Crazy-As-Hell Alumni Profiles: Erich Holt

17 08 2010

Cornell has somewhere around 245,000 alumni or so. It’s only fitting that an unfortunate few of our alumni err on the side of insanity. They might be acting as if they’re on crack, but most of their behavior can be attributed to them just being out of their damn minds.  This entry details one of our finer members of the batsh*t insane alumni club: Erich Holt, PhD 1914.

Erich Holt is one of several names he went by. He was born as Erich Muenter in Germany in 1871, but would adopt the aliases Frank Holt and/or Erich Holt later in his life. He moved to the U.S. and enrolled as a graduate student at Harvard (already famous for its whacko alums). In 1906 he was an instructor in German at Harvard College, living the life of a quiet and rather shabby looking married man.  His wife died mysteriously of arsenic poisoning, and Muenter felt the sudden compulsion to flee to Texas (a slight discrepancy here; Morris Bishop claims he fled to Mexico), later emerging under his aliases (which from what I’m finding, were pretty interchangeable). Holt launched into a brilliant scholarly career, doing four years of undergraduate work in only one year at the Fort Worth Polytechnic Institute before coming to Cornell to take on PhD work. Holt graduated in 1914 and took on a position as…a German instructor [1]. As you can see, he was really moving up in the world.

Well hell, if this was just about alumni who’ve killed their spouses, I could probably pull a dozen names easily. However, as those late night TV ads would say, “but wait, there’s more”.

1914 was not a great time to be a German guy living in the good ol’ U.S.A. For one, there was that whole war in Europe thing going on. Some folks weren’t too inclined to be polite towards folks who could be showing German sympathies. According to Morris Bishop, on campus alone there were rumors of tennis courts designed to serve as gun emplacements, and stories of bomb-making operations in faculty cellars (428). The professor of Latin tried to expel the professor of German (not Holt) from the “Town and Gown Club” because of German sympathies – namely, he read a New York daily that was published in German.

Well, Muenter/Holt was horrified by the war and all of the killing (not crazy). He decided that if he could stop all the munitions manufacturers, like J. P. Morgan, from selling to the Allies, he could single-handedly stop the war (kinda crazy). After realizing letters and arguments wouldn’t work, he decided to take action by bombing the Senate chambers of the U.S. Capitol (WTF crazy).

He designed a suitcase time bomb designed to work by letting acid eat through a cork, and took the next train to Washington D.C. His goal was to “wake the American people up to the damage which explosives like these were doing abroad”. Well, he went into the Capitol on July 2, 1915 at about 11:40 PM, and with bomb under arm, set it down in a reception room where it wouldn’t hurt anyone, went outside and waited for the explosion, running off to catch a train out of town when the bomb went off. The room was blown apart and a watchman was blown off his seat some distance away, but the story only merited a tiny blurb in the NY Times that attributed the explosion to “gasses”.

Step two in his grandiose plan was to take the train to Glen Cove, Long Island, home of industrial magnate J. P. Morgan Jr. Holt’s goal was to hold Mrs. Morgan and the Morgan kids hostage until J. P. agreed to stop sending munitions abroad. Well, after forcing his way into the house, J. P. stormed towards Holt and was given a warm Cornellian greeting by receiving two Big Red and bloody gunshot wounds to the groin as the British ambassador (Cecil Spring-Rice) and a butler subdued the German madman. This time, Holt earned himself the first three pages in the Times. While taken into custody, a grimmer part of his plan was revealed, as he planned to blow up several munition ships while they were at sea. It didn’t help that while he hadn’t plant any bombs yet, one munition ship (the “Minnehaha”) caught fire, and they thought it was one of his bombs,  and it returned to port in a panic.

Of course, the press had a field day with the story. While Morgan survived without major aftereffects (he lived another 28 years), Holt was exposed as Erich Muenter, the Harvard wife-killer. After trying to kill himself using by using the metal part of an eraser cap to try and cut an artery, he literally launched into a second attempt by climbing over the Mineola jail’s lattice bars and throwing himself head-down to the concrete floor 18 feet below. His second attempt turned out to be successful.

