April 2, 1998

Cornell releases Kingsbury commission finding: 'It is a pumpkin!'

The Kingsbury commission, appointed by Cornell University Provost Don M. Randel, announced today (April 2) the results of the necropsy of the unidentified object removed from Cornell's McGraw tower on March 13. In a four-word executive summary, the commission found: "It is a pumpkin!"

John Kingsbury, Cornell professor emeritus of plant biology, assembled a group of faculty experts from Cornell's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences to determine whether the object really was a pumpkin. From microscopic slides, videotapes and photographs, the commission formed the highly anticipated conclusion: "Due to the carefully selected composition of this panel, the microscopic details and the gross morphology can be merged into a body of evidence that leads to a single, harmonious conclusion: 'It is a pumpkin!'"

Specifically, the group believes the object is a Cucurbita pepo, a member of the pumpkin family.

The other experts included: Molly Kyle Jahn, associate professor of plant breeding; Henry Munger, professor emeritus of vegetable crops; Dominick Paolillo, professor and chair of the Section of Plant Biology; and Anusuya Rangarajan, assistant professor of fruit and vegetable science.

Following the announcement of the commission's results, William Streett, professor emeritus of chemical engineering, announced the winners of the undergraduate competition, sponsored by the provost to analyze the pumpkin, which spent more than five months perched atop the university's 173-foot-tall McGraw tower.

First place went to Team 318 from the Cornell physics department. Team members included Jon Branscomb of Healdsburg, Calif.; Eldar Noe, from Santiago, Chile; Fred Ciesla, from Sturbridge, Mass.; and Samuel J. Laroque of Santa Cruz, Calif. On March 4, the four senior physics majors used a remote-controlled balloon and Rube Goldberg ingenuity to obtain a sample of the pumpkin.

The students used video and biological samples, an analysis technique known as polymerase chain reaction, and a scanning electron microscope to reach their conclusion. In the team's 30-page report, the students also showed the object to be a pumpkin.

Team 318 found, as did the Kingsbury commission, that the pumpkin had been cored prior to its placement on McGraw tower. Further, Team 318 believes that the coring of the gourd reduced the amount of water in the pumpkin, giving ventilation that allowed the pumpkin to naturally dry out and become "a leathery husk, which could cling to the spire for decades," the report noted.

Team 318 received a $250 check and each team member was given a signed lithograph of Charles Schulz's cartoon "The Great Pumpkin," a Cornell pumpkin T-shirt and a video with episodes from the life of the McGraw pumpkin.

The other contestants included students from the Cornell Materials Research Society, led by senior Jeff Valentine; Steve Gerbracht, a mechanical engineering student; Allegra M. Schafer, a chimesmaster at the McGraw Tower and one of the last people to see the pumpkin before it was placed on the tower; and Weining Qiu, a freshman engineering student.

Since the pumpkin was retrieved March 13, it has been freeze-dried, preserved and put into a museum case. University officials say it will be placed on display in the lobby of Day Hall, the chief administrative building at Cornell.