This week I’ve decided to compile a list of interesting facts (or secrets!) that I’ve gradually discovered about Cornell this year. On their own, each of these locations would not constitute a complete blog post, which is why this one contains seven. Some of these revelations are intriguing, some are quirky and one is chilling… so let’s get started!
1) Underground Tunnels
It wasn’t until perusing Reddit that I found out that there exists under Cornell a network of underground tunnels. There’s (a) Ezra’s Tunnel, which runs between Risley and Rand Hall; (b) a tunnel connecting Olin and Uris Libraries; and (c) a tunnel running from the Plant Science Building to Weill Hall, beneath Tower Road. I haven’t been able to figure out exactly how to reach the first tunnel, and I’m pretty sure it’s been completely closed. However, the latter two are still in use. Unfortunately, the tunnel between Olin and Uris is only accessible to library staff, or to those who are close to library staff, but the last tunnel is incredibly easy to find and open to anyone. All you need to do is walk into the Plant Sciences building through its main entrance from the Ag Quad. Once you walk in, a door to the left will have a sign like this leading you down a set of stairs:
Those set of stairs lead to a hallway, the left side of which has such a sign guiding you to the tunnel:
Now, you can take the elevator or stairs down to the basement, but since it was a Sunday and I didn’t want to allow for any chance of me getting stuck in the elevator, I opened this door…
and took these stairs…
which eventually led to the tunnel!
I probably overhyped the tunnel to myself, but there’s nothing like the experience of discovering something for the first time. Plus, the echo in the tunnel is insane (though eerie when you’re by yourself like I was)! I eventually got to the end of the tunnel, which took me up a final step of stairs to the first floor of Weill. As I didn’t have anything I wanted to do in Weill, I opened what seemed to be an exit, which turned out to be an expertly hidden door towards the bottom of this exterior.
2) Apple Vending Machine
In this day and age, the words “apple” and “vending machine” sound completely perverse — almost antonymous — together. However, thanks to the Society of Horticulture Graduate Students and Cornell Orchards, during the fall, apples picked from the Cornell Orchards are placed inside the vending machine in Mann Library and can be bought for fifty cents each. When I dropped by Mann this past weekend, the apple vending machine was empty since it’s late winter/early spring and apples aren’t in season.
3) Quill and Dagger’s Rendezvous
One of Cornell’s secret societies, and in fact probably its most well-known, is the Quill and Dagger Society, of which you can only be a member if you are a socially active and influential senior. The function of Quill and Dagger remains obscure to this day, but according to my research, the society’s purpose seems to be as a socializing and partying club of sorts.
Surprisingly though, Quill and Dagger’s meeting spot on the top floor of Lyon Hall is more conspicuous than one would expect from a secret society. In fact, on many nights, if you’re walking down Libe Slope towards West Campus, you’ll notice that the lights are turned on and perhaps be able to discern what its members are doing. Furthermore, about once a semester, the society’s flag will be hung from the anterior side of the tower.
Notable members of the Quill and Dagger since its inception in 1893 include: E.B. White, Robert Selander, Mayor of Ithaca Svante Myrick and Katherine Cornell (yes, she’s related to Ezra Cornell). Traditionally, each new class of incoming members of the society was announced in The Cornell Daily Sun and, for some time, The New York Times. However, I haven’t been able to find a list of recent inductees, so I assume the practice has been discontinued.
4) Sphinx Head
Founded in 1890 with the intention of further fostering unity among Cornell students, Sphinx Head’s former meeting space is at 900 Stewart Avenue. Not only does the structure, built in 1926, resemble an Egyptian tomb (a theme that matches the society’s own name), but it also housed the famous astronomer and former Cornell professor Carl Sagan after his purchase of it in 1981. How cool is that?!
Although my attempts to ascertain where Sphinx Head held its meetings after selling the clubhouse in 1969 have proved futile, it seems that the society is still active, as its more notable and recent members can be found here.
Like Quill and Dagger, the names of new Sphinx Head members used to be published in both The Cornell Daily Sun and The New York Times, but the society has also since terminated this tradition. To read up on the fascinating history of 900 Stewart and its society, go here and here.
5) Wilder Brain Collection
On the second floor of Uris Hall, you can find some of the more famous specimens of the Wilder Brain Collection on display. The full collection currently contains seventy brains, the remainder of which are located somewhere in the basement. As you can see, most of the presented specimens are light pink or orange in color…
while this specific one is what I call a “sinister shade of green”…
which is perhaps an apt description considering it belonged to infamous criminal (and local scholar) Edward H. Ruloff. While I’m not scientifically sure why Ruloff’s brain is so green, the blurb in the exhibit says it’s the “second largest brain recorded.”
6) Metzger Gem Collection of the Heasley Museum
Until last Monday, I had never set foot in Snee Hall, which is where the Heasley Museum, specifically the Edward Arthur Metzger Gem Collection, is located. As you can see, the space isn’t even that big but still contains so many stunning minerals and gems.
Aside from the gem collection, the Heasley Museum also has on exhibit the bones of mastodons…
and a seismograph.
7) Michael Bruce Ross
My last fact about Cornell is harrowing, as it concerns Michael Bruce Ross, a serial rapist and killer who graduated from Cornell in 1981 with a degree in agriculture. The first crime Ross committed was just days before his college graduation, and his first victim was Dzung Ngoc Tu, a Vietnamese Economics graduate student whose body was found in Fall Creek Gorge. Although it would take around six years for her case to be solved, Ross eventually admitted to strangling and raping Tu before throwing her corpse from Triphammer Footbridge.
If you wish to know more about Michael Bruce Ross and his first crime, I would suggest reading this New York Times article. One of my favorite podcasts out there, Criminal, also covered Ross and the nature of his remorse in one of its episodes, which I recommend you give a listen.
Although this blog is ending on a disturbing and tragic note, I hope I have encouraged you to visit at least one of the other six locations listed above, especially the tunnel, which is useful during the winter months if you don’t like being exposed to low temperatures and snow.