Regarding Freddie

Submitted by jjcho on April 19, 2017 - 10:44pm

Facebook reported recently that Jed Donahue '91 had taken a job with Space X in Santa Monica. But lest he think he is the first to work in a cool, Elon Musk-associated industry, I remind everyone that Freddy Pearce was already working in electric cars a few years ago.

By "few," I mean 109. After graduating in 1908, Freddie went straight to work for the Champion Wagon Company of Owego, makers of fine horseless delivery vans and light trucks. He'd work for a total of six electric car companies in the Northeast over the next eight years. He was the first automotive engineer in the house, the term "automotive engineer" having been invented some time during his sophomore year.

It was a good time to be an engineer, especially one who knew his way around an electric motor. A letter to the editor of The Jeweler's Circular, April 27, 1898, asked where a fan that ran on clockwork or water power could be found. In reply:

We do not know of anybody who makes fans to run by clock work or by water motor, but of manufacturers of fans run by electricity there are several. Frederick Pearce, 77 John St, New York, makes fans of this character, selling at from $12 upward.

That's Fred Pearce, Sr. of course. To save you the extrapolation, that $12 in 1898 is about $331 in 2016 dollars on a CPI basis, good enough to provide for Freddie Jr. as he made his way through the famed Brooklyn Boys' High School. At Boys' he met Neil Preston, who would follow him to Cornell with the Class of '08.

Freddie was, by accounts, that brother who always wanted to be where the action was, the first to do anything and everything. He struck the first blow— a curtain rod applied to sophomore fingers— in defense of the friends hiding in an attic before the frosh banquet. He was the author of ISWZA's lost ritual, and thus the first to know its "mysteries." And he was always the first up for a football game or a night at the bars. As Leon Brockway said, "He seems to be at home anywhere, usually somewhere else."

We all knew someone like him in the house. Put a ballcap on him and he'd fit in today, right down to the vaguely punchable face.

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He was beaten out as the first Mug and Jugger to marry, but he was the first to have a child, a daughter born in June 1913 a week ahead of Ernst Fischer's son. A few months after that, he returned for the installation of Omicron Zeta, to be with the first ISWZA alumni to be initiated as Cornell Lambda Chis. He did not arrive in one of his electric cars, but he'd surely have been the first, if only the roads were a little better and there was some place to get decent drinks in Vestal.

He was the first to shock everyone with his weight loss, meeting brothers for lunch in Midtown. It was not the good kind of weight loss— he was the first Omicron to catch the consumption. He was the first to check into a sanitarium, the Ulster County Tuberculosis Hospital. He was the first to lose his voice, the voice that had led so many football cheers and so many rounds of singing after dinner. He was the first to die on a Tuesday, on April 19, 1917. He was the first to die. Omicron-31 had not yet turned 31.

He was, of course, the first brother to gain a memorial. The Frederick Kingsley Pearce Memorial Library remains at the house to this day— not a room, but the collection of literary Cornelliana in the chapter library. I don't blame you if you didn't know that. His memorial was also the first to be forgotten. There is no mention of it by name in the records after the 1940s, long past his widow's remarriage, as the Mug and Jug generation was starting to fade away, and long after having a fine library had ceased to be a central point of pride for a fraternity.

I thought I would write about Freddie the First a century after his passing; to let him be the first to be remembered again. As a whole, our chapter could do much better with our history, whether it is proper maintenance of our memorials or simply the recording of stories. My hopes that we could have a proper memorial room in the new house were quashed because the helicopter parents of our spoiled undergraduates demand things like "indoor plumbing" and "doors" take priority.

But now that our corporate reorganization is largely complete, I'd like to return to the project, to provide proper context so that Mitchell and Hollengreen aren't just names on a plaque to the actives, and so that we can see the destroyed World War I memorial replaced (destroyed in bits and pieces over several decades, no blame to assign), and to flesh out our photo collection so that the decade of the '60s is not defined entirely by David Kukulinsky's albums, however worthy they are. Let me know if you can help out.