September 22, 2017

TRAVELIN’ WITH JACQUELINE | Another 7 Things You Probably Didn’t Know about Cornell

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Since you readers seemed to enjoy my first article on this topic so much, I’ve come back with a second installment to this series with just as interesting and spooky factoids! Here we go:

1) Whispering Bench

When I was doing research for my other article last semester, I stumbled onto a thread on College Confidential, in which there was mention of a “whispering bench near Goldwin Smith.” However, after scouring the internet, I could not find any other website or article that referenced this bench! Thus, with camera in hand, I roamed the perimeters of Goldwin Smith Hall and eventually found what I believed to be the aforementioned feature on the right side of Goldwin Smith if you’re facing it from the Arts Quad. Unfortunately, this was during late March–when snow and slush covered every outdoor surface–and I didn’t bring a friend to test out the whispering capabilities of the bench, so I decided to set it aside for this article.

At last, at the start of this semester, I dragged my apartment-mate Gabbi to Goldwin Smith and we tested and proved that the bench in question was, in fact, the whispering bench! Like most whispering benches, it is semicircular in shape, and the phenomenon is best achieved when you and your companion sit on opposite ends of it.

If you’re interested in gaining a greater appreciation for the many benches around campus, I strongly encourage you to give this cool article a read.

2) Musical Steps

Listed as number nine on The Cornell Daily Sun’s “161 Things Every Cornellian Should Do” is “test out Olin Library’s musically calibrated steps by throwing stones on them.” As you can see from the image provided below, stone-throwing on the Olin steps is now forbidden due to safety concerns. But fear not, my fellow Cornellians, for a few daredevils amongst us have recorded and shared the sound of stone and steps here, here and here. In fact, according to the video footage provided above, it would seem that the entire terrace above Olin – not just the steps – are sonically calibrated.

Olin Musical Steps

3) CU on the Hill

I’m sure we’ve all heard or read the phrase “CU on the Hill” at one time or another, be it on a campus brochure or from the lips of a much-too-eager freshman, but there is quite literally a CU on the hill…specifically North Campus. During my freshman year, I lived in Clara Dickson Hall (the biggest dorm in the Ivy League) and was sort of confused as to why we Dickson residents would say that students lived on either the 5-side or 6-side of the dormitory. Surely, the sides should be called 1 and 2 or East and West, right?

Well, if you lived in Balch freshman year, you would know that the girls there live in sections (aside from their floor numbers) that are identified as either 1, 2, 3 or 4. I’ve heard from one person but have not been able to substantiate the claim that Balch and Dickson were supposed to be connected into some kind of mega dorm, but plans for that fell through. This would explain why Dickson uses 5 and 6 sides–so that Dickson would have continued the numeric sequence begun by Balch when they were connected. But why even connect the two? Because, from a bird’s eye view oriented a little east of true north, Dickson looks like a “C” and Balch looks like a “U,” so that the overall effect is the appearance of “CU” on the North Campus. CU, of course, stands for Cornell University!

CU On the Hill

4) Bill Nye Solar Noon Clock

It’s no secret that Bill Nye the Science Guy graduated from Cornell, but did you know that there is a clock on campus that he donated to the university? If you ever pass by Gates Hall or Hoy Field, you’ll notice a clock at the top of Rhodes Hall, which is called a solar noon clock, for scientific reasons that I do not have the mental capacity to understand or explain. If you’re interested in how it works, I suggest you check out this article. According to the piece, Nye decided to make such a contribution in honor of his and his father’s shared interest in sundials, his role in the creation of the MarsDial, and, last but not least, his time at Cornell. Pun intended.

Rhodes Clock

5) Robert Carl Baker, a.k.a. Inventor of the Chicken Nugget

If you thought McDonald’s created the chicken nugget, be prepared to have your socks blown off because the true inventor of the chicken nugget was a Cornellian! Robert Carl Baker was his name, and the man graduated from Cornell in 1943 and taught Food Science at Cornell for his entire career, which spanned from 1957 to 1989. Throughout the 1950s, Baker perfected his recipe for the chicken nugget, decades before McDonald’s would even patent and sell their McNuggets. I went to Uris Library and found the Class of 1943 yearbook, in which young Baker is pictured below:

Robert Carl Baker

For more information about the originator, click here.

6) Arson (…or Pyromania?)

It’s no secret that in April of 1967, there was a fire at the Ecology House–then known as the Cornell Heights Residential Club and now commonly referred to as the Ecohouse–that claimed the lives of eight students and a professor. Although there was proof of arson at the crime scene, the tragedy has never been solved. When I looked into the circumstances surrounding that fire, I came across this article about other fires that had happened on campus throughout Cornell’s history. In the article’s comment section, though, were a couple of reader replies from November 2013 and October 2014 that provided me with new information about the Ecohouse fire.

In the November 2013 comment, a blogger linked a post from her blog, in which she reveals that her father was a volunteer firefighter at the time who helped pump water to put out the Ecohouse fire. Her blogpost provides other intriguing details, but undeniably the most alarming one concerns the suspect herself. According to the blogger, “investigators were convinced enough of the individual’s culpability that every time the suspect moved the previous fire chief would have to notify the new one (this included when the person moved away from Ithaca).” The writer of the October 2014 comment revealed that the student suspect was dismissed from Cornell (and spotted at the scene of another fire in Collegetown) and has since been using an alias. He also mentioned two other instances of arson that occurred during May of the same year that seemed to be targeted at graduate students who had lived at the Cornell Heights Residential Club at the time of the Ecohouse fire.

7) Ghosts and Hauntings

As if I haven’t spooked you enough already, there are so many stories of ghosts and hauntings that surface once you look into paranormal phenomena at Cornell. There have been reports of strange occurrences at the aforementioned Ecohouse after the fire, tuxedo-donning ghosts in Willard Straight Hall (below), sightings of Auntie Pru in Risley Hall, a stalker spirit in Olin Library and encounters with Alice Statler in Statler Hall. According to this article, two employees of the hotel disclosed their experiences with Alice during 2004 — one was so creeped out he immediately quit his job! If you’re curious and want to know the details of these accounts, Kitsch magazine has a great piece on these freaky phantoms, as do the Sun and the Chronicle!

Willard Straight Hall
What about you? Have you had any creepy confrontations at Cornell that you’d like to share? If so, let me know in the comments!

P.S. The hosts of
“My Favorite Murder”–my favorite true crime podcast–have what they call their “Corrections Corner,” during which they address mistakes or omissions they had made in previous episodes. I am going to shamelessly swipe this idea by having my own mini Corrections Corner in this article and mention that, in response to my first article on Cornell, two commenters pointed out that Sphinx Head holds it meetings in Sage Hall. Thank you for telling me, and if you readers can provide anymore information about my points from either of my Cornell articles, please do so!