credited with organizing the first Dragon Day, a celebration for the College of Architecture, Art and Planning. After graduation, Straight held a variety of diplomatic roles, becoming Chief of the U.S. State Department’s Far Eastern Division at the age of 29. He then left the consular service to handle financial investments in China for J.P. Morgan & Co. and the American Group, a consortium of American banks and investors.

Straight and his wife, philanthropist and social activist Dorothy Payne Whitney, helped found The New Republic political magazine and Asia Magazine. He maintained ties with Cornell, serving on the Board of Trustees and making substantial gifts, including funds for the construction of Schoellkopf Memorial Hall. Honored with the Distinguished Service Medal for service during the First World War, Straight assisted the American delegation at the Paris Peace Conference, where he contracted pneumonia as a complication of Spanish influenza and died. He was buried in an American cemetery outside Paris and his name is included on the Cornell University War Memorial on West Campus.

In his will, Straight asked his wife to “do such a thing or things for Cornell University as she may think most fitting and useful to make the same a more human place.” The eventual result was Willard Straight Hall, opened in 1925 as one of the first student unions in the country. It offered a common social and activity space for all students, bringing together those in Greek houses as well as the “independents” who lived in Collegetown. The building includes references to Straight’s life, such as the lobby murals with an East Asia theme and a fireplace inscription that comes from a letter written by Straight to his son.

What are the biggest majors at Cornell? What are the biggest in Arts and Sciences?

— Majorly Curious ’14

The Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences claims to be the largest major in any college at Cornell, with about 740 students. Although Biological Sciences held the lead for decades, Economics became the largest major in Arts and Sciences within the last decade, reaching around 600 students in 2007.

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