Happy Birthday, Chevy! About that Cow…?

This has been a big week for Cornelius Crane Chase (aka Chevy) ex-’66. He celebrates his 66th birthday today. Also, Chevy appeared earlier in the week on The Today Show and told host Meredith Vieira that he had been expelled from Haverford for having a cow in his room (and perhaps some feminine visitors as well, though the presence of women guests was hardly unknown at the Haverford of that era).

cow

cow

Since Chevy’s TV comments, the College has been inundated with inquiries from the press and alumni asking for specifics and/or verification about the bovine incursion.

Indeed, campus folklore continues to credit Chevy with leading a cow up to the higher reaches of Barclay. Since, as everyone seems to know, cows can’t walk downstairs, this visit obviously posed a dilemma for students and administration.

chevy

chevy

The story these days never goes any further than the cow’s arrival.  No one seems to want to think about what happened to the cow. though an e-bay website notes that “the administration was forced to kill the cow, dismember it, and remove it in pieces from Barclay.” However, the website also comments archly that “This particular story bears similarities to legends told at other colleges and universities.”

Chevy must have had a thing for cows. There are also rumors  that Chevy was expelled from the Dalton School, a prestigious New York City incubator for the precocious and the potentially-prosperous, for….we’re not making this up….leading a cow upstairs in the school building. The UES Journal (that’s UES as in Upper East Side) reports the story but also casts doubt on it, noting that Chevy was at Dalton only through 8th grade (at that point, the school was for girls only beyond 8th grade). That publication speculates that the cow incident did happen at Haverford, but reports a version that had the cow being airlifted to safety–and the Bico News once mentioned yet another version in which a crane was used to remove it.

This corner will remain agnostic on the Chevy and the cow episode.  We were on campus during Chevy’s eventful year at Haverford (1962-63), experienced no visual or olfactory evidence of a cow, and heard lots about Chevy but nothing concerning quadrupeds. It certainly could have happened.

The presence of farm animals in Haverford dorms is amply documented. No less a personage than Isaac Sharpless, Haverford dean and president between 1884 and 1918, writes of chickens appearing in dorms and students borrowing the “College horse.”

Henry Joel Cadbury ’03 (as in 1903), who later accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the American Friends Service Committee, used to chuckle over an incident in 1903 when some of the residents of a “small donkey pasture on Railroad Avenue” were escorted to the third floor of Barclay.  Maybe Chevy was just re-creating an old Haverford tradition!

Folklore is notorious for attributing many feats performed over a certain chronological period to one charismatic or heroic figure. Is Chevy’s alleged cowscapade an example of this tendency? Did he really block off Lancaster Avenue and divert traffic through the campus? What about the alleged fake public suicide on Parents’ Day? Did they happen and, if so, was Chevy involved? Probably no one, including Chevy, can now say for sure.

We’re glad the cow story still circulates. If it didn’t happen, it should have. Happy Birthday, Chevy; you live on at Haverford and have inspired generations of students–but maybe it’s a good thing that no cows now graze within many miles of the campus!

Greg Kannerstein ’63

8 Comments

  1. Greg -

    From todays Wall St Journal. I thought you would enjoy the paragraph on McKinley. Maybe this was the inspiration for Chevy Chase’s stunt.

    How Barack Obama Became the Accidental Occidental President
    College Claims Him Even Though He Left Early; Commemorative Diaper Covers in the Bookstore

