Posts tagged history
What does a marker sketch of Loki by the incomparable Tom Hiddleston have in common with Cornell’s copy of the Gettysburg Address?
Well, as the clearly leading nature of my opening sentence suggests: a lot more than you’d think.
In conjunction with Remembering Lincoln at Gettysburg–an exhibition hosted by Cornell’s Kroch Library in honor of the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address–a copy of the speech written in Lincoln’s hand has been display on campus for the past few weeks. Yesterday, I was lucky enough to catch the Gettysburg Address in person the day before it went back into storage!
The Address itself was, as you can see, displayed in a simple, elegant wood frame. The gallery, located two floors beneath Olin’s main entrance, was crowded with students and members of the Cornell community. Most delightfully, the visitors in attendance included a good number of children who possessed remarkable knowledge of Civil War history.
Surrounding the display were cases containing other ephemera related to the Gettysburg Address and its legacy, including the most fantastically named book of all time…
Image from CU’s online exhibition for Remembering Lincoln at Gettysburg.
Though its title may suggest otherwise, The Perfect Tribute was actually a factually incorrect, romanticized version of the Gettysburg Address’s origins: and yet its popularity in schools following its publication in 1906 allowed its fictionalized history to persist for years.
What I found most fascinating, however, was the story behind Cornell’s copy of the Gettysburg Address. Our Address traveled to Cornell in the possession of Wilder Bancroft, a chemistry professor, and was finally donated to the university by Marguerite Noyes in memory of her husband–and yes, that’s Noyes as in West Campus’ Noyes.
What of my tenuous connection to Tom Hiddleston’s “Loki, by Loki,” though?
Image from Mr. Hiddleston’s Twitter (surprising, I know!).
Well, Professor Bancroft received the address by way of his father, who had in turn been given the address by his stepson, Alexander Bliss. Turns out that quite a few people, including Bliss, began asking Lincoln to write out signed copies of the Gettysburg Address in order to procure funds for charitable causes.
Lincoln obliged, and offered this copy to Bliss to include in a book (containing manuscripts by the likes of other public figures such as Edgar Allan Poe) that Bliss was assembling to raise money for the Baltimore Sanitary Fair–kind of like the contemporary celebrity charity auctions where you can purchase Hiddleston’s doodles.
Anyway, somehow Lincoln’s first copy for Bliss turned out to be the 1864 equivalent of the wrong pixel resolution or something, so Lincoln made Bliss yet another address facsimile, while Bliss eventually gave the rejected copy to Bancroft. I’m sure the mix-up inconvenienced Lincoln a little bit, but I’m sure I speak for the rest of Cornell when I say that I’m glad that he inadvertently made an extra that ended up on campus over a century later!
As I mentioned earlier, the Bancroft copy of the Gettysburg Address has now returned to the Disney Vault–I mean, the Kroch collections, but you can still view a facsimile of it and the rest of the Remembering Lincoln exhibition until December 20: so if you have to walk from North to Collegetown or something, why not stop off in Olin to warm up and check out some history?
Day 4 of the 2013 fall semester. Already I’ve spent more than six hours in class, and have resupplied thanks to a resource the locals call “Wegmans.” This “Ithaca” appears to suffer from a profound lack of pound-coins, Tesco Express, the phrase “Hiya,” and a widely available variety of Twinings brand fine teas.
Stability of situation still unknown.
Adjusting to life in Edinburgh was incredibly challenging. Conversely, re-adapting back to Cornell has been rather simple. I love filling my week with exciting courses and rejoicing about the relatively low cost of a semester’s worth of Zumba classes–not to mention being able to work and earn money without worrying about getting kicked out of the country.
Since I spent most of my time abroad exploring museums, monuments, and other stunning points of interest, I worried that Ithaca might seem boring upon my return: after all, the place hasn’t got a single thirteenth-century castle. However, after my first few action-packed weeks back on the Hill, I can safely say that there are still enough worthy Ithacan attractions to satisfy my need for exploration.
