Sun File Photos

In 1963, Big Red prevailed over Yale, 13-10, with a last-minute field goal by Pete Gogolak '64.

October 10, 2019

Solar Flashback: Homecoming on the Hill

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This past weekend, hundreds of alumni flocked back to Ithaca for Homecoming Weekend, joining current students in events ranging from watching the fireworks and laser show over Schoellkopf Field to tailgating at the football game against Georgetown. 

Cornell Homecoming is a tradition that goes back almost 100 years, and this week’s Solar Flashback takes a look back at some memorable headlines, photos and quotes from past Homecoming events — including the first ever Homecoming celebration in 1922, and the University claiming that Homecoming didn’t exist as an official event in 1948.  

solar_flashbackSolar Flashbacks is a special project connecting The Sun’s — and Cornell’s — past to the present to understand how this rich history has shaped the campus today. Flashbacks appear periodically throughout the semester. #ThrowbackThursday


Obscure Origins and A Day of Glory

Cornell Homecoming had its humble start on Nov. 4, 1922, with the goal of giving alumni a forum to gather at each year. The decision followed the “successful” outcome of “two other alumni reunions, staged primarily for New York State Alumni,” hosted at Cornell during the previous years, The Sun reported on Oct. 3, 1922.Screen Shot 2019-10-09 at 7.01.09 PM

“This is the third fall reunion, and the plan has, in the past two years, proved so popular that these gatherings will undoubtedly become a regular annual function,” The Sun wrote on that first Homecoming Saturday.

The day itself, which saw an “unprecedented sale of tickets for the Columbia-Ithaca football game” and an alumni luncheon, involved “preparations … to take care of 1000 alumni,” according to Sun reporting on Nov. 4, 1922.

Attendees were greeted to “a day replete in thrills,” as evidenced by The Sun’s Nov. 6, 1922, headline, “Varsity Crushes Columbia in Brilliant Battle, 56-0; Harriers Shine at Syracuse.”

“In a brilliant exhibition of power and skill, which opened in mediocre style and suddenly gave way to sustained and deadly attack, the Varsity eleven completely crushed the Columbia Lions before 15,000 witnesses Saturday afternoon,” The Sun reported.


Alumni Accumulate

However, Homecoming was not officially embraced by the University for many more years. In 1948, “the Alumni Office had completely disclaimed responsibility for the event and announced that there was no such thing as ‘Homecoming’ at Cornell.”

“It seems that the whole business of designating one of the football weekends in the fall as ‘Homecoming’ was the idea of the Athletic Association, and presumably was designed to sell tickets for the game to the alumni and their friends,” The Sun reported. “Undergraduates, however, were so intrigued by the custom that the name ‘Homecoming’ stuck, and the institution has become an unofficial and widely known tradition. Most alumni and students are probably unaware of the nonexistence of the weekend, however.”

1948 headline

The reason for this? Alumni overcrowded the area, making accommodation difficult.

“There is simply not enough room in Ithaca to take care of all the Cornellians who would flock from all over the country to participate in such an affair,” The Sun wrote. “During the academic year, when the undergraduates are occupying the dormitories and rooming houses, there is neither food nor housing to accommodate any great number of visiting alumni.”

Lack of room in Ithaca has not stopped alumni from returning en masse over the years, and Homecoming did eventually become a more formally organized event. In 1966, over 20,000 people were expected to show up for the highly anticipated football game against Yale.

“Alumni and students, in particular, find common ground through traditions such as Homecoming,” Lisa Bushlow ’91, senior director of student and alumni, class and affinity programs, said in a University press release this year. “We’re all here to have fun, learn and celebrate Cornell together.”

Football Fun

One of the most prominent Homecoming events is the football game, which is typically the first home game of the season.

“We may not be a typical rah-rah school, but there are certain times where the Cornell Pride is strong … practice your cheers because this is the one day a year where we pretend to be like a real state school,” a Berry Patch (a Sun satire section) editorial joked in 2014.

1948 ad

The team has seen its share of historic victories and humiliating losses, but Homecoming never fails to draw a crowd of students, alumni and many others to Schoellkopf Field.

“Although many things about Mr. Cornell’s school have changed, the students still like the game and will cheer for the red and the white,” The Sun wrote in 1946.

Gorge-town vs. Georgetown

This wasn’t the first year that Big Red faced off against Georgetown for the big game.

“I know we don’t have a lot of history against Georgetown, but it is Homecoming, and in 2003 they came up here and they whipped Cornell and it led to a terrible season,” said head coach Jim Knowles ’87 in 2005.

While the Hoyas defeated Cornell 42-20 in 2003, Big Red made a comeback, defeating Georgetown 57-7 in 2005 and 47-7 in 2007. This year was another defeat for Cornell, with Big Red losing 14-8.

Final Scores in the Last Decade

In the last ten years, Big Red has faced many foes ranging from Yale to Georgetown to Brown, winning half of the ten games. The most resounding victory of the past decade took place against Yale in 2012. Here are the competitors and final scores:

  • 2019: Cornell loses to Georgetown, 14-8
  • headline2018: Cornell loses to Yale, 30-24
  • 2017: Cornell defeats Brown, 34-7
  • 2016: Cornell defeats Yale, 27-13
  • 2015: Cornell loses to Bucknell, 19-14
  • 2014: Cornell loses to Lehigh, 31-14
  • 2013: Cornell defeats Bucknell, 45-13
  • 2012: Cornell defeats Yale, 45-6
  • 2011: Cornell defeats Bucknell, 24-13
  • 2010: Cornell loses to Yale, 21-7

Homecoming Happenings

Homecoming Weekend is about more than just football, however, and this year’s festivities included a 5K run in the Botanic Gardens on Saturday morning and a concert in Barton Hall featuring Daya and Saint Motel on Saturday night, along with various tours, lectures and exhibits organized by colleges and student groups.

“During Homecoming weekend, Cornell throws its doors open and invites everyone to ‘come home,’” said Lauren Graham Garcia, associate director of Homecoming and special interest programs, in a University press release. “With hundreds of collaborative events planned, there really is something to interest anyone.”1946 snippet

Back in 1956, a “Homecoming Harvest Dance” was held in Willard Straight Hall, and more recently, students competed for the title of “Homecoming Champion” in 2012. In 1947, when Homecoming Weekend corresponded with All Saints Day, Cornellians revelled with a “‘Danse Macabre’ in the Memorial Room” as well as “ghostly decorations and very live music.”

During the Vietnam War era, the domestic political climate permeated Homecoming, and in 1966, “the first anti-war demonstration of the year was a silent vigil on the Arts Quad held Homecoming weekend by the Faculty Committee on Vietnam. The faculty group also held two all-day symposiums in the Memorial Room of Willard Straight Hall entitled ‘My Country: Right or Wrong?’ and ‘My Country: Wrong!’”

In 2011, the concert featured rapper B.o.B., while in 2016, the concert was canceled altogether because of construction in Barton Hall. And in 2018, thunderstorms prevented the fireworks and laser show from taking place at adthe last minute.

One century after the opening of Schoellkopf Field, in 2015, Homecoming saw the dedication of a statue to commemorate the first Touchdown, a real bear, and the 1915 team that went on to claim Cornell’s first national championship victory.

With its myriad events and now-ingrained Cornell tradition, Homecoming has come a long way since those early days when football tickets sold for $2 and sales hinted in 1924 “that this game will attract the largest crowd ever assembled in Ithaca.”