1967 blaze at Cornell University
April 13, 2018 7:48 AM   Subscribe

Never Solved, a College Dorm Fire Has Become One Man’s Obsession [SLNYT] The 1967 blaze at Cornell University killed 9, including members of a fast-track Ph.D. program. No one was ever charged, but an amateur investigator thinks he knows who set it.
posted by sperose (20 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Just read this this morning and thought, I'll bet it'll be posted to Metafilter!

Fascinating description of the whole "Phud" program, and what the thinking was about "gifted" students in the 1960s.
posted by Melismata at 7:56 AM on April 13, 2018

I found it strange that although the article mentioned the suspiciousness of multiple fires following the students about, the bulk of the interest is only on the fatal one.
posted by inconstant at 8:09 AM on April 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

"To preserve its heritage, and as a distraction from lingering depression over a woman who “dumped” him 15 years earlier, he decided to write its history. "

"He knows his conservative politics rankle some of them. “I find liberals to be more destructive than terrorists,” he said."

Obsessive white man thinks he can personally do better than several government agencies, professional crime investigators and that a liberal-leaning university is hampering investigations despite evidence to the contrary? GOSH. WHAT A SURPRISE.
posted by FritoKAL at 8:54 AM on April 13, 2018 [41 favorites]

One of the students who died was a relative, and other family have been involved with this investigation*

I would just say that this: It bothers Mr. Fogle that, in his view, the Phuds and families of the victims didn’t complain more about Cornell’s behavior and that few sued the university. ignores the very real pain experienced by my family members and some pretty reasonable emotional explanations for why they didn't further pursue litigation.

I was raised hearing the story of how Cornell settled with my relatives' parents for less money than Jeff Smith's parents got because, in their actuarial estimation, her lifetime earnings would have been lower than his. Maybe not the most fucked up part of all of this but its right up there. . .
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 9:01 AM on April 13, 2018 [58 favorites]

My parents were both Cornell Class of '68, and I grew up hearing about the Res Club fire. This article is really fascinating. One of the points my mom always talked about was what a death-trap the place was. I remember her talking about all the changes that happened after the fire, with real fire drills in the middle of the night, training for students on how to get out, upgrades to the dorms and the like. The article touches on some of that, and it seems to me that the University was the biggest culprit, both for putting together this pressure cooker of possibly-unstable people and also for putting anyone at all in that building.

As a Cornell grad myself, I find the responses from the University today, as part of this article, to be rather insufficient. Guess they're still afraid of litigation? Anyway, a sad story all around.
posted by dellsolace at 9:48 AM on April 13, 2018 [11 favorites]

> it seems to me that the University was the biggest culprit

Yeah, I came in to say an amateur Metafilterer knows who is responsible, and it's Cornell. Perhaps with a side-dish of local authorities for not cracking down hard enough on their complete & obvious irresponsibility with respect to fire code and student safety.

The only plus side is it sounds as though Cornell did make some major changes afterwards.
posted by flug at 11:02 AM on April 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

Interesting.. While reading about the phud program, that was ringing all sorts of bells.. Then, WHAM, saw the name in TFA of a person I worked on a project with for about 8 months.. He had mentioned being in a fast-track phd program at Cornell one time, and this ties it together. Interesting.
posted by k5.user at 11:04 AM on April 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

“Who tries to get a Ph.D. in six years?”

Unless this was a group trying to go from high school graduate straight to a PhD in 6 years, the time frame isn't unusual. If the former, yes that's damn fast. If the latter, I took 6 years for my PhD and I wasn't exactly a speed demon in terms of workload. But compressing that down to a BS in 2-3 years and a PhD in another 3-4? Nuts.
posted by caution live frogs at 11:32 AM on April 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

> Unless this was a group trying to go from high school graduate straight to a PhD in 6 years

It sounds like this is what it was. The article mentions that one student in the program was 14 years old and, before coming to Cornell, didn't even know what a Ph.D. was.
posted by a mirror and an encyclopedia at 11:48 AM on April 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

Yes, this program was to take students who had not attended college and get them through their doctorates in the normal time a PhD would take . . . if one already had a college degree.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 12:07 PM on April 13, 2018

""He knows his conservative politics rankle some of them. “I find liberals to be more destructive than terrorists,” he said.""

"Mr. Fogle’s rummaging through the past gets him heated up. “He has become obsessed with this event and declared it a murder without any evidence to support it,” he said. “He’s not interested in the truth. He’s interested in weaving a story of his own making.”"

Yeah, this about sums up why this person isn't credible or worth attention.
posted by GoblinHoney at 12:20 PM on April 13, 2018 [7 favorites]

Went to Cornell from '80 to '84 and I had never heard of this.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 12:55 PM on April 13, 2018

Self-appointed investigator dude has a raging case of engineer's disease. "I'm a historian." Lol. No you're not.

Plus, he's pining over someone who dumped him 15 years ago and he's fucking married. ?????? There's no emoticon for what I'm feeling right now.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 2:22 PM on April 13, 2018 [7 favorites]

The NYT does a good job for a change, balancing the facts: 1) Cornell wasn't on the ball, and 2) the narrator, while unreliable, did come up with some interesting clues.
posted by Melismata at 2:44 PM on April 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

But compressing that down to a BS in 2-3 years and a PhD in another 3-4? Nuts.

I think 4 year (US) PhDs were reasonably common in the 1960s, at least in some subjects. (I'm trying to confirm this, but, of course, anyone with a PhD from the 1960s doesn't bother putting their CV on their website.) The madness comes from expecting a 17 or 18 year old to sign up for doing a PhD in the first place (never mind choosing a subject, which they'd surely have had to do quickly). And I say that as someone who was pretty clearly headed for a PhD in a specific subject from age 17, but I had endless time to change course without "failing".

Of course, there are 7-year BA/BS-MD programs. UIC does frame theirs as "guaranteed admission" to the MD.
posted by hoyland at 3:55 PM on April 13, 2018

I actually lived in this dorm at Cornell in 2003. We had always heard chatter about it but never any real details. Crazy to know the whole backstory....
posted by waylaid at 6:42 PM on April 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

I had no idea there were so many Cornellians here. (Looks like I missed ZenMasterThis by a year.) I lived on Upper North Campus for the second half of the 80s, and I always soaked up all sorts of campus history, but never heard the wispiest of mentions of this (or, if I had, have long forgotten). I'm seeing that it was on Country Club off of Triphammer, but I can't place what was there by '85. waylaid -- what dorm was it in 2003?

I'm not interested in Fogle, but will likely spend the weekend going down the rabbit hole of the Cornell Daily Sun archives to get a picture of how it was covered back then.
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 9:57 PM on April 13, 2018

Ha, waylaid, we might have run into each other. (Class of ‘06 here). I spent the whole article wondering where on campus the Hall was, having never heard about the fire in my four years. Ecology House? Huh. Pretty sure I never went there, but I knew it existed (I lived in Low Six in 02/03, and then rented off campus).
posted by Alterscape at 7:01 AM on April 14, 2018

my dad, who got his MBA at Cornell in the early sixties, just told me that his PhD from Stanford took him about five or six years with an estimated completion date of 1967. I think he might have completed it a year or two earlier but trust his time estimate.
posted by mwhybark at 2:24 PM on April 14, 2018

I have family roots in Ithaca that go back to the 19th century (I was born in California myself) and constantly I was warned about staying in old college dorms - inevitably my mom or my grandfather would mention this fire.
posted by quartzcity at 12:26 AM on April 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

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