My first fall semester adventure began at Sapsucker Woods, home of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. I’ve visited the visitor centre (and its completely rad sound lab filled with a veritable library of animal calls) a few times, but never journeyed into the woods themselves until last weekend.
Hey, freshmen–if your family comes to visit you for Parents’ Weekend, do ask them to bring you out to Sapsucker Woods. It’s a bit out of the way for a bus ride, but one quick car trip will give you access to a wonderful natural oasis that might distract your folks from the fact that you went three months without doing laundry or now sport a radically different haircut.
Now, long-time readers will know it’s almost impossible for me to post without mentioning a museum of some sort, so I’m happy to report that I finally accomplished one of the coolest items on my personal Cornell to-do list: a visit to the Museum of the Earth!
I’ve never quite grown out of my seven-year-old self’s dinosaur obsession. If second-grader Keely had ever traveled to Ithaca, she probably would’ve found the Museum of the Earth to be the most exciting place on Earth; I was impressed even as a college student.
The small but packed museum was established by the Paleontological Research Institution a decade ago, and its current collection boasts such exciting specimens as the Hyde Park mastodon. The galleries take visitors from the most recent Ice Age to the time of some of the earliest fossil records in the span of about forty minutes–in other words, a pretty exciting afternoon for fans of ammonoids or Dunkleosteus. Even if you’re not all that into old bones and plant impressions, there’s nothing like learning about the Permian Extinction to really make you appreciate your own (mass-catastrophe-free) life a little bit more.
The museum also hosts temporary exhibitions, and its current feature, Raising the Dead: The Art of John Gurche, is possibly one of the most exciting exhibits I’ve ever seen (maybe even beating out Vikings! at the National Museum of Scotland). Gurche is a phenomenally skilled paleo-artist currently serving as the Museum’s artist-in-residence whose sculpture mainly recreates Australopithecus (a favorite of mine from Walking with Prehistoric Beasts) and other early hominids. He also provided artistic consultation for Jurassic Park, and produces terrifyingly detailed images of dinosaurs for everything from book covers to murals.
As much as I could stare at Gurche’s wild images of ancient beasts or follow every boardwalk through Sapsucker Woods all day, few off-campus retreats can beat a nice stroll around Beebe Lake. I do miss my Brave-inspired frolics up on Arthur’s Seat and in the Highlands, but Ithaca can be just as lovely too–and I don’t have to worry about the exchange rate.
I may not like pubs, ‘football’, or the cold, but there is one UK stereotype to which I am helplessly addicted: castles. Though I’ve visited ‘Iolani Palace and have some vague memories of a castle in Connecticut (Google informs me that it’s Gillette Castle I’m remembering), my fascination with ancient fortresses remained relatively latent until I came to Scotland.
After this weekend, my palace tally has increased to (a Tolkien-apropros) nine, and I plan to nearly double that before I leave at the end of May. Who wouldn’t want to explore ~15th century ruins for about the cost of frozen yoghurt, right? Even if all the masonry and empty moats start to look vaguely similar in a few weeks, I’m pretty sure I will never pass up a chance to see a castle.
I cross paths with Edinburgh Castle on a daily basis: it’s visible from Arthur’s Seat when I take walks, Princes Street when I’m shopping, and the top floor of David Hume Tower when I’m going to class. I was putting off the visit inside the castle for as long as I could, though–I’d been told by several sources that it wasn’t worth the hefty admission price. Still, since I believe in giving all castles a chance, I coughed up sixteen pounds and strode up the Royal Mile on a bright Saturday morning to see what all the fuss was about.
Well, like I said, I was warned.
In all fairness, I’m sure Edinburgh Castle would be amazing for military history buffs. There are several museums within the castle complex that chronicle the past few centuries of military activity in Scotland. Since guns, swords, and other instruments of war are rather my least favourite material objects, though, I wasn’t particularly moved. (I did learn one very fun fact: nineteenth-century soldiers were totally into needlepoint! The men were encouraged to take up handcrafts instead of spending all their free time drinking and gambling–and, for whatever reason, some did. Maybe I should try that technique on some college students I know…)
I hoped the interior of the castle itself would save my experience, but the restoration of the royal chambers didn’t impress, and the queue for the Crown Jewels was so claustrophobic and nightmarish that it made a trip to Disneyland in the middle of July with seven kids look comparatively relaxing.