Word to the wise – you may not be the richest or most famous person to come out of Cornell, but things could be a lot worse. This is one alumni club that everyone should avoid joining.

[1] Bishop, Morris. History of Cornell. pp. 428-429

Hazing at Cornell: A Tradition?

12 08 2010

So, I’m sure there a couple of pro-Greek readers who are already feeling a little twinge of concern regarding the title of this article. I have little interest in pursuing current events regarding hazing (except for News Tidbits entries). I’ve graduated, and unless I get an email on my fraternity’s alumni listserve that says they’ve been suspended or kicked off campus (heaven forbid), I’m not going to pay attention to the half-hearted attempts of the current Tri-Council to police its affiliated chapters. More importantly, hazing is not just limited to the Greek system; campus clubs and intercollegiate sports teams have been guilty of hazing practices as well. According to Cornell’s anti-hazing website, the definition of hazing is very vague, and just about anything that causes physical or mental discomfort is hazing. In that vein, a pledge quiz or an extra lap for the new track team distance runners could conceivably be hazing. However, most people have a pretty good idea where the line is crossed between hazing and non-hazing.

Historically speaking though, Cornell’s tradition of hazing in its more recognizable forms goes back virtually to the founding of the university (and on a larger scale, back to the times of ancient Greece). The first hazing death at Cornell (and the first Greek hazing death in the country) would occur in October 1873, only eight years after the university’s founding.

Mortimer N. Leggett was a member of the class of 1877, a freshman who had arrived on campus only a month prior. He was well off, the son of General M. D. Leggett, the U.S. Commissioner of Internal Revenue. He wrote home nearly every day and spoke very highly of Cornell and its students. He received an offer to join the Kappa Alpha Society (up until the middle of the 20th century, freshman could join fraternities as soon as they arrived on campus), which he regarded highly for its abstinence from strong drinks and prohibition of foul language among members. Well, one night in early October, Leggett was blindfolded and transported into the countryside, and told to find his way home. After some time wandering, two sophomores of the society met up with him, removed his blindfold, and they began to walk back in what they thought was the right direction. Tragically, as they were unfamiliar with the topography, all three stumbled off a gorge cliff near modern day Giles Street in Ithaca, and fell into Six Mile Creek below. Mortimer Leggett succumbed to the injuries sustained in the fall, and the two sophomores were seriously injured. While obviously upset over the incident, General Leggett concluded no real hazing had taken place, just some “hocus-pocus” that went horribly wrong. He later accepted honorary membership into the fraternity [Bishop 132].

Twenty years later, another death from a hazing prank occurred. This one requires a bit of a background explanation. Up until about the late 1930s, the sophomore class always battled the freshman class as a rite of passage. Basically, the two classes were to beat the living crap out of each other as a way to attain/maintain dominance. Formally known as rushes, the brawls were so bad in some years that the Ithaca police had to break it up, akin to a massive riot.

Well, after the frosh won a sporting event in early 1894, the sophomores devised a scheme to pay them back. While the frosh were attending a formal dinner at the Masonic Temple in downtown Ithaca, several sophomores drilled a hole into the floor above the party, inserted a tube and attached it to a chlorine generator [Nuwer 105] . However, they misdrilled, and instead of pumping gas into the banquet hall, the chlorine was pumped into the kitchen, near a stove. It was suspected the the chlorine chemically reacted with small amounts of carbon monoxide to produce phosgene, a compound made famous as a chemical weapon during WWI (basically, it destroys the body’s ability to carry oxygen from the lungs and into red blood cells, leading to choking fits and suffocation). The freshmen began to have coughing fits and breathing difficulties and promptly evacuated the premises. It wasn’t until about 3 AM that the body of cook Henrietta Jackson was discovered in the kitchen. Cornell turned the matter over to police, but the police nor private detectives not a hefty reward from faculty could draw out the culprits of the crime. In the Book Wrongs of Passage by Hank Nuwer, at least two other hazing deaths occurred in the late 1800s, but these are not explained in detail.

Notably, these are just some of the higher-profile cases. Times change, and there haven’t been fatalities at C.U., but hazing continues in its dangerous forms.

