It was the evening of Oct. 14, 1969, and two frosh stood before the Douglas Cannon, mounted on its brownstone pedestal between South College and the Chapel. Using a jack and electric saw, they freed the cannon from its pedestal and loaded it into a car headed for the White House.
When the students arrived in Washington D.C., they attempted to present it to President Richard Nixon in protest of the Vietnam War.
Intervention by Connecticut’s members of Congress, including Emilio Daddario ’39, prevented the cannon from being stored with other Presidential gifts. It returned to campus in 1970, and was remounted in December, but disappeared before students returned from winter break.
In May 1973, the Argus published a letter from Arthur Eagles ’18. He asked the cannon to return for his 55th reunion, to be held that June. The Class of 1918 was the last to win a cannon scrap.
“Many more changes have taken place since we of 1918 have resided [on campus], but we come back, and enjoy the return,” he wrote. “This year our enjoyment will be greatly enhanced if you are with us.”
Sure enough, the cannon appeared at the reunion, where the men serenaded it. It was later spotted on the back terrace of the DKE fraternity house.
In August 1974, the cannon was stolen again, this time from a Physics department workshop where it was being fitted with new mounts. The Argus received a letter from the cannon.
“It was another hot August night, I just had to get out,” the letter read. “It has been well over a year since I returned to the University following some vain effort to be of service to my country…OOOhhhhhh!!! To be free again…to be alive, to feel it, to know it…Feeling that Wesleyan has so long surpressed. Now as I bask in the South California sun, sipping my gin and tonic and peering down the fourteenth fairway…it all seems so trivial [sic].”
The dean of admission, Robert Kirkpatrick ’60, wrote a letter to the Argus promising a public showing of the cannon if it was returned. A few weeks later, the cannon was paraded across the field during halftime of the homecoming football game.
There hadn’t been a Douglas Cannon appearance for a few years when the University marked its sesquicentennial in 1981. Nancy Campbell, wife of then-President Collin Campbell, was cutting into a large commemorative birthday cake as part of the celebration when she heard a clink. Surprisingly, the cannon was baked into the cake.
Afterward, it was brought to the Public Safety building for safekeeping. In 1982, students dubbed “Doug Addicts” removed a window, broke a lock, and stole the cannon, reportedly leaving behind $5 for the damages.
According to correspondence, the cannon traveled for much of the 1980s. In 1987, the Argus received photos of the cannon, or a duplicate, taken in front of the Eiffel Tower and Buckingham Palace. Also included were complicated clues that could lead authorities to the cannon’s whereabouts.
No one could figure out where the cannon was, but at commencement in June 1988, several masked figures interrupted President Campbell’s speech, presented the cannon, and disappeared.
To commemorate President Chace’s inauguration in 1989, the cannon was remounted on a “theft-proof” base courtesy of Charles Briggs ’49, a retired deputy of the CIA. It stayed there for twenty-nine days until it was stolen, reportedly in under twenty minutes with a “pneumatic or hydraulic device.”
The cannon reappeared at Reunion in 1994 in a large crate with customs stamps indicating that that it had traveled to Venezuela. The next year, with a public safety officer standing guard, the cannon made a brief appearance for President Douglas Bennet’s inauguration.
In December 1998, Professor of Art Jeffrey Schiff’s Topics in Studio Art class constructed a large white obelisk with a brass cannon on top. They exhibited the work in front of North College, and posted a letter from the student body on it calling for the cannon’s return.
A week later at 7:30 a.m., one member of the class, up early working on a final paper, received a mysterious phone call. Ten minutes later, four masked men showed up at the door of her Pearl Street apartment and delivered the 140-pound cannon. They departed quickly, explaining only that “we couldn’t resist the obelisk.”
The student told the Argus that she recognized Bennet, Vice President of the University Peter Patton, and then-interim Dean of Student Services Harry Kinne from behind the masks. All denied involvement.
Schiff cancelled the art class’s final, and the class took the cannon on a trip. First they went to the Hartford Atheneum to view modern art and then to the Meriden Mall, where it was rolled around from store to store in a stroller. The cannon even took a photo with Santa, which was sent to Bennet as a Christmas card. The class decided to present the cannon to the student body as a gift.
Five days later, a plaster box wrapped with a red ribbon appeared in front of the Campus Center. The morning was sunny and unseasonably warm, and a crowd gathered as four students hacked away at the plaster with hammers and chisels. Inside, they found the cannon. The crowd broke into applause as the cannon was quickly rushed away.
In 2000, the cannon’s newest captors, CLAW (Cannon Liberators Aiming West) sent the Argus photos of the cannon in St. Louis, cornfields in Kansas, and playing slot machines in Las Vegas. The cannon also conducted an e-mail interview with the Argus. In 2001, the cannon was carried through MoCon by Eclectic members, but most freshmen didn’t even understand what it was.
The current location of the cannon is unknown, although various Argus articles on the subject have reiterated the belief that it is in the possession of people “not currently enrolled in the University.”
“A lot of students think it has something to do with me because we share a name, but the students have it, and I hold the student body accountable,” President Bennet told the Argus in a recent interview. “I miss it. I know the cannon will show up.”