    By TAMARA AUDI

    LOS ANGELES — When Thomas Stringer, a junior at Occidental College, moved into room A104 of the Haines Hall dormitory, he had no idea that President Barack Obama had slept there — 30 years ago.
    “I thought there’d be a plaque or something,” said Mr. Stringer, a 20-year-old biochemistry student from Seattle. Instead, Mr. Stringer learned about the room’s former occupant from fellow students.
    Mr. Stringer and his roommates fashioned a historical marker of their own. A hand-drawn sign that says “Barack H. Obama VIP Lounge” now hangs from Christmas lights over an armchair.
    Mr. Obama spent two years at Occidental, a small liberal-arts college tucked into a hilly Los Angeles neighborhood, before leaving to complete his undergraduate studies at Columbia University. His autobiography says he left for New York, in part, to be “in the heart of a true city, with black neighborhoods in close proximity.”
    That has presented Occidental, or Oxy, as it’s often called, with a problem: How to deal with its most famous student who matriculated but didn’t graduate.
    For now, the only official evidence of Mr. Obama’s brief tenure is a small glass case displaying photos in a corner of the library. But there are no plaques or statues; there is no museum, scholarship or academic chair in his name. A timeline on the school’s Web site lists 1979 not as the year Mr. Obama arrived as a freshman, but as the year a water-art installation known as “the fountain,” and used in the film “Star Trek III,” arrived on campus.
    Match Game: Presidential Alma Maters
    Match presidents with their schools.
    View Interactive
    Marc Campos/Occidental College
    A BarOxy diaper cover, playing on President Obama’s campaign slogan, highlights 1983, the year President Obama would have graduated from the college if he had stayed.
    More interactive graphics and photos
    “Literally, you could come to Occidental and not know the president was ever here,” says Jonathan Veitch, Occidental’s president.
    That is about to change. The school is considering a statue, an Obama-inspired reading room and lecture series, among other things.
    “I want the fact that he has gone to school here to be more than simply an anecdote,” says Mr. Veitch. “Yes, there are challenges. For one, what does it mean to honor someone who was a student but not a graduate?” he says. But he does feel that the college has the right to claim at least a footnote in the president’s résumé. “Occidental was a starting point for him as an intellectual,” he says. “Sometimes, the beginning matters more than the end.”
    The president does have a living connection to the college, Roger Boesche, the professor with whom he studied the Constitution. Mr. Boesche is still on the faculty. This past summer, the 61-year-old Mr. Boesche got together with his former student in the Oval Office, where Mr. Obama jokingly complained that he got a B on a paper that deserved an A, Mr. Boesche recalls.
    It is not unusual for Ivy League schools to graduate future presidents. (Harvard churned out eight — including Mr. Obama, who graduated from its law school.) But a presidential connection can have immense impact on a small college, boosting prestige and attracting students and donors.
    Occidental officials are studying the examples of other small schools that have produced presidents.
    Five years after his death, President Ronald Reagan (’32) is still bringing cash, students and dignitaries to tiny Eureka College in Illinois. The school has a museum and scholarship program dedicated to the former president. Eureka’s Ronald W. Reagan Peace Garden, christened in 2000, features a bust of Mr. Reagan and a piece of the Berlin Wall.