Fast forward a century. Prior to the late 1990s, the house at 409 Elmwood Avenue in Collegetown was the house of Alpha Phi Alpha, a very-well respected, historically African-American fraternity. In the fall of 1994, an Alpha pledge named Sylvester Lloyd was beaten so badly that he needed skin grafts to repair the damage and blood transfusions to limit infection. The fraternity lost recognition and Cornell attempted to sell the house (based off later university maps, it seems they were successful, as it’s not listed as a campus property). Lloyd sued the fraternity and Cornell for several million dollars, but the case against Cornell was dismissed (can’t seem to find how much he got from the fraternity; but his linkedin profile is one of the first things that comes up in google). The fraternity closed, reopened and struggled from about 2003-2006, and closed only to restart again about two years ago. It’s a messy history and their hazing incident is a big reason why.

Then of course, there’s the expose Adam Zwecker wrote, “Hazed and Confused”, which was published in Spring 2004. The house involved has its identity kept a secret, but it seems folks have a pretty good idea who it is. I’d discuss this work more, but I’ve already profiled it in previous entries; it’s a really good read if you have a half hour of time to read through it all.

Hazing continues today; several organizations have been punished (I use that term lightly) for hazing in the past few years, the latest being Alpha Delt’s “Ivygate Affair” (fun fact – I edited the article on that incident because one pledge’s father would not leave me alone until I did). It’s not right and it’s hardly justifiable, but it still happens and it will continue to happen. Even if we had no Greek system, hazing would still exist on campus. Even if you took away the sports teams, and the service frats and the clubs, it would still exist. Sadly, I think the university can try its damndest to control it, but it will never go away completely. But it doesn’t hurt for the university to try to do what it can to protect the students’ well being.

Stupid Frat Tricks II: How to Screw Up Recruitment

23 01 2010

So I checked my email today and received the following excerpt in an email from the IFC:

“I am writing to provide you all with an update of events that occurred last night that resulted in a fraternity having their university recognition temporarily suspended.  The suspension is in response to a recruitment event at the fraternity house that resulted in the hospitalization of three students due to alcohol poisoning.  These students were transported to the hospital by brothers of the fraternity late last night.  The Ithaca Police Department responded to the event as well and are currently investigating along with Cornell University Police.  This incident is being taken very seriously and will likely have repercussions that effect the entire system.  At this time the fraternity has been instructed to desist from all activities including recruitment.”

While the chapter at least got them medical attention, the act was stupid, dangerous and intolerable. To the point that the fraternity (rumor mill suggests Pi Kappa Alpha) has lost recognition and will not be allowed to have a pledge class. Well, considering the similar incident that happened with Sigma Pi a couple of years ago, I guess this is proof that history has a habit of repeating itself.

Construction Photos of the New MVR North

1 11 2009

I do not condone sneaking into private property to take construction photos. That being said, if I receive them I’m more than happy to post them as the ones seen below. Most of the photos would appear to be of the parking structure in the lower floors of the building. Too bad some of the exterior photos are a little blurry.100_1848100_1849100_1865100_1850100_1854100_1862


News Tidbits 8/21/09: Dumb Frat Tricks

22 08 2009


The house involved is Sigma Nu, off Willard Way near West Campus. Apparently, firefighters found a small pot-growing operation while investigating a busted water pipe. I would not be surprised if sanctions from their national or from the IFC are put in place against Sigma Nu as a result of this incident, as it is rather embarrassing for the Greek community (personally, I think it makes Sig Nu look like a bunch of dim bulbs).

ITHACA — A busted water pipe may lead to a drug bust after the discovery of a small marijuana-growing operation inside a Cornell University fraternity house.

The Sigma Nu house manager called firefighters about the broken water pipe on the second floor, Ithaca fire officials said. Firefighters contacted the Ithaca Police when they found the plants.

 Ithaca firefighters found a half-dozen marijuana plants Tuesday afternoon while investigating a broken water pipe at the Sigma Nu fraternity house on Willard Way, Ithaca Police officials said. Officers seized the plants and though they’ve identified a person of interest, they aren’t releasing his name. 

 Water was running through the ceiling, they explained, and in the process of assessing the damage, firefighters found the plants in a tin-foil lined closet, surrounded on all sides and angles by several high-intensity lights. 

