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Sage Hall: Experiments in Coeducation and Preservation at Cornell University

by Jennifer Cleland and Robert P. Stundtner

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Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Sage Hall Images
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Cajun Carnival

March 11 was stormy, the type of weather that Ithacans expect in late winter: blustery, and spitting a cold rain.A small group assembled, including the Sage Hall project management team, led by Bob, artisans from the Cornell Mason Shop, Elaine Engst, David Stewart, and John Gutenberger.Workers had previously dug around the large cornerstone searching for the capsule with no luck.Ugo Spadolini, a master stonemason, dismantled the bricks on the back of the stone but found nothing. As Bob and the others watched, his foreman, Pete Capolongo, chose a drill with a very long bit and drilled high in the stone, still with no luck.Finally, drilling into the middle of the stone, the bit popped through into a large cavity.Feeling around with a coat-hanger, Pete said he could feel documents.

As Bob recalls the event:

The gray, miserable weather suited the underlying sense of dread I felt that day.At the same time, the windy drizzle accentuated the chill of excitement at the unknown thing we were about to uncover.I was in the middle of a difficult project to stuff a modern business school into the delicate historic façade of Cornell University’s first residence for women, and little was proceeding as planned.Opening the Sage Hall cornerstone and time capsule to reveal Ezra Cornell’s mysterious letter was a diversion from our other troubles, but hardly welcome.

Opening the cornerstone was not a consequence of the construction project, but rather of the curiosity of a student of the Johnson Graduate School of Management who learned of the letter addressed to the “coming man and woman” while researching the history of Sage College and her undergraduate predecessors.Now, a dozen or so modern Pandoras huddled against the weather, most anticipating hope, me worrying about all the things that could go wrong.

What if Pete Capalongo’s drill, used to locate the hollow containing the time capsule within the cornerstone, had shredded the Founder’s letter or damaged some other historic artifact?What if Ugo Spadolini’s electric chisel stabbed through the stone lid and did worse to same?What if Ezra’s letter was a curse upon whosoever shall cause the end to this women’s college?I imagined the earth opening up, the drizzle worsening to a flood creating a third gorge to split the campus, washing our project away.Would this be covered by our Builder’s Risk policy?

Bob felt there was something about this whole exercise that didn’t seem right, but that there was no good reason not to proceed...