The Cornell Daily Sun

21 10 2009



So, I first thought about writing an entry on the Sun because of fortuitous circumstances. I happen to write in some small capacity for the Sun, but with the exception of one person (to my knowledge; most everyone else couldn’t care less), no one at the Sun knows that I write this blog. Occasionally, someone will ask “when was Mann Library built?” or “when is Milstein Hall supposed to finish construction”, and it’s really tempting to put in my two cents, but  for the most part I focus on my work and leave when I’m done.

Regarding the Sun itself, the newspaper is based out of the former Elks Lodge building on the 100 block of West State Street, a block west of the Commons. The building itself dates from 1916, and the Sun renovated the building and moved into the 7,000 sq. ft. building during 2003 (prior to that, thsun rented space around the corner on Cayuga Street). The Sun is totally independent of the university, which is great because the school paper of the university I worked at this summer was nothing more than a mouthpiece for the administration and its cultish president, but I digress. The original Cornell newspaper was The Cornell Era, which was founded in 1868 and named as such because it marked the beginning of a great new era. Much to the Era’s chagrin, the Sun appeared on September 16, 1880, in the format of a four-page pamphlet-sized newspaper (Bishop 206).  The Era eventually became more of a literary magazine and shut down permanently in the late 1940s. The Sun has operated continuously since its founding.

The building itself is an interesting place ot visit. The main work area on the first floor has private offices, and a general work areas for contributors and writers filled with newspapers and article drafts from previous days. The upstairs has a spacious and stately wood-trimmed great room, which I suspect was probably used as a cermeonial/banquet room back when it was the Elks Lodge. I’ve never felt compelled to take photos inside the building, mostly because of the stares I would probably get.

Bishop, Morris. A History of Cornell. New York, New York: Cornell University Press, 1962. ISBN 0-8014-0036-8

However, No One Said Anything About October

14 10 2009


So, yeah, it’s been cold. Unpleasantly cold. Coldest October in years cold. But what makes me really uncomfortable is the thought of snow is October. While snow in October usually has no impact on the upcoming winter, it still serves as a psychological bitchslap to most of the students, and to many of the local who are accustomed to waiting until November to see the first notable snowfalls.

Then we have this message from the Ithaca Journal:

Storm coming to Twin Tiers could bring snow

There’s a couple of very scary things associated with that message. For one, we still have leaves on the trees. Trees don’t stand up very well if they have both a fair amount of snow and foliage on them at the same time. There was a very nasty snowstorm that hit Buffalo a couple of years back that brought the city to its knees in October because it dumped  two feet of snow, and all the trees basically snapped under the weight. As I recall, some places were without power for two weeks, and the storm damages were estimated between $150 and $200 million.

Fear factor aside, the possibility of snow in Ithaca in October is a lot more uncommon than it used to be. Climatologically speaking, Ithaca averages about .4 inches of snow in October. In reality, we’ve only received measurable snow once this decade, and that was .3 inches on October 30, 2008. Prior to that, we have to go back to October 31, 1993, which received 3.7 inches, and .1 inches on October 29, 1990. That’s it for the past twenty years (to be fair, October 22-23, 1988 received 6.5 inches of snow). I took the time to check the following winter after 1993 and 1988; 1989 was about 3 degrees above normal; 1994 was one of the coldest winters reported in several decades. Yeah, I still have fingers crossed for El Niño.

Point is, we’ve rarely seen October snows. Especially before the 20th. You have to go back to 1974 to find a pre October 20th snowfall day on file.

So, Ithaca is in a valley, which makes it a kinda crappy place for snowfall because they tend to be slightly warmer, and it doesn’t experience an upslope effect like Cornell’s campus does. Unfortunately, the Ithaca weather station used by the NRCC is on Game Farm Road, which is off of Route 366 as you’re heading out towards Dryden.It’s about 1000 ft. in elevation, and the snow line so far is predicted to be about 2000 ft, and that is subject to change.

I’m really not interested in seeing snow this month. But it’s not like any of us have a say in what the weather does.

EDIT: So Ithaca recorded 1.6 inches, setting a record for the earliest snow over 1” in over 120 years of data. Other parts of the county received as much as 3”. Northern PA recorded as much as 8”, and widespread power outages and minor damages were reported.