Whoever was growing the plants will likely be charged with unlawful growing of cannabis, a misdemeanor, police said. Fire officials said the numerous electrical cords used to power the lights created a fire hazard.

The leaking pipe was part of the sprinkler system and had to be shut down for repairs, Ithaca Building Department officials said. Additional life and safety issues such as a defective smoke and fire detection system and missing exit signs were found, so they posted the house on Tuesday and told everyone to leave until the problems could be fixed, they added.

Bobby Quintal, a member of the fraternity’s executive committee and last year’s president, said the chapter housed members in local hotels and other campus fraternities donated space while contractors fixed the problems.

Friday evening, Ithaca Building Department officials said that the house would likely be safe and ready to be reoccupied later that night.

Quintal said he isn’t living at the house and has no knowledge of the marijuana found there, but that marijuana possession violates Sigma Nu fraternity rules. When rules are violated, the national chapter investigates and might sanction the local chapter, the fraternity member or both, depending on the outcome of their investigation.


Campus Comodes

31 05 2009

The running title for this one was “The Best Seats on Campus”, but I thought that one was already used by the Sun. 

Anyone who has ever been on campus knows that at one time or another, nature’s calls have to be answered. It helps to have a completely subjective and not all that extensive guide to consider when using them. The idea for this entry came from an eight-mile run I went on last week, where somewhere on mile four I was hit with the intense pressures of the excretory system, which left me hobbling half a mile to the southeast edge campus, trying six different academic buildings before I could find an unlocked door and make my way to a bathroom to relieve myself (it was about seven p.m., hence the problem with the locked doors). But look, it provided a lovely conversation topic.

Unless otherwise stated, all bathrooms are first floor or the main bathrooms for a given building. All bathrooms are also mens’ rooms, since being arrested is not high on my list of things to do before I leave Ithaca.

For those who may recall, the Sun did a nice little piece rating bathrooms some time ago, which I’m unable to find a link for online (if anyone does know the URL, I’ll be more than happy to post it here). I’ll be using the same three-star system.



Our first pit stop is Olive Tjaden. Tjaden satisfies the basic needs by being a clean, well-lit room, and amply stocked. the decor is (surprisingly) sparse for an arts building, and the panoply of pipes up at the ceiling leaves something to be desired in terms of aesthetics. But holy crap does this room have a lot of space. Like, as much space as the big bathroom in Olin Libe that should really only be used by handicapped people, only this one you don’t risk getting yelled by some woman in a wheelchair as soon as you open the door.  I threw in Bishop’s History of Cornell book to give a sense of space.

Rating: * * *



Likewise, McGraw is adequately equipped to handle bathroom needs, but lacks the spaciousness of Tjaden, and we all know that space can be a big plus if you’re carrying a lot of crap (no pun intended). However, it does have a nice cheap-looking pillar running throught the stalls, as if to make a half-hearted appeal to be different.

 Rating: * *



Uris Library is designed to be a high-capacity facility, so as a result, the frills are lacking. I maintain that the bookshelf against the wall of the urinals probably has some of the least-used shelves on campus. My one complaint is that on particularly wet and muddy days outside, all that just gets tracked into here, since the bathroom is so close to the entrance. Therefore, the rating changes depending on the day – decent (* *) on a good day, poor (*) on a messy day outside.

Rating: * * (dry weather day)  / * (wet and/or muddy day)


Getting a photo of Olin’s bathroom was notoriously difficult thanks to the high volume traffic, even during this time of the year (these photos were taken during last week). Olin Libe’s main bathroom is in the basement, so it benefits from being a farther walk, as people have a chance to shake the mud and water off their shoes before they make it to the bathroom. While most restrooms make use of a privacy hallway to prevent peepers, Olin makes use of a second door , which can be both a blessing and a curse if someone is coming from the other direction.

