Let us not overlook Thomas Frederick Crane, also known as Teefy and Vinegar Crane (1844-1927), a lawyer and polyglot with a strong interest in the Middle Ages. As Crane explains in “How I Became a Professor” (Cornell Era 1909), he received his early education in Ithaca, and later matriculated at Princeton University and Columbia Law School. He returned to Ithaca after a close relative became ill and worked in the law office of Francis Miles Finch (later, Dean of Cornell Law School); in May 1866 he was admitted to the bar. Crane had a passion for European languages. One day his friend Alonzo B. Cornell, Chairman of the Tompkins County Republicans (and Ezra Cornell’s son), suggested that he apply for a professorship at the university. Initially, A.D. White was not keen on the idea. But in the summer of 1868, after learning that Willard Fiske would not return to Cornell from Europe until January 1869, White asked Crane to take responsibility for teaching German. During the fall of 1868, Crane supervised the German examination (held in the basement of the library) for entering students, taught a German literature course on Nathan der Weise (1779), and participated in a faculty meeting in Ezra Cornell’s office.
In 1869 Crane spent nine months in Germany, first at Berlin University, where he worked on Spanish, Italian, and Provençal, and then at the Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel, where he studied medieval texts and storybooks. He returned to Ithaca in the fall of 1869 and was appointed assistant professor of Italian and Spanish (he also taught French); in 1872 he was promoted to full professor; in 1881 he became Professor of Romance Languages; and in 1884 he became Chair of the Department of Romance Languages (renamed Romance Studies in 1965). His first scholarly publication was a short lecture, “Medieval Sermon-Books and Stories” (American Folk-lore Society 1883). Crane was co-founder of the Journal of American Folk-lore and served on its board between 1888 and 1892. He had a special interest in medieval religious tales – many of them embedded in sermons – which he regarded as storehouses of information on the manners and mores of different nations and peoples. His devotion to oral literature is described by Jack D. Zipes as follows:
“Crane believed deeply that the oral tradition of the people had been unduly neglected in the study of literature… Throughout his life, he excavated and recuperated neglected tales, stories, poems and songs that provided evidence of customs and mores of the people in specific societies at particular times.” [Introduction to Crane, Italian Popular Tales (2003; originally printed New York: Houghton and Mifflin, 1885)].
Crane also produced meticulous editions of Latin texts, including the Exempla of Cardinal Jacques de Vitry (ca. 1180-1240) (London: Folk-lore Society, 1890) and a little-known but important 12th century text, Liber de Miraculis Sanctae Dei Genitricis Mariae (Paris 1657; repr. Vienna, 1731; repr. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1925). He was the author of Le Romantisme français: A Selection from Writers of the French Romantic School, 1824-1848. Edited for the Use of Schools and Colleges (New York: Putnam’s Sons, 1887) and Italian Social Customs of the 16th Century (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1920).
Crane served as the first Dean of the Arts College (1896-1902), Acting President of Cornell (1900-1901), and Dean of the Cornell Faculty (1902-1909). He was elected a Fellow of the Medieval Academy of America in 1927. He bequeathed to Cornell his personal library, which included a 1474 printed copy of Sermones de Tempore by the Polish Silesian Peregrinus de Opole and a 1504 edition of the lectures and sermons of the Franciscan preacher Pelbartus de Temeswar (Rumania, 1430-1504).
Crane is memorialized in the Cornell fight song, “Give My Regards to Davy,” written in 1905 by three undergraduates and set to the tune of George M. Cohan’s “Give My Regards to Broadway.” The song opens with the phrase, “Give my regards to Davy/Remember me to Teefy Crane”. The reference is to a fictional encounter between an anonymous student and David Fletcher “Davy” Hoy (for whom Hoy Field is named), the registrar and secretary for the committee on student conduct, and Thomas Frederick “Tee Fee” Crane, the first Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. The encounter was triggered by the student’s expulsion on account of binge drinking. Hoy was known for his ferocity as a strict disciplinarian, and Crane, although generally well liked by students, earned the nickname ‘Vinegar Crane’ for his strict enforcement of university policy on alcohol consumption.
Thomas Frederick Crane (left) and David (“Davy”) Hoy, c. 1910.