Friday, 24 February 2017
July / August 2010
Living History
Bookmark and Share
Print E-mail
Thursday, 08 July 2010

The thirteenth Cornellian in his family, Corey Earle '07 has become a one-man repository of University history. Here, he offers a taste of his traveling slideshow of Big Red lore.

By Beth Saulnier

When Corey Earle '07 was accepted early decision, his parents gave him a signed, first-edition copy of Morris Bishop's A History of Cornell. The son and grandson of alumni who spent their careers on the faculty, Earle read the book the summer before he matriculated—the thirteenth member of his family to attend. In short, when it comes to Cornell lore, he may well have been the most prepared freshman ever.

Corey EarleEarle kept up the Cornell history habit as a CALS student majoring in communication—the department where his father, Brian Earle '68, MPS '71, taught for four decades and still maintains a presence in semi-retirement. As an undergrad, his trove of some 200 Cornell-related volumes won the University Library's annual book collecting contest (it has since grown to more than 300), and the Daily Sun tapped him for a biweekly column on University history. When the library digitized the Cornell Alumni News back to its inception in 1899, he read every issue. "I was amazed at the crucial role that Cornell played in the development of higher education in the U.S.," Earle says. "I don't think a lot of students, or even faculty and staff, are aware of that. So I made it my crusade to raise awareness of Cornell's history and try to spread the Cornell gospel."

ImageThree guesses where Earle—following in the footsteps of his brother, Evan '02—went to work after graduation. He first served as a reference specialist in Kroch Library before moving over to Alumni Affairs and Development—where, as associate director of student programs, his duties include running the senior class campaign. "We're training students to be good alumni," he says. "We want them to feel like they're part of the Cornell community, to create a culture of philanthropy and gratitude."

But he has also carved out a niche as a one-man repository of University history, building Big Red spirit by giving talks on campus and beyond. His traveling slideshow covers not only the familiar genesis tale (how the lowly born, self-taught Ezra Cornell made a fortune in the telegraph business and teamed up with cultured blue-blood Andrew Dickson White to found the school on the Hill) but many assorted gems of Cornelliana—from the Brain Collection to the live bear mascot to the infamous pumpkin atop McGraw Tower. In addition to a general round-up of Cornell facts both well known and obscure, he has created trivia quizzes, talks geared to special occasions such as Halloween, and presentations using University history to spark discussion about topics like ethics. "The best part," says Earle, "is that I learn so much each time I do it, especially when speaking to alumni. They lived through history."

Big Red memories: As Earle tells his audiences, Cornell is often called "the first American university"—combining the practicality of Midwestern schools with the classicism of the Ivy League. Clockwise from top: A 1913 postcard of the Arts Quad; cows on Libe Slope in 1891; a 1920s Dragon Day; an ad for the 1907 Cornellian; a portrait of Ezra Cornell from the 1860s; and the 1876 men's varsity crew.


Image"I love the Brain Collection," Earle says. "It's a quintessential part of Cornelliana." Still on display in Uris Hall, the collection was founded in 1889 by zoology professor Burt Green Wilder, a member of the original faculty. "He kept a menagerie of animals, including a bear, in the basement of McGraw Hall," Earle says. "One story is that when they painted the ceiling of Sage Chapel, he was so disgusted at the musculature of the angels—that it was anatomically incorrect, because it would make it physically impossible for them to have wings—that he refused to enter." Wilder donated his own brain to the collection, which at its peak comprised some 1,600 samples. "Goldwin Smith donated his brain," Earle says, "but it got stuck in Canadian customs and rotted at the border."


As an undergrad, Willard Straight 1901 felt that the Architecture college didn't have enough spirit—so he founded Dragon Day. He went on to a career as a diplomat; when he died of pneumonia after World War I, he left his estate to the University, "to make Cornell a more human place." Willard Straight Hall became one of the nation's first student unions; when it was built in 1925, Earle notes, "it was unusual to have a building with no academic purpose."


The name "Big Red" traces its roots to a song. In 1905, the football team had a contest to write a football song, Earle says, "because they were jealous of the crew team." The winner was celebrated humorist Rym Berry 1904 with a ditty called "The Big Red Team."


"Back in the day, all freshmen, male and female, were required to wear the freshman beanie," Earle says. "If you were caught on campus without it, you'd be in trouble." A "sophomore vigilance committee" was in charge of enforcing the rules, which also banned smoking, walking on the grass, or entering certain bars, such as Zinck's. "A lot of these rules vanished after World War II, when hundreds of veterans came to campus," Earle points out. "You had freshmen who were five years older than the seniors, so having a sophomore tell a grizzled veteran of World War II that he had to keep his cap on didn't go over so well."

Last Updated ( Thursday, 08 July 2010 )