Of course, in the 1980s, Olin Library bathrooms were much more invasive; here’s a DUE from Janurary 1987 [1]:





Dear Wondering About No Privacy,
Apparently, a few years ago a University Librarian learned that the downstairs public men’s room in Olin had become a preferred meeting place on campus for gay men.  This person freaked out and ordered the men’s room closed.  This was strongly protested by some of the male staff members. The compromise was to reopen the men’s room, but remove the doors from all the stalls so there wouldn’t be any privacy.
        When you raised this question, and I consulted a current member of the staff about the issue, he volunteered to write a letter to the new University Librarian, Alain Seznec, about this matter and see whether he will order the doors re-installed.  Hopefully, privacy may return to Olin. “
Yeah…so thankfully, we have stall doors.
Rating: * *
When Willard Straight was completed in 1925, not only did men and women have seperate bathrooms, they also had seperate entrances (women came in through the south entrance [2]).  The men’s bathroom is just tired-looking and worn down, the sole redeeming trait being the well-used antique scale sitting outside the main bathroom, in the corner of the privacy hallway. Really, if you can afford to wait, walk over to the other side of the building and you the cleaner and much more spacious unisex bathroom (be sure to lock the door). Be advised, the unisex room comes with a giant mirror, so you find yourself seeing more of yourself than you normally care to.
Rating: * (men’s room) * * * (unisex restroom)
Here’s one for the engineers. As those who have had classes on the engineering quad may have noticed, men’s rooms outnumber ladies’ rooms by a considerable number (a fair guess is 3:1), thanks to the majority male engineering student population. That being said, the men’s rooms of Thurston have nice little assets like privacy barriers between urinals, but they also have those incredibly obnoxious sensors to flush the toilets. You know, the ones that go off as you stand up to wipe, or fail to go off at all and you’re left there trying to figure out how to finish business. I have a personal vendetta against automatic flushers, because I think the technology simply hasn’t been refined enough to be useful. Regardless, this is an adequate facility.
Rating: * *
The Statler Hotel is all about impressing the visitor. They do a great job with the bathrooms. The bathrooms are nothing short of luxurious, and make you feel like you’re somebody. There’s even a vanity mirror and polished stone counters. The trick to getting to using this bathroom is to walk in and appearing more like a guest and not a student; that way, the employees won’t give you dirty looks when you’re heading back out.
Rating: * * *
Somehow, I had this expectation going into Ives that the bathrooms would have extra safety and specialty features. To my dismay, they weren’t all that different from any other bathroom on campus. While the rooms were spacious, I can’t give three stars beceause of a slight amount of water damage to the tiles near where the toilet is hinged to the wall. Yes, the t.p. was under the toilet when I arrived here.
Rating: * *
Plant Science must have the scariest bathroom on campus. Rotting tileworks, mildew stains, old fashioned doors and frickin’ bath towels hanging over one of the stalls were enough to give this room a bad rep. It doesn’t help that this was the bathroom that was claimed by some to have cockroach infestation issues not too long ago.  Let’s think about that for one moment. Cockroaches while you’re on the crapper.
 Use at your own risk.
Rating: *
Last but not least, we come to our newest bathrooms, the ones installed on the first floor in Weill Hall. They’re installed rather conspicuously near the atrium, which might make for some uncomfortable rendezvous, but otherwise, they’re well appointed.
Rating: * *







The Essentials of Campus II

14 05 2009


I knew that sooner or later, I would have to cover what is perhaps the most iconic building on campus. So here we are.

All citations, unless otherwise noted, are from Morris Bishop’s A History of Cornell (Cornell University Press, 1962).

Prior to renovation in the 1960s, the building was simply known as “The University Library”, even as other libraries were built across campus. It was Andrew Dickson White’s belief that “A large library is absolutely necessary to the efficiency of the various departments. Without it, our men of the highest ability will be frequently plodding into old circles and stumbling into old errors.” (77) The library was appropriated in September 1867 to the tune of $7,500 (175).  The amount was up to $20,000 by 1880 (213).