Determined to improve the day’s castle sightings, I impulsively caught a train out of town to visit the stunning Linlithgow Palace. Unlike Edinburgh Castle, Linlithgow is no longer in use and is therefore considered a “ruin”–which basically means that children (and whimsical college bloggers) are free to explore its turrets and secret passages at their leisure. No guards, no queues, and certainly no awkwardly ‘conserved’ unicorn art objects.
If you’re a traveller just starting to get the hang of solo castle pilgrimages, I highly recommend Linlithgow as a first trip. The palace is about a three-minute walk from the train station, and the town itself is adorable and perfectly safe–nothing Glaswegian here!
Reaching Craigmillar Castle, my most recent conquest, is a bit more challenging. Craigmillar, located in the outskirts of Edinburgh proper, is best accessed via a ten-minuted bus ride to the Royal Infirmary from Old Town. After disembarking, intrepid tourists must sneak behind the University of Edinburgh’s School of Medicine to take a backstreet path up to Craigmillar Park, where the castle is surrounded by rolling fields which apparently contain an intriguingly named ‘Adventure Playground.’
Craigmillar’s halls and chambers were darker, smaller, and utterly more uncanny than Linlithgow. At the latter, I only feared a surprise attack from a small child pretending to slay dragons, while the former featured wild flocks of pigeons with no notion of fear. Still, the view of Arthur’s Seat–and from the one angle from which I had yet to see my favourite volcano, at that–was phenomenal!
Weirdly, I loved Linlithgow and Craigmillar because they were so unlike museums. Each room was labelled and dated with a simple plaque, but other than that, viewers were encouraged to discover the historical past through individual visual analysis and observation. Staring up at the random nooks in the stone walls, I could draw my own conclusions about how this building looked in its prime–which engaged me in a different way than reading or viewing a reconstruction.
Or that’s my professional justification, anyway. I really think I preferred them because I could put my hair in a vaguely Renaissance braid and dash up the spiral staircase pretending to be a rebellious princess on the run. Hey, everyone needs a break from the liminal weirdness of quasi-adult college life from time to time.
‘Norse’ has never been cooler.
As Tom Hiddleston and Chris Hemsworth’s Loki and Thor smoulder on the big screen, Norse mythology is currently hotter than a Viking ship burning. I’m no stranger to this trend myself–after all, my dachshund Loki carries on the mischievous (though not the malicious) traits of his mythological counterpart, while my young nephew is named for the mighty Odin.
My love for Old Norse (specifically Old Icelandic) increased exponentially, however, when I enrolled in LING 3315: Old Norse at Cornell during my sophomore year. If you love languages and want to take the most fun elective imaginable, folks, my vote’s for Old Norse. Think of how you’ll impress the guys/ladies/Vikings once you know how to mind your Þs and ðs!
When I found out last winter that the National Museum of Scotland was hosting an exhibition from the Swedish History Museum on the Viking Age, then, there was no way I could pass it up–even with a £7.50 admission fee. Honestly, I’m actually surprised it took me four whole months in Scotland to visit.
Note: All of the Vikings! photos in this post are borrowed from the National Museum of Scotland’s online archive–hey, that’s what happens when photography is prohibited.
Ditching stereotypes of bulky men and mugs of mead, Vikings! instead explores the quotidian world of the real people that modern imagination painted into a race of barbarians who came out of the womb wearing horned helmets. In addition to traditional exhibits on weaponry and the quintessential longships, visitors can also learn about the types of plants Vikings used to dye their textiles, what sorts of animals they raised, and their attention to personal hygiene and ornamentation. (Anyone interested in perpetuating the ‘dirty Viking’ myth need only take a look at the enormous number of combs and other toiletries they’ve left behind.)
