Joe Kirschner ’93 with his collection of Cornell memorbelia in the Kroch Library.

Kirschner, with a few items from his collection, in the Kroch Library reading room. (Photo by Jason Koski/Cornell University)

Alum’s Big Red Memorabilia Collection Captures a Bygone Era

“Yell Cornell” is a lavish love letter that brings yesteryear’s players—and fans—to colorful life

By Joe Wilensky

1950 Cornell-Harvard football program
Game programs were once works of art. (Image provided)

It started with a 1950 Cornell-Harvard football game—specifically, with a program for the decades-old contest that Joe Kirschner ’93 found at a garage sale his senior year.

To Kirschner, the booklet—whose cover depicts a young man frantically searching his pockets for his game tickets, as his unamused (Harvard) date looks on—was a window into a vibrant, bygone world.

“There was a lot more formality, pageantry, ceremony—almost a romance about everything,” says Kirschner, himself a dedicated Cornell sports fan.

The program became the first item in what’s now a vast collection of Big Red athletics memorabilia, some 1,000 items strong. Much of it can be viewed on Kirschner’s website, iyellcornell.com.

(The name comes from the “Cornell Yell,” a chant that originated at an 1875 regatta that the Big Red won before a crowd of 25,000.)

Housed and meticulously displayed in Kirschner’s New Jersey home, the collection includes ephemera—tickets, passes, schedules, and receipts—and a dizzying variety of pins, buttons, banners, pennants, ceramics, uniforms, and more.

1908 ticket to Cornell vs. Penn game
A 1908 game ticket boasts intricate detail. (Image provided)

One octagon-shaped “all privilege badge”—its red cord still attached—grants the wearer access to the October 27, 1894 Harvard-Cornell championship “foot-ball” game at New York City’s Manhattan Field.

A red felt baseball cap (still vividly carnelian, save for the bright white “C”) sits on a shelf more than 120 years after it perched on the head of Thomas Richard Sanders, a pitcher on the 1899 and 1900 teams.

A photo postcard of Touchdown—Big Red football’s live bear mascot, purchased from an animal trainer in 1915—sports a handwritten note, postmarked that December: “He has gone back to Oldtown, Me. to rest after a hard and most successful season. May he sleep in peace and be on the job in 1916.”

Cornell women's basketball club pennant, circa 1915
Kirschner’s collection also includes women’s sports memorabilia, like this basketball pennant—measuring nearly a yard long—from 1915. (Image provided)

A family of Big Red fans

Kirschner—a New Jersey native who was a devoted fan of New York sports teams growing up—majored in agricultural economics in CALS.

(So did his wife, ThuTrang Du ’93, now an associate director at Weill Cornell Medicine; the couple and their two daughters often attend Big Red hockey games, especially the annual contest at Madison Square Garden.)

After graduation, Kirschner went to work at the consulting firm Accenture. Meanwhile, he continued to add to his rapidly growing collection, scouting out Big Red memorabilia as well as items from other Ivy teams.

A Cornell rower is pictured on this football-shaped mug from 1905
A football-shaped mug from 1905 bears the image—paradoxically—of a Big Red rower. (Photo by Jason Koski / Cornell University)

Kirschner—who ultimately plans to donate most or all of his collection to the University Archives—found himself drawn to items from the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Back then, he explains, contests between the country’s elite universities (the term “Ivy League” wasn’t created until the 1930s) dominated the athletic scene and were front-page news across the country.

They’re not just pieces of memorabilia; they really bring you back to a past time.

By the early 2000s, Kirschner had created a website to host images of his collection, as well as to tell the stories behind it.

“Nothing comes to life by itself,” he stresses. “They’re not just pieces of memorabilia; they really bring you back to a past time. It’s that connection.”

A 1962 program from a Cornell vs. Brown Homecoming game
A Homecoming program from 1962. (Image provided)

Once word of his collection began to spread, people with unusual or rare items began to seek him out. That’s how he obtained what he described as one of his “holy grails”: a complete Cornell baseball uniform dating to 1906. It came into Kirschner’s possession via the granddaughter of its wearer (catcher and centerfielder Edwin Hamilton “Ham” Hastings 1907), then in her 70s.

“Joe’s collection is focused—on athletics—which enables him to collect in a targeted fashion, and build a cohesive selection of items that helps fill a niche in the story of Cornell’s history,” says University Archivist Evan Earle ’02, MS ’14.

Compared with generalized collections of Cornelliana, Earle says, focused acquisitions like Kirschner’s “can build deep groupings of material that have more historic value.”

To underscore how even a small item exemplifies his passion for vintage Big Red memorabilia, Kirschner points to a ticket from an 1898 Cornell-Penn football game.

Seven lively Big Red bears spell out "Cornell" on this 1950s-era banner
A 1950s-era banner sports seven lively bears. (Image provided)

“It’s the amount of effort, the quality, that went into this engraving of a football,” he explains, emphasizing the exquisite detail in the two-color printing—not only of the text and imagery, but also the intricate background.

“They didn’t just slap it on,” he adds. “It’s from a time where they really tried to celebrate the event, and all the other things that went into it.”

Top image: Kirschner, with a few items from his collection, in the Kroch Library reading room. (Photo by Jason Koski / Cornell University)

Published May 31, 2022


Comments

  1. Melinda Dower, Class of 1978

    What an amazing collection! Is it possible to see it? I’m in New Jersey 😁

  2. Ron Livecchi, Class of 1970

    Mr. Kirschner, are you looking for memorabilia from the late 1960’s? I have a few items, football game programs, etc. Let me know if you do and I can get the detail to you.

  3. Jon Wardner, Class of 1979

    This is great stuff, from the glory years of Cornell crew and football. Many current students and younger alumni are unaware of Cornell’s 5 national championships in football, from 1915 to 1939.

    In more recent decades, Big Red teams have made the national spotlight in sports such as lacrosse, hockey, wrestling, equestrian, and track & field — and in men’s basketball in 2010.

    “Far rings the glory of the story of Cornell” – from Cornell Victorious

  4. Margaret Gallo, Class of 1981

    Fabulous collection…thank you for sharing!

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