Fascinating True Stories From the Flip Side of History

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1964 – Unable to Find Affordable Housing, Student Sleeps in Air Vent

There is no question that the cost of going to college here in the United States has skyrocketed over the past several decades.  And it’s not just limited to the tuition.  Books are crazy expensive. There are hidden technology fees added on to every credit.  The cost of student housing has gone through the roof.

During the 1963/64 school year, Yale student Allan Kornfeld was faced with a similar dilemma.  A resident of Tulsa, Oklahoma, the young man had attended his first four years at Yale on a full scholarship. But after receiving his bachelor’s degree in June 1963, he felt that he needed to attend for one more year before heading off to medical school.

His problem was that his scholarship ended on the day of his graduation. He took a bank loan out to pay for a fifth year of tuition, which included meals in campus dining halls, but it wasn’t enough to cover the cost of housing.  Living in an on-campus dormitory limited to matriculated students only, so his only choice was off-campus housing. But that was costly and in limited supply.

1959 yearbook photo of Allan Kornfeld. Edison High School, Tulsa, Oklahoma.
1959 yearbook photo of Allan Kornfeld. Edison High School, Tulsa, Oklahoma.

So, Kornfeld found a cheaper solution. He moved into the attic of Silliman College, Yale’s largest residential college.  He provided the university with an off-campus mailing address. That worked out for a short while, but eventually, campus police caught wind of this and Kornfeld had to make alternative arrangements.

It’s hard to beat free housing, so he opted to take up residence in a ventilation shaft that fed air into Silliman College’s squash courts.

If you are thinking of the confined sheet metal vents that Bruce Willis crawled through in the original Die-Hard movie, think bigger.  This was a brick-lined passageway that measured approximately 4 feet x 40 feet and stood about 10 feet high (1.2 x 12.2 x 3 m high).  That was plenty of room for anyone.

The one thing Kornfeld didn’t want to do was get caught again.  So, he covered the entrance to the ventilation shaft with a piece of plywood and camouflaged it with brick wallpaper.

Inside, he furnished his secret hideaway with a mattress, a dresser, a clock, and a radio. “It was a little cold,” he said. “In the winter I used an electric blanket. But ventilation wasn’t a problem.”

Only a few friends knew about his unusual accommodations, and they never squealed. Once he had completed his spring coursework, he emerged from his cubbyhole and revealed to the public what he had done.

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