Though it focuses primarily on the daily life of its subjects, Vikings! is by no means primitive. The exhibit is more like a theme park than a static gallery–’touch technology,’ ambient sound, and fascinatingly interactive displays all serve to immerse viewers in the historic experience. I was simultaneously amused and disturbed by a computer activity in which guests are invited to guess how to dress a viking properly– this ‘viking’, for the sake of modesty and androgyny, is played by a person dressed in a full-coverage body suit. Not even with a face showing, my friends. I guess that’s what the future looks like.
Vikings! also displays the objects themselves in extremely innovative ways. Bridles are carefully placed onto wire models of horses, swords glow in glass cases while the clanking sounds of battle project from a nearby speaker, and, most memorably, an entire collection of ship bolts hang from a wall in an eerie recreation of their original form.
Since I’m always blabbing about the importance of museums as an teaching tool, let’s wrap things up with a few more fun facts I learned during my visit!
- ‘Window’ is, like many English words, Old Norse in origin. It comes from ‘vindaya,’ which literally means ‘wind eye.’ That kind of romanticism makes you want to break out the Windex for your dusty louvers, right?
- On the subject of etymology and word history, the time we now know as ‘the Viking Age’ was only recently named such by 19th-century scholars.
- Calling all hipster fashionistas! If your friends make fun of you for tying rusty old keys around your neck because it’s vintage (…not that I would ever do something like that…), tell them that you’re referencing a time much older than whenever your dad broke that padlock to the shed door. Free women in the ‘Viking Age’ used to wear (& were buried with) their keys to symbolize their power in the household.
- And, finally, here’s your random Norse trickster story of the day! One time, Loki decided it might be fun to chop of all of Sif’s hair, and though Sif was probably happy because CollegeFashion said pixie cuts are so totally in in Asgard, her husband Thor was livid, and, as usual, wanted to play a round of punch-the-Loki. Instead, Loki convinced Thor that his bros the dwarves could make her some metal hair instead. Thor, thinking about how much they’d save if Sif switched from Garnier Fructis to gold polish, agreed, and Loki went down to chill with the dwarves Svartalfheim. Because he hadn’t had enough chopping for one day, Loki wound up making a bet with them, offering up his own head as a bargaining piece. When Loki lost the bargain, he pulled a Merchant of Venice and told the dwarves that they were welcome to cut off his head–as long as they didn’t touch his neck. Bothered by the complex philosophical matter of distinguishing between head and neck, the dwarves gave up: but not before they sewed Loki’s lips together as payback. Fast times in Svartalfheim, am I right?
Tune in next time on Keely Only Has One Month Left in Scotland, where we answer this pressing question:
“How many thirteenth-century castles can a girl possibly see without getting bored of the Gothic aesthetic?”
(Spoiler alert: it’s somewhere in the triple digits.)
Though we’re no Han and Leia, the UK academic system and I certainly have a love/hate relationship. There are some subjects–like the notion that students should be self-directed, independent thinkers who don’t need busywork to force them to learn–upon which we agree. In the end, though, I think essays might be the theoretical carbonite that drives us apart.
I enjoy writing essays at Cornell because, in my experience, professors give students complete freedom. This has allowed me to ace major papers through analysis of such topics as dragon iconography, the linguistic phenomenon of LOLcats, and the cultural appropriation of Mesoamerican visual culture in 21st-century American animated children’s films.
In Edinburgh, on the other hand, courses provide specific questions. I personally worry that this will result in carbon-copy essays more akin to AP test answers than innovative scholarship, but perhaps, as with Optimus Prime, there is more to the system than meets the eye.
In any case, essay-writing will at least be enjoyable in my favourite class, Netherlandish Painting in the Age of Jan Van Eyck. Now, I’m supposed to write on Hubert van Eyck, Jan’s enigmatic brother, but whenever I research the elder van Eyck, I can’t help getting distracted by Jan.