Daniel Willard Fiske was appointed the first librarian. He was also head of the university press and an instructor in German, Swedish and Icelandic. It was his belief (and rather progressive for the time) that the library should be a reference library, open to enhance both faculty studies and student interests. As a result, his goals was to obtain, by purchase or gift, extensive book collections, such as the library of Goldwin Smith (6,000 books), Charles Anthon (3400 books) and the like. A.D. White was also known for buying rare books on his overseas trips (both with his own funds and with university money). As a result, by 1873, there were 34,000 books and 8,000 pamphlets in the libe—a substantial figure for an American university. When it first opened, the library boasted that it was open longer than any other U.S. university — nine hours a day.  (108)

Fiske himself was easy to irritate and known for holding deep grudges from insults or perceived slights. Because the first university Vice-President William Russel was known for a gift of mockery, the two absolutely despised each other.  However Fiske was also very kind and generous; he was particularly fond of the Psi Upsilon fraternity men, and was once chastised by White for giving an inordinate portion of his salary to the chapter and its needy brothers (108). He also was chastised for offering a glass of ale to a student, to which he responded that the student interrupted him in his drinking time with a friend, and he felt obliged to offer a glass (108).

Since Fiske was in Egypt when the university opened in October 1868, the actual first librarian was a prominent local lawyer, Thomas Frederick “Teefy” Crane, of “Give My Regards to Davy” fame. Crane studied languages in his private time, and as a result he also was the German instructor at opening.  Crane enjoyed the experience enough that he himself went abroad, came back and switched places with another professor to become the instructor of French, Spanish and Italian in 1870. (109)

So, now we get to the “Great Will Case”. Jennie McGraw, aged 37, received a large inheritance after her father’s death in 1877. Already battling tuberculosis, a number of men offered to marry her, some of which were gold diggers I’m sure. One of the men who courted her was Willard Fiske. He wrote love poems to her, but he never showed them for fear of being called out as a gold digger. Anyways, as the rich and bored are wont to do, McGraw arranged to have a fabulous house built off of University Avenue, bordering Fall Creek, and then bought thousands of dollard of furnishing for it (224). In the meanwhile, both McGraw and Fiske went abroad to different parts of Europe in 1879. There is no record of contact in Europe between the two prior to April 1880. During this time however, Fiske used his influence on A.D. White to work over affairs back at Cornell. Locals assumes that because White was known to have lent Fiske money, and the two were close, that he and Sage were buttering him up so that if he and Jennie were to get hitched, that her fortune would be given someday to Cornell. (225).

In April 1880, Fiske went to Rome to join Jennie, now invalid and near death. The courtship between 48-year-old Fiske and the dying 40-year-old McGaw was short. They became engaged in Venice. Fiske announced it in a letter in May 1880 to A.D. White (along with a request for money). As one can imagine, some people looked upon Fiske’s behavior as mercenary. The two were married in Berlin on July 14, 1880 (226). At the time, Fiske signed a letter giving up his rights to Jennie’s property, under Prussian law.

The two spent the winter on the Nile, and then returned to Europe. By June 1881, the two were informed in Paris that Jennie had only a few weeks to live. Her dying wish was to pass on in Ithaca, so they made the trip back by September. I know, more than a few weeks, but whatever. She saw her mansion, newly built, and said (as she was propped up from her pillows) “it surpasses all my expectations”. It was the only time she ever saw the mansion, as she died September 30, 1881. When she died, Judge Boardman (of Boardman Hall) asked for the will. No one could find it, which would really suck for all parties because then they would have to use John McGraw’s will, and then the inheritance would go to John McGraw’s brother and his five kids since Jennie had no hubby or progeny.  Luckily, they found it in a secret pocket in a handbag that had been dumped off as junk in Fiske’s attic (227).


The will stated that Fiske would get $300,000, $550,000 to her uncle and his kids, and $200,000 for a library at Cornell, $50,000 for McGraw Hall improvements, and $40,000 for a university hospital. The university also gained her land estate, including the mansion (valued at $600,000+), which A.D. White thought would be a dream home for an art gallery (227). Fiske, as custodian of the mansion, was to continue to occupy the house, and this raised issues. Namely, that he was known for being very needy financially; he offended Henry Sage by having parties in the room she died in no more than two months after her death; and Boardman simply didn’t like him, perhaps because of a rumor that Fiske suffered from marital indiscretions while in Europe. (228).