    This year, Eureka launched the Ronald W. Reagan Society to raise money and expand Reagan-centric academic programs. The school is planning a Reagan film festival, along with a line of hats and shirts. Mr. Reagan is featured prominently on Eureka’s Web site. John D. Morris, the director of development for the Reagan Society, says school officials realized “the greatest thing we might have going for us is the Reagan legacy.”
    Whittier College, a small school founded by Quakers in Orange County, Calif., has a fellowship program named for its presidential alumnus, Richard M. Nixon (’34). The school also has a collection of his papers and artifacts.
    President William McKinley briefly attended Allegheny College in Pennsylvania in 1860, but left without graduating. The school named its campus food court after him with a cow-shaped plaque that says “McKinley’s.” Legend has it that he led a cow up the campus tower as a prank. Cows, according to the story, can walk up stairs, but not down, so the bovine had to be removed “one steak at a time,” the school’s Web site says.
    Occidental has already figured out one way to cash in. It has launched a line of Obama-related T-shirts, keychains, mugs and hats called “BarOxy wear” and emblazoned with “Obama ’83,” the year he would have graduated had he graduated. A diaper cover with “Change We Need” printed on the back sells for $10.95.
    Columbia doesn’t appear to be having the same struggle over how to remember Mr. Obama. A Columbia spokesman said the school doesn’t sell any items advertising the president as a graduate, and didn’t know of any plans for statues or plaques. Mr. Obama is Columbia’s first graduate to become president, though Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt attended Columbia Law School but didn’t complete their degrees. School officials say that while Columbia is proud to claim Mr. Obama as a graduate, the school has produced many political stars.
    Occidental was founded in 1887 by Presbyterians and today has around 1,900 students. The campus is a collection of cream-colored buildings with red-tile roofs set along wide pedestrian boulevards with wood benches shaded by grand trees.
    The school has had more than its share of screen credits. The campus served as the setting for the fictional California University in the television show “Beverly Hills 90210.” Films featuring the Marx Brothers, Jimmy Stewart and Shirley Temple were shot on campus. More recently, Occidental appeared in “Clueless,” starring Alicia Silverstone, and “Made of Honor,” starring Patrick Dempsey.
    Before Mr. Obama, the school’s most famous student was former congressman, football star and Republican nominee for vice president Jack Kemp, who died this year. There are no monuments to Mr. Kemp (’57) either, although Occidental is also considering how it might honor him.
    In his autobiography, Mr. Obama said he chose Occidental partly because he had met a girl from the Los Angeles area. Mr. Reagan also followed a girl to college.
    By his own account, Mr. Obama experienced a political awakening at Occidental. He joined the anti-apartheid movement and gave one of his first political speeches at a rally in front of the college president’s office.
    Occidental is happy to oblige visitors who want to retrace his steps. Recently, a group of 100 tourists from the Ivory Coast arrived at the school in two tour buses asking for an Obama tour. Like any good tour, it ended at the gift shop — in this case, the small campus bookstore that sells “BarOxy wear.”
    “We used to get tourists coming for ’90210,’ ” says Anne Wolf, the director of the campus bookstore.
    The school is planning to print a “Barack Walk” pamphlet to serve as a self-guided tour for visitors.
    Students have initiated a letter-writing campaign to persuade Mr. Obama to speak at graduation. Occidental has offered Mr. Obama an honorary degree, says Mr. Veitch. The White House is aware of Occidental’s efforts and invitation, a school spokesman said, but no official plans have been made for a presidential visit. In an emailed statement, a White House spokesman said the White House “has a longstanding policy of disapproving uses of the President’s name and likeness for commercial purposes.”
    Write to Tamara Audi at tammy.audi@wsj.com

  2. So who invented the funnelator?

  3. With all due respect, I doubt any part of this legend would have survived, whether true or not, if Chevy had not emerged on Saturday Night Live and later in Caddyshack. He would have simply been some long forgotten dropout (well, expellee). At least the tale (or tail?) gives him something to rap about on talk shows.

    Dave Barry (class of 69) is much funnier than Chevy and we knew that long before he won the Pulitzer. That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.

    David Sloane “72

    P.S. Also, respectfully, I must add (in case there should be any question) that the American Friends Service Committee won the Nobel Peace Prize, the old fashioned way – they earned it, feeding victims on both sides of war-torn Europe.

  4. I doubt very much that the cow story is true. I was living in Barclay at the time (and used to play endless games of Ping Pong, as well as pool in Ardmore, with Chevy and a couple of others who didn’t make it back after freshman year), and I certainly have no memory of a literal cow in Barclay. And I know that the infamous closing of Lancaster Avenue and diversion of traffic into the Field House parking lot did not involve Chevy Chase–it happened in the spring of 1964, when Chevy was no longer at Haverford.

  5. I was told a slightly different variant on the tale — rather than Barclay, it was Stokes Hall that received the bovine visitation. As Stokes was being built in 1963, that seems fairly plausible; a construction site seems an easier place to get a cow up with few witnesses, and there were probably cranes on site already to remove the cow once the prank was complete.
    Haverford should invite Chevy for a lecture to clear up some of these urban (scholastic?) legends. After all, following a season on the campus of Greendale Community College, he might welcome a chance to visit a more prestigious, if less awkwardly amusing, alma mater!

  6. I heard a different version from an honor council member of the class of ’64. He said there was no cow involved; it was an academic violation that separated Mr. Chase from Haverford College.

  7. I was a senior when Cornelius C. Chase was a freshman, and his rerouting DID occur while I was there, though the route was from Lancaster Avenue, past Barclay, by Lloyd and back to Lancaster Avenue. It was, in fact, the only stunt I recall that Chevy did orchestrate of the many attributed to him (mock hanging on Parents’ Day, the cow, the dismantled Model T on the 4th (!) Floor of Barclay, long gone when Greg and I arrived in 1959). Perhaps the stunt was reprised in ’64 – I couldn’t say, since I graduated in June of 1963.

  8. Say Greg, wouldn’t Dave Felsen know?

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