Jan wasn’t just a painter: he worked in the court of Philip the Good, a job which included portraiture, designing ephemeral art pieces for festivals, and covert diplomatic missions. Clearly, Jan van Eyck’s metaphorical hair is full of secrets, and the best of them are hidden in his paintings. Some scholars even believe that van Eyck peppered his works with miniature self-portraits.
Before I go into that, though, let’s get an idea of what such a portrait might even look like.
This 1433 Portrait of a Man With a Snazzy Turban* is generally assumed to be a likeness of van Eyck. And, from what my professor tells me, red turbans weren’t exactly the most popular fashion accessory of the time–keep that in mind, friends, as we proceed.
*Name added later by Sarr, 2013.
Here we have the Madonna of Chancellor Rollin, which I just so happened to see in person at the Louvre last week. This painting is perfect for some good ol’ fashioned amateur van Eyck spotting. Do you notice anyone who might be him?
Okay, so there’s a guy wearing a red turban. Big deal, right? Gosh, let me finish! It gets even weirder.
Pictured above are the happy couple (OR NOT?!? scholars can’t decide!) from the Arnolfini Portrait. You can easily see that this is a domestic space with a very limited background–there’s no way that van Eyck could sneak himself in here, hmm?
Framed by the couple’s reflections are two figures, including one that–you guessed it!–might be van Eyck, depicted as a witness to the goings-on in this private scene.
Finally, let’s take a look at the Madonna and Child with the Canon van der Paele. On the right side of the painting, St. George, clad in armor, presents the Canon to Christ and the Virgin. But I’m more curious about that microscopic figure reflected in St. George’s shield…
Er, I guess the exposure in that image might be a little hard on the eyes. Let me pull out some super-advanced photo editing technology skills to clear things up for you.
My fellow citizens, I won’t understate the severity of this situation. If a 15th-century Netherlandish painter could hide himself in his own works, who knows what else he might’ve done?
But I guess I’ll have to put off exposing Jan van Eyck’s role in every major unexplained event since the 1500s: I do, after all, have some papers to write.
Coming up next on The K-Files…
- The original Big Red Bear was really the result of a freakish lab accident!
- An immortal Andrew Dickson White was responsible for the pumpkin on the clocktower!
- There’s a treasure map hidden on the back of Cornell’s original copy of the Emancipation Proclamation!
- THE SLOPE WAS A COVER UP.
In my youth, juvenile fantasy novels promised I would receive my magic powers/sarcastic dragon companion/call to fulfill ancient prophesy upon reaching adolescence. When my twelfth birthday brought nothing but bad skin, though, I turned to the library and the Internet to prove that magic did exist.
And that’s when I discovered Glastonbury Tor.
I had to visit England during my semester abroad, and the fact that my lovely high school friend is studying at Exeter for the year guaranteed I’d be making my way down South at least once.
Because flying from Edinburgh to Exeter is bizarrely challenging, I opted for a train journey instead. There’s something delightful about the fluidity of rail travel: each stop has the potential to bring a new crop of coach-mates, while the train’s earthbound nature offers scenery a little more fascinating than clouds and empty ocean.
After a much-needed night of rest, we took another train from Exeter to Taunton, where we caught a (ridiculously late) bus to carry us to Glastonbury. As the bus bumped its way down rocky backroads, I felt victoriously unashamed of romanticizing the English countryside for so many years. It looked so beautiful that I almost expected to see one of Beatrix Potter’s anthropomorphized kittens taking a wee stroll before tea-time.
Once we reached Glastonbury proper (a.k.a. the world’s best town for metaphysical fairy-chasers like yours truly), we were officially on the pilgrims’ path towards the Tor!
“Doesn’t Torr have to do with millimeters of mercury?”
Looks like someone paid attention in AP Chem! Tor-with-one-R is a word of either Anglo-Saxon or Celtic origin meaning “hill” or “mountain.” Young Keely was attracted to Glastonbury Tor because of its connections to both Celtic folklore and Arthurian legend: after all, the tor is supposedly the location of the Isle of Avalon, the mystical sanctuary to which the Lady of the Lake bore Arthur after his final battle. As a result, Glastonbury has been considered a place of great spiritual significance to believers of all denominations for thousands of years.
