September 11, 2014

EZRA’S ORACLE: Sept. 12, 2014

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Ezra’s Oracle welcomes inquiries from all 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]. Or whisper them in the ear of the Ezra Cornell statue on the Arts Quad.

Q: I recently saw an article about Cornell’s mascot, and now I’m confused. What is the official Cornell mascot?

— Beary Confused ’14

A: With everything going on in the world today, it’s nice that some Cornellians focus on the really important things. Like university mascots.

Two weeks ago, The Sun ran a story about President Skorton’s response to Student Assembly Resolution 85, which proposed that Cornell recognize Touchdown the Bear as the official university mascot. Skorton left many Cornellians confused when he responded with, “I, and several other administrators, believe the mascot should be the big red bear, not Touchdown, the bear cub.” This statement has two problems: 1) Touchdown isthe Big Red Bear; there aren’t two distinct bear mascots. And 2) campus tradition has always maintained that the bear is not an “official” mascot.

The idea of a bear mascot dates to 1915, when the Cornell University Athletic Association purchased a black bear cub to serve as mascot for the football team. Named Touchdown, the bear was considered a good omen when the team went undefeated for the season. With Touchdown sent back home to Maine at the end of the season, new bear cub mascots were acquired in 1916, 1919 and 1939. Their exploits are well-documented in an entertaining book by alumnus John H. Foote ’74.

But despite those bear-filled years, Cornell maintains that there is no “official” mascot. Our colors are carnelian and white, our athletic teams are the “Big Red,” and nowhere in the Board of Trustees proceedings or faculty minutes is there mention of a Cornell mascot. The Student Assembly has tried to rectify the situation on at least three occasions, with resolutions in 2006, 2011 and 2014, but their pleas have fallen on deaf ears.

But what makes a mascot official anyway? The bear is proudly included on apparel and the Cornell athletics logo. Willard Straight Hall, built in 1925, has two stone bears over the entrance and wooden bears in the Memorial Room, plus the more recently created Bear’s Den campus pub. The Big Red Bears student organization on campus refers to “Touchdown the Big Red Bear” as the “Cornell mascot,” providing entertainment at countless campus events each year. Even the University mace, carried at commencement and inaugural ceremonies, includes a tiny bear at the top. And in 2015, a bronze bear statue is expected to be unveiled near Schoellkopf Field during Homecoming weekend. So it seems like the bear is as official as it’s going to be. Or perhaps President Skorton’s statement indicates a dramatic shift in University policy?

Q: With Franny’s food truck now open behind Sibley Hall, what’s the history of food trucks on campus?

— Meals on Wheels ’15

A: The opening of Franny’s on the north end of campus brings the history of Cornell dining facilities full circle. In the late nineteenth century at Cornell, one of the few places to get food on campus was a wagon behind Sibley Hall affectionately called the Sibley Dog. (The term “dog-wagon” referred to a converted vehicle used for serving food, often hot dogs.) The establishment eventually moved into an old farmhouse located east of Sibley, but was kicked out when the house was demolished in 1911 for Rand Hall’s construction. The Sibley Dog was demoted to the Sibley Pup, a temporary tent east of the foundry building behind Sibley. By the end of 1911, the Pup was given new quarters in the basement of Sibley Dome, and was called Sibley Restaurant or Sibley Cafeteria. The University took over management from the proprietors in 1915, adding it to the other Cornell-owned cafeterias at Cascadilla, Sage and Risley. The Dog was put down in fall 1921, replaced by a recreation/smoking room for engineers. The Green Dragon replaced the recreation room in spring 1968. Cornell Dining experimented with a traveling food truck in the 1970s, with a route that included Bailey Hall, West Campus and North Campus. Today, the “dog wagon” tradition continues with Louie’s Lunch, which dates to the 1910s, and the Hot Truck, which opened in 1960.

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