Here’s where the real fun begins. In May 1882, the state changed Cornell’s charter a little bit, but in one embedded section, it removed a portion detailing that the university couldn’t receive or hold personal property equal to or more than $3 million dollars. This was very convenient. In June 1883, Fiske was about to settle his affairs by going abroad, when an apprentice lawyer in Elmira told him of the change, and that state law said that a wife can’t leave more than half of her property to charity. As you might guess, the sh*t hit the fan. (228).

So, we have two lawsuits, one to break the will by Fiske on the grounds of Cornell’s underhanded actions, and then another one by Jennie’s cousins, out for more of the fortune. Fiske sailed for Europe, leaving a surrogate to handle things (Judge Marcus Lyon). White sailed after him to beg him to reconsider, but then Sage cabled White to tell him he was to make no offer to Fiske. Most of the Ithaca and Cornell crowd hated Fiske now anyway. After much media attention (like an OJ Simpson trial for the 1880s), in May 1886, the ruling was in favor of Cornell. White wanted to let Fiske save face by offering concessions; Sage would hear none of it. Fiske appealed the judgment, and it was overturned in August 1887, so Fiske won the suit, and the McGraws won theirs. So Cornell appealed to the Supreme Court (231). Meanwhile, the friendship between White and Boardman/Sage had deteriorated to animosity, although Sage made an offer to build a library himself if they failed to get the inheritance. All the while, Fiske was living in a luxurious Italian villa.

In May 1890, the Supreme Court ruled against the university. However, they did say that Cornell’s endowment could be used for any university purpose, which was a small consolation. in the end, Cornell paid $180,000 in legal fees to David Hill, the apprentice lawyer of Elmira, and $100,000 for the McGraws’ counsel. One of Jennie’s cousins bought the mansion for $35,000, much to White’s anger. The house was sold by the McGraws to Chi Psi fraternity in 1896. Its furniture was auctioned off, mostly purchased by the other McGraws. Fiske’s lawyer never took another case—it was rumored he drank himself to death during the celebration (232).  Henry Sage donated $500,000 for the library to be built, as was done in 1891. Willard Fiske returned to hobnobbing with the rich and famous, and book collecting. When he passed in 1904, he donated his library as well as his estate to the university. He also requested to be buried with his wife in the mortuary of Sage Chapel; when the university granted the request, the Sage family severed all ties to Cornell.  (232).



Long-winded, isn’t it? Well, I’ll go on for a just a little while longer. I have to make up for some lost time.

The actual cost of the libe was $227,000, with room for 400,000 volumes (Cornell owned about a quarter if that at the time) (271).  When received ,the Fiske fund was used for salaries and upkeep, and later book expenses; the library was already overcrowded by 1906. The library expanded in 1936 with the construction of more stacks on the south and west wings. The Great Depression was quite hard on the libe, and the head librarian at the time, Dr. Otto Kinkeldey, frequently complained about the lack of space and funding.  A special library fund would be set up in 1941 (531).  The library was internally reorganized in the late 1940s (576), and the Cornell University archives were created about the same time (600).

The library was renamed for Harold Uris ’25 in 1962, since he donated significant amounts to its renovation. In 1982, the glassy west wing was added, adding 214 seats , and was paid for my the Uris Brothers Foundation [1]. The 173-ft tall Library Tower was renamed “McGraw Tower” for Jennie McGraw in 1962.

As for the Chimes and more details about the tower, we’ll save that for another entry. For the Clocktower Pumpkin, we’ll leave that to a wikipedia quote:

“On October 8, 1997 a pumpkin appeared atop the spire of McGraw Tower. Because of the danger involved in retrieving it, administrators decided to leave it until it rotted and fell off. However, the pumpkin rapidly dried out in the cold air and remained on the tower until it was removed with a crane on March 13, 1998 (it was planned that Provost Don M. Randel would remove it, but in a practice run the crane basket was blown by a gust of wind and knocked the pumpkin off). Some people had claimed that a real pumpkin could not stay up that long without rotting and that it must be artificial. However, subsequent morphological, chemical, and DNA analysis by both faculty members and undergraduates confirmed that it was indeed a pumpkin.