At the top, the wind threatened to steal my scarf, a pair of adorable children in matching red parkas tussled in the grass, and a modern-day troubadour with a guitar performed within the safety of the tower.
Pilgrims of the canine persuasion are equally welcome atop the tor, as long as they don’t mess with the mountain’s sheep population. We crossed paths with a tiny pug clearly oblivious to this rule–after successfully chasing a sheep halfway across a small plateau, the pug proceeded to climb the tor’s stairs with gusto, repeatedly looking backwards to mock its much slower owners.
Edinburgh is exciting, certainly, but I am a country girl at heart, and I am dangerously tempted to do whatever it takes to move back to Glastonbury at some point in my life. In fact, it might be genuinely hard for me to return to windswept, freezing Scotland up North after this little springtime retreat. At least I have my first Gaelic lesson to look forward to!
Getting to Edinburgh’s Surgeons’ Hall Museums is like traveling to Narnia–if you swapped the wardrobe for a creepy winding stair complete with cheerful signs encouraging visitors to continue against their better judgment, that is. Until we finally reached a glass door branded with a comforting TripAdvisor sticker, I was fairly convinced that my friend and I had been tragically deceived (possibly, we joked, in an attempt by sinister practitioners to collect more specimens for the collection).
Fortunately for us, the Surgeons’ Hall already has specimens in spades. Every great breakthrough and frightening snarl in the history of medicine lies preserved within its walls–from an ancient Egyptian mummy head (the head, guys, not the sarcophagus mask or anything less organic) to a plethora of examples of medical anomalies (most now treatable by modern medicine, thank goodness!) to…well, things that I’d rather not mention.
(Okay, so there was a pocketbook made out of the skin of murderer William Burke. Nightmare fuel indeed. Hey, surgeons, why would you sink to a killer’s own level by turning him into a wallet? More disturbingly, whose idea was it to literally engrave this dang thing with the eloquent label “Burke’s Skin Pocket Book”? Medical history is messed up.)
If skeletons, old-school orthodontic tools, and, you know, traumatizing pocketbooks aren’t your style, close your eyes and ask a less squeamish friend to kindly lead you through the halls to a very special exhibition about the relationship between Edinburgh native Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and one Joseph Bell, a man immortalized in literature (and sadly disappointing BBC miniseries (in Season 2, at least–sorry, fanboys/girls)) as Sherlock Holmes.
Some of Holmes’ less attractive traits, on the other hand, came from Conan Doyle’s daddy: Sherlock’s drug problems were likely a response to Charles Doyle’s alcoholism. Seeing the ways in which the curators pulled apart Doyle’s various influences was perhaps my favorite part of the exhibition (mostly because I’m sure anyone attempting to read my writing will easily find its influences in my life).
The most fantastic experience of the entire outing, however, arrived in the form of a charming gentleman who works at the museum (whether he was a docent, a security official, or some kind of combination thereof was unclear). After exchanging some good-natured quips and pleasantries with him at the reception desk, we encountered him once more in the galleries, asked him a few questions, and ended up with a lovely free tour.
No, calling it a ‘free tour’ doesn’t quite capture the magic. Before he began sharing pretty much everything about the objects on display, our guide leaded in confidentially over a glass table, his eyes proof that ‘merry’ is still a very useful adjective in the modern world.
“This hall is full of stories,” he solemnly informed us. “Would you like to hear some?”
I couldn’t have written him better myself.
The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh’s Surgeons’ Hall Museums (yeah, I really just wanted to type out the full title) is located on Nicholson Street, near the University of Edinburgh’s “Old College.” Admission is £3 for students with valid identification. Also nearby is the Mosque Kitchen, otherwise known as literally the best & most cost-effective place for vegetarian food in Edinburgh. An enormous plate of yellow lentil dal and rice is also £3; samosas are 60p. This is important information, people.
