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site of Ezra Cornell's birthplace is now a McDonald's

The site of Ezra Cornell's 1807 birthplace in what was then Westchester Landing, New York, is now a McDonald's at 1515 Williamsbridge Road in the Bronx. Photo: Provided.

Ezra Cornell's birthplace: The epic trek

Anisha Chopra '13 and Alexander Bores '13 began a new tradition with a Jan. 11 trip to McDonald's

Anisha Chopra '13 and Alexander Bores '13

Anisha Chopra '13 and Alexander Bores '13 traveled to Ezra Cornell's birthplace -- now a McDonald's in the Bronx -- on Jan. 11 in honor of the founder's birthday. Photo: Provided.

At first it was more of a joke than a plan: Visit Ezra Cornell's birthplace on the date of his birth, Jan. 11.

"Ezra Cornell was actually born in New York on what is now a McDonald's in the Bronx," says Anisha Chopra '13.

She and classmate Alexander Bores '13 learned this bit of university lore their senior year in The First American University, a Cornell history course (AMST 2001) taught by Corey Earle '07. Soon after his birth, the infant who would found Cornell University moved with his parents to DeRuyter, New York, but his actual birthplace held a special attraction.

"Anisha and I looked at each other and said, we have to do this," says Bores.

The two graduated in May 2013, Chopra with a government major and Bores from ILR, and moved on to jobs in New York City. Chopra works at Morgan Stanley and Bores works at Palantir, a software company.

Chopra forgot about their plan until the first week of January 2015, when Bores texted her a screen shot of his calendar reminder for Jan. 11: visit Ezra's birthplace.

Ezra Cornell's father, Elijah Cornell

Ezra Cornell's father, Elijah Cornell (1771-1862). Ezra Cornell was born on January 11, 1807 at Westchester Landing in the town and county of Westchester, New York. Photo: Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections.

He'd narrowed down the location from a possible list of McDonald's restaurants in the Bronx, relying on knowledge from Earle. It wasn't easy: "His description was based on town names that no longer apply [Westchester Landing], and a river," Bores says.

Jan. 11 fell on a Sunday this year. "It happened to be on the day of the no-pants ride," says Chopra. "People take off their pants to ride on the subway, which made me very uncomfortable."

Chopra braved crowds of underwear-clad riders taking photos of each other to find Bores. Together they endured a long ride with plenty of weekend delays: "We're going to the Bronx. Every single train is running local …"

The subway journey from Manhattan was slow, but the two friends used the time to catch up. By the time they reached their stop and took the 15-minute walk to their destination -- the place on Earth where the founder of Cornell University took his first breath -- they were reminiscing about "the stupid things we did in college" and starting to get excited.

They arrived at the McDonald's on Williamsbridge Road giddy with remembrance, anticipation and the importance of Cornell in the world.

Ezra Cornell's mother, Eunice Cornell

Ezra Cornell's mother, Eunice (Barnard) Cornell (1788-1857). Eunice and Elijah were married for nearly 52 years and had 11 children, six sons and five daughters, all of whom lived to adulthood. Photo: Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections.

Chopra wondered, "Will there be an Ezra instead of a Ronald McDonald?"

There was no Ezra statue -- not even a plaque to commemorate the birth of the founder of New York's land-grant university.

"It was not like a farm," says Bores.

Instead, there was an employee at the counter: "You guys going to order?"

Somewhat deflated, Bores and Chopra ordered burgers. They ate. They asked "the only guy in the world who didn't know how to take a photo with an iPhone," says Chopra, to document their accomplishment; he took the picture upside down.

"It was a mess of a trip, which was great," says Chopra. She feels it was an achievement to have reached the unremarkable McDonald's on an unremarkable New York street because they had talked about the pilgrimage for so long, and to think about the incredible legacy Ezra Cornell has left to the world.

"That's the reason I was able to go to that school and meet my best friends," says Chopra. A member of the Class of 2013 council, Chopra thinks of Cornell as home, the place where she met most of her friends and is still "very, very, very connected."

Will they repeat the epic trek again next Jan. 11?

"Definitely," Bores says, adding that Cornell has benefitted McDonald's in other ways, too: The inventor of the chicken nugget was a Cornellian, Robert C. "Bob" Baker '43; and Al Bernardin '52 was a franchise owner who invented the Quarter Pounder and later, as the vice president of product development, helped develop the Filet-O-Fish and other signature menu items.

Chopra wants to bring more friends next time: "It was a nice tradition to start."

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