March 13, 2014

EZRA’S ORACLE: March 14, 2014

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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].

Did silent film star Charlie Chaplin live in Alpha Phi’s sorority house?

–– Silent Film Sorority Woman ’14

This rumor comes up rather frequently, but there’s no evidence to support it. However, the Alpha Phi house, located at 411 Thurston Avenue, does have a silent film past. The Essanay film studio made its first film in Ithaca in 1912, and returned to produce a number of silent films in Ithaca over the next couple years. In 1913, the studio rented 411 Thurston Avenue for its actors, including film star Francis X. Bushman. Bushman would go on to to appear in more than 175 films during the 1910s. Charlie Chaplin also worked for Essanay, but his films were shot at their Chicago and California studios. Chaplin allegedly disliked the unpredictable weather of Chicago, which makes it even more unlikely that he spent time in Ithaca. It was Ithaca’s own unpredictable weather that eventually pushed the film industry out to the west coast where sunny days could be filmed all year round instead of just a few months of the year.

What’s the Cornell connection to Stanford?

–– West Coaster ’14

Comparisons between Cornell and Stanford seemed to peak in late 2011 as the two universities went head-to-head in former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s competition for a New York Tech Campus. (For those who live under a rock, Cornell won.) But the two universities have a long history. Stanford was founded in 1885, 20 years after Cornell, with the hope of bringing Cornell’s founding ideals to the west coast. Like Ezra Cornell, Stanford’s founders believed that higher education should be accessible, coeducational and unencumbered by religious influence. Cornell co-founder Andrew Dickson White played a key role in shaping Stanford’s early philosophy. When asked to serve as Stanford’s founding president, he instead sent David Starr Jordan, Class of 1872. Of the first 25 faculty on the Stanford payroll, 12 had either attended or taught at Cornell. They even borrowed our school colors, calling them cardinal and white instead of carnelian and white.

Why are there so many buildings named Olin?

––  Lost Freshman ’17

For those keeping count, there are actually four different buildings at Cornell University named for members of the Olin family: John M. Olin Library, Olin Hall for Chemical Engineering, Spencer T. Olin Research Laboratory and Franklin W. Olin Hall, which is used as a residence for students at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York. The family patriarch, Franklin W. Olin, Class of 1886, briefly played baseball professionally before founding the Western Cartridge Company for ammunition manufacturing. The company eventually became the Olin Corporation after expanding into mining, chemicals, paper and other products. Franklin and sons John, Class of 1913, and Spencer, Class of 1921, all became university trustees and generous benefactors through their personal foundations. The eldest son, Franklin, Jr.  1912, died in 1921 and Cornell’s Olin Hall was given by Franklin, Sr. in his son’s memory. But the Olins didn’t confine their philanthropy to Cornell; there are over 70 Olin libraries, laboratories, or halls at more than 50 campuses around the country.

Why is the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences?

–– CALS Grows the Ivy ’15

The College of Agriculture at Cornell was officially formed in 1888 by combining departments of agriculture, agricultural chemistry, botany, entomology and veterinary medicine. In 1904, the college became the New York State College of Agriculture, which then added “Life Sciences” to its name in 1971. Many programs that began in CALS eventually spun off to become their own separate colleges, including veterinary medicine, human ecology (formerly home economics) and hotel administration.

One of the programs that best exemplifies the evolution of CALS from an agriculture-only focus is AEM. Firmly rooted in the college’s commitment to agriculture, AEM began as a merger of the Departments of Rural Economy and Farm Management. As the business interests of Cornellians diversified and the agricultural industry shrank, the department evolved with the times. Multiple name changes later, the Department of Agricultural, Resource and Managerial Economics became Applied Economics and Management in 2000. Thanks to a generous gift from the Dyson family, the department expanded into the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economic and Management in 2010. Although no longer solely focused on agriculture, the school still connects to its roots with concentrations like Agribusiness Management and Food Industry Management.

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