Oh, and one more professional-looking italicized fun fact: Arthur Conan Doyle spent some time living in my very neighborhood in Edinburgh! No wonder I keep having the bizarre desire to turn the sitcom I’m writing into a mystery series.
The jealousy started about three weeks ago, when the bragging did. Fellow classmates casually shared their plans to go to Vegas and Prague, Facebookers posted statuses like “My mom booked me a surprise spring break Bahamas cruise!” (you may think I’m exaggerating, but I assure you, that’s a true (though paraphrased) story), and even my friends began revealing how excited they were to have a chance to go home and relax. Like a collegiate Phantom of the Opera, I was forced to crawl away into my secret lair in the basement of Risley Theater and write dark music to express my spring break sorrows.
Then a miracle occurred. As it turned out, I managed to book bus tickets (Greyhound there, Cornell’s Campus-to-Campus back) to New York City for this weekend. Thanks to the hospitality of my mother’s college friend, I experienced the whirlwind joys of the quickest, most action-packed mini-spring break imaginable.
As soon as I disembarked my bus (which, by the way, was disappointingly not a “true” Greyhound but a New York Trailways. So much for my Simon & Garfunkel dreams!), we rushed over to Times Square to pick up same-day tickets for a Broadway show, and, after a long period of waiting and dodging the black-hatted temptresses encouraging queuers to attend Chicago, we scored seats for Warhorse, the Tony-award-winning play based on a similarly acclaimed novel.
The most praiseworthy aspect of Warhorse is its use of phenomenal life-size, equine puppets, each controlled by a group of three handlers. These horses move across the stage, breathe and are ridden so naturally that it’s very easy to forget they’re not alive. Considering what I’ve been studying in my Shadowplay seminar, this example of Western puppetry was an excellent contrast to the wayang kulit performance I saw the night before.
Speaking of connections to art history, Saturday afternoon’s activities included a trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Many of the pieces at which I had the pleasure of looking were discussed at length in my Renaissance & Baroque class last semester–it was certainly thrilling to see these classic paintings as something bigger than a Powerpoint slide!
Of course, as much as I admire Rococo paintings or works from the Northern Renaissance, my favorites are, as always, examples of ancient and medieval art. The Met didn’t disappoint there either: notable exhibits include a Byzantine gallery (featuring fragments of clothing and books) and a really impressive Egyptian collection, complete with an in-house reconstructed temple and tomb. My childhood dreams of becoming an Egyptologist (though honestly, how many children don’t have such dreams? Ancient Egypt is so romanticized in our society) returned to haunt me as I wandered around glass cases of sarcophagi and lapis lazuli jewelry.
Our final stop of note was at the American Museum of Natural History, where I learned, among other things, that Night at the Museum totally lied about everything. Still, it was an incredible experience that included stops in the exhibits about marine life, African mammals, Oceanic peoples, Precolumbian art and tribes of the Amazon (which annoyingly kept referring to the Amazonian natives as “Indians,” which I object to simply because they are in no way from India at all. Ugh!).
Thank you to Lydia for taking me on such a grand adventure, and to my parents for not totally freaking out when I had to stop at the relatively sketchy Port Authority bus terminal! All in all, it was an amazing weekend, though I’m definitely looking forward to spending some quiet time in the natural beauty of Ithaca and riding the TCAT instead of the subway.
Happy March, y’all! Even though it remains 2012: The Winter That Wasn’t, I expect springtime to make its way to Ithaca soon enough. I’m looking forward to all the traditional signs of a change in the seasons: small patches of baby plants sprouting up, leaves budding, dragons arriving–
Well, actually, the dragons have been here since the middle of February.
Each spring, first-year Cornell Architecture students construct a fantastically enormous dragon. “Dragon Day,” as this hallowed practice is called, is over 100 years old, and was started by that good ol’ goofball Willard Straight ’01 (that’s 1901, not 2001, guys). Before Will started having buildings named after him and stuff, he was a prankster with a lot of architect pride who thought his college should have its very own day. For whatever reason, Willard picked St. Patrick’s Day as the perfect time to celebrate his school.