Expecting A Warm Winter

4 10 2009


Global warming completely aside, I think it might be worth noting that Ithaca can expect a warm winter for 2009-2010. This is because we’re in the middle of an El Nino year.

For those living under a rock, El Nino (or as meteorologists know it, the el Nino Southern Oscillation, often reduced to ENSO) is the much publicized periodic change in atmospheric and oceanic conditions highlighted by the shift of the eastern Pacific Ocean water temperatures to much warmer than usual conditions (typically most apparent off the coast of Peru). The effects on the Atlantic will lag somewhat behind the Pacific.

Well, El Nino conditions started to kick in during this past summer, around June. One effect that El Nino years (as they tend to last 12 to 18 months) have is that the Northeast is much warmer than usual during the winter. To illustrate this, I pulled the data for the last few El Nino years (Winter 06-07, Winter 02-03, Winter 97-98, and Winter 94-95, Winter 91-92) from the Northeast Regional Climate Center.

Month/Year Anomaly

Dec 2006 +8.0 F

Jan 2007 +5.6 F

Feb 2007 – 7.1 F

Dec 2002 -2.2 F

Jan 2003 -5.6 F

Feb 2003 -3.0 F

Dec 1997 +2.3 F

Jan 1998 +8.4 F

Feb 1998 +7.8 F

Dec 1994 +4.4 F

Jan 1995 +7.1 F

Feb 1995 -2.7 F

Dec 1991 +2.0 F

Jan 1992 +3.0 F

Feb 1992 +2.0 F

Data from pre-1995 is only available to those with research accounts. Thankfully, my senior thesis research has allowed me this perk. Anyways,  4 of the past 5 El Nino seemed to follow the typical pattern, and 2002-2003 did not. To be perfectly honest, that year is still under study as no one can really seem to explain what happened. A prevailing theory for a while was that it was another osciallation (the Pacific Decadal Oscillation) having an impact on El Nino, but that theory developed a big hole in it after a fairly typical 2006-2007 El Nino year. It takes 20-30 years for the PDO to change phases, so 2006-2007 should have been much the same, but it wasn’t.

Keep in mind this is all relative. Five degrees above normal during the coldest time of the year (late January) means a high of 35 and a low of 19. So don’t get too comfortable.

Essentials of Campus III: Willard Straight Hall

1 10 2009


It’ a a blessing and a curse to have posted mostly news tidbits lately. It saves time for me while it still is pertinent to the general focus of this blog, but posting them feels relatively unsatisfying, especially when I’m comparing them to some of my history entries, like the “Essentials of Campus” entries. I have been planning to do Willard Straight in an entry since about May; the trick was finding the time and resources to do it right. For one, I didn’t have enough photos of the Straight, so I decided to go on a little photo tour of the inside of the building. Secondly, I had debated to what extent I would cover the Willard Straight takeover back in spring 1969. I came to the conclusion that I’ll provide links and brief description of that piece of history, but since there are entire books dedicated to it (which thanks to the wonders of Google, much of Donald A. Down’s meticulously detailed book concerning the crisis can be read online), I decided to not spend too much time on it for the time being.


So, let’s start with the man. Willard Dickerman Straight, originally an orphan from Oswego, NY, was a member of the class of 1901 (Bishop 455). During his time at Cornell, he was an editor for the Cornell Widow, which was a popular campus humor magazine at that time, and he was one of the students responsible for organizing Spring Day, which would evolve into Slope Day in later decades. He was also a member of Delta Tau Delta and the Sphinx Head Honor Society. After graduation, he worked in the Chinese customs service (a time when the Qing Dynasty still ruled in China and Anti-Western sentiment ran high) and rose rapidly in his field to become the head of the State Department’s Far Eastern Affairs. He married Dorothy Payne Whitney, member of the incredibly WASPy and wealthy Whitney family.  Willard Straight passed away from complications due to Spanish Flu strain pneumonia on December 1, 1918, while waiting for the Americans to arrive in Paris to negotiate WWI peace treaties. His will asked his wife to do “such thing or things for Cornell University as she may think most fitting and useful to make the same a more human place.” While I have little idea what “make the same” means, it was part of his will to use his money to enhance the quality of life at Cornell. Generally, that was the sentiment he held during his life too; he was one of the financiers for Schoellkopf Field.