In April 2005, a disco ball was attached to the top of the tower. A crane was hired to remove the offending orb in an operation which cost the university approximately $20,000.” [2]



The Ithaca College Greek System

24 11 2008

So, I’ve always found it vaguely amusing that although officially Ithaca College doesn’t recognize Greek fraternities and sororities, their letters still manage to appear at events like Relay for Life over at Barton Hall.

Officially, IC recognizes three professional music fraternities and a performing arts professional fraternity (which has since closed). In terms of the student population, these are a drop in the bucket when it comes to size and importance/recognition. [1, 2]

Not that it was always this way. Ithaca College once had a thriving if smallish Greek system. Thing is, Delta Kappa fraternity (which had only a few chapters anyway) brought the system down in 1980 with the death of a pledge. According to the book Wrongs of Passage:

A long-standing tradition of forcing pledges to perform calisthenics in a steamroom with the heat turned up high finally claimed a victim, Joseph Parella, 18.”

Which just goes to show you what can happen when people in charge of safety and planning exercise incredibly poor judgement.

Still, the system does exist in some weird underground sort of way. I don’t think they even had houses back when they were recognized, since Ithaca College is an all-residential college (meaning most students live on campus, with the exception of seniors in an apartment perhaps), and they certainly wouldn’t have them. A relatively thorough google search brings up some of the underground fraternities and sororities of IC:

Delta Kappa- Apparently it still exists, though merely as a shadow of its former self. [3]

Pi Lambda Chi

Phi Kappa Sigma

Alpha Epsilon Pi

Phi Iota Alpha (Latino interest fraternity)

Phi Mu Zeta (sorority)

Gamma Delta Pi (sorority) [7]

In conclusion, they’re underground; most of the IC students think they’re stupid or haven’t heard of them; and they barely manage to exist. If anything, this should be a lesson on what can go horribly wrong if due safety and precaution aren’t exercised.








Exploring West Campus

15 08 2008

First off, let me say I do not support nor condone any illegal activity, especially for the purpose of information gathering. That being said, going into prohibited construction sites is a lot of fun if you’re careful where you step and you can avoid the workers leaving for the evening.

So, this started when a friend of mine who happened to figure out that I was the writer of this blog sent me a message asking if I could go through the new West Campus and take some photos. Knowing he wasn’t in Ithaca, I decided that I would be happy to oblige this time  (but I certainly won’t be making it a habit).

Token War Memorial shot.

First off, the War Memorial. These photos are actually from my fraternity photo tour last month. The War Memorial was constructed from 1926 to 1931. It honors the 264 Cornellians who were killed in action in World War I. However, it does not honor a 265th death, that of Hans Wagner 1912, who was killed in action while fighting for the Axis Powers [1].

Noyes and Hans Bethe dining hall have grass roofs. Cornell, take note to not follow IC’s folly and set off fireworks right next to a building with a grass roof; it just might catch fire.

Any makeshift fence can be scaled. But why bother when there’s a narrow space between it and the wall?

Base of the War Memorial steps, being renovated.

A new central plaza area between House 5 and Bethe.

House 5, south face

Don’t mind my shadow.

Curious horizontal window slits near the entrance of House 5.

Nameplate, unfinished for now.

House 5 Dining area, NW corner

north face, house 5

House 5 dining area interior, unfinished

Keeton House, north face

Noyes, from Keeton

A corner plaza next to Keeton. Psi Upsilon is in the back.

A plaza/planting area just outside of Keeton.

Keeton’s connective corridor.

A staircase at Keeton that leads under the corridor.

A large blank wall next to the previously mentioned staircase.

Note the coloration of the glass in the connective corridor.

Keeton’s south wing. Notice how the top floor has a different window pattern and uses different materials.

An interesting if not aesthetically pleasing entrance area for Keeton’s north wing.

Had to hide from construction workers by hiding behind the board next to the Penske truck.

The unfinished nameplate for Keeton.

Keeton’s balcony.

An architecturally interesting juxtaposition of Baker Tower, Becker House and the Johnson Museum.

Keeton’s lobby area

The dining area and an adjacent lounge in Keeton House.

A random hall of dorm rooms in Keeton.


Boldt Hall and Tower

ATO painted their house, it seems.

As for the photo request…consider it fulfilled.