Where do the dragons come in, though? Well, because I’m committed to promoting the well-being of dragons everywhere–I mean, committed to providing accurate Cornell history on this blog, I did a little more research. According to Cornell’s Archives, Willard and his buddies spent one early Dragon Day constructing a full-sized St. Patrick and a serpent for him to drive away. Presumably because assembling a massive saint would get boring after a while, St. Patty fell by the wayside while the dragon stayed on for generations to come.
Now, calling me a dragon fan might be the understatement of the 21st century. In sixth grade, I wrote an extensive report examining the roots of cross-cultural examples of dragon mythology. My room back home has dragons on the curtains and bed-quilt, in bowls and hanging from the walls. Heck, the pajama pants I’m wearing as I type this very post have a dragon embroidered on the left leg! Therefore, I was a little shocked when I learned that the Cornell dragon was traditionally burned at the end of this rigmarole. How terrible! Fortunately, this modern age is more dracofriendly than Willard’s time: today’s dragons apparently merely suffer a symbolic auto-da-fé after doing “battle” with the engineers’ phoenix.
(I do apologize for the pitiful, pitiful title, but I just couldn’t help it.)
As a child, I knew well that Halloween night was not to be feared. The real horror happens on All Hallow’s Eve Eve—you see, that’s when all the dark spirits head back to their devilish dwellings. On October 30, however, those spooks pack their spirit-suitcases and fly in to prepare for a night of terror.
(That was in Hawai’i, of course. On the Mainland they can probably take the train.)
Thus, in the vein of my childhood fear of (and delight in) the day before Halloween, I’ve decided to dedicate my Sunday afternoon post to some ghostly goings-on in Ithaca. The Cornell University Library System would be so proud of me, too! In honor of the eeriest part of October, the libraries have sponsored a “trick or truth” research contest. Students are encouraged to “put Ruloff’s ghost to rest” (Two-faced Ithacan Edward Ruloff was known as the “learned murderer” and got into all sorts of scrapes (and by “scrapes” I mean “he killed some folks and got executed but swore before his death that he’d haunt all his foes forever”) by researching primary sources for evidence concerning Ruloff’s crimes. If you’re interested, you can trick-or-truth yourself on the Library homepage. (Although I’m warning you, I’m playing to win—I’d even hold a seance if it meant winning a $25 iTunes gift card!)
Reading Ruloff’s story made me want to do a little more ghost-busting myself, so I decided to look further into my alma mater’s unseelie past. Because googling “Cornell ghosts” failed miserably (apparently there is a singer by the name of Cornell who happens to sing a song titled “Ghosts”; go figure), I decided to search “Cornell hauntings” instead and came upon an old edition of Dear Uncle Ezra, Cornell’s advice column.
Though parts of Ezra’s metaphysical answer read like an ad for The Ghost Whisperer, his stories were a little encouraging. My buddy Ez even claimed that
“in the late 1800s, there may have been a visit or two from the famed English writers/poets Longfellow and Browning. Hiram Corson, a Cornell Professor of Anglo Saxon Literature (1828-1911), apparently studied these 2 authors very closely, and was purported to have had numerous post-humous conversations with them.”
Chatting with Longfellow and Browning? Personally, I really think the English department’s “Ghostly Lecture Series” should be reinstated.
If you’ve got a dead poet wandering the halls of your Ithaca home and are wondering who you gonna call, look no further. The Ghost Hunters of the Finger Lakes seems like an interesting organization, but even after examining through their photo galleries, I still think their website’s hideous black background is the scariest thing they’ve encountered.
Oh, and since I’m on a Ghostbusters kick, I may as well mention that Bill Murray came to Cornell! (That’s what googling “ghostbusters Cornell” will get you.)
So, happy pre-Halloween, readers! If you need me tomorrow night, I’ll be out in the Plantations waiting for the Great Pumpkin.