Digressing here, but Striaght had three kids: A chairman for Rolls-Royce, an actress, and a KGB spy. None of them went to Cornell.


Thing was, back in the day, fraternities were the entire social scene at Cornell. If you weren’t a member of a house, you didn’t exist. There were few clubs, and intercollegiate sports were a diversion for precious few. In that time, if you were an independent student, you probably lived in a crappy tenement in Collegetown of further down East Hill and you led a miserable existence hating the weather and not enjoying the collegiate experience. One can see where Willard Straight was coming from when he said that the place needed to become a little more human.


Well, Mrs. Straight didn’t know what to use the money on, so she kinda sat on it for a few years figuring out what would be the best way to fulfill her late husband’s wishes. Enter Leonard K. Elmhirst ’21. A charming englishman and president of the Cornell Cosmopolitan Club (the club [in the sense that coops and frats are clubs] for international students at the time), and when he discovered that his club was $80,000 short of funds (which is like $830,000 in today’s terms; one has to wonder how the hell you get so far in the hole without someone catching it).  Like any proactive student, he went on down to NYC to plead with alumni for money. One of those who pitched his plea to was widow Straight. Well, she was taken by his image of barren student life at Cornell, so she paid off the debt for the club, resolved to donate the money to better student life, and married Mr. Elmhirst. Now that’s a package deal if I ever saw one. Mrs. Elmhirst became a citizen of the crown in 1938, and passed away in December . Considering what happened the following spring, that may have been for the best.


Through consultation with President Farrand, Mrs. Elmhirst came up with the idea of a student union, which was an increasingly popular idea in those days, conjuring images of the schools of Europe while also improving the quality of student life. William Adams Delano drew up the plans and they were presented to the trustees in June 1922 (Bishop 456). The plans called for meeting halls, banquet halls, dance halls, a library, formal dining rooms and a cafeteria, a thatre, guest bedrooms, dorms, campus offices, game rooms, all in one grand Collegiate Gothic package built with the finest craftsmanship and llenroc bluestone. Ezra Winter painted the murals in the grand hall, meant to illustrate Striaght’s life and career (this is why you can see Manchus above the door of the reading room today). The building opened November 25,1925, though to comparatively low-key fanfare (though perhaps I may be comparing this to the dancers dressed up as scientists dancing in the atrium to “Weill Thing” when they dedicating Weill Hall). Mrs. Straight, now Elmhirst, was the first to dine in the cafeteria and the first person to stay in the hotel that existed on the upper floors. The hotel remained on the upper floors until it was closed as a result of the April 1969 crisis. At one time, the building was also home to WVBR, a barbershop, a store to buy your booze, and people actually utilized the different entrances for men and women instead of just walking to the doors that are closest.


So…about that crisis. If I sum it up in a paragraph, that would be doing the event, the actions leading up to it, and those involved a great injustice, and as I mentioned, there are far better resources for reading up on the takeover of the Straight than this blog entry. On April 19, 1969, a series of events with regards to racial discrimination on campus led to a takeover of the student union during Parent’s Weekend. All guests and staff were forced out of the building, and several African-American studies held up in the building as other students groups tried to remove them by force, leading some of the students participating in the takeover to smuggle guns into building. After negotiating with the university vice-president, the students left the building, guns in hand, immortalized by a now famous Pulitzer-Prise winning photo by Steve Starr. The event was a public relations disaster for the university, and led President James Perkins to resign his position with disgrace. The event also led to the formation of the Africana Studies and Research Center, and Ujamaa three years later.


Today, the Straight is home to the Ivy Room and Oakenshield’s dining facilities, the Cornell Cinema (which replaced the theatre after 1988), the browsing library, lounge areas, various student office and mailboxes for campus orgs, the Dean of Students and Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs. The new Asian Student Center has also been set up in the building until the budget allows for them to move to 14 South Ave.


EDIT: So WordPress hates large photos. It says “Treat all women with chivalry** The respect of your fellows is worth more than applause** Understand and sympathise with those who are less fortunate than you are ** Make up your own mind but respect the opinions of others ** Don’t think a thing right or wrong just because someone tells you so ** Think it out yourself, guided by the advice of those whome you respect ** Hold your head high and your mind open, you can always learn ** Extracts from Willard Straight’s letter to his son