Last Saturday night’s scavenger hunt was intended to be the capstone of the inter-class Weswars festivities; but, with a single text message, several students were suddenly thrown into a wrestling bout with a cadre of masked men, a delirious high-speed car chase, and the ever mysterious, screwball legacy of one of the University’s greatest legends: the Douglas Cannon. The cannon has flitted in and out of students’ awareness for the past fifty years, its presence plunging chosen Weswars participants into a history rife with Soviet agents, daring heists, the United States president, and birthday cake.
In the midst of a Weswars scavenger hunt, the final event in the competition between class years, several participating students received text messages claiming the discovery of the Douglas Cannon at the foot of Foss Hill. Arya Alizadeh ’13 had been scavenging with his hall mates when he received word of the cannon’s discovery, the final task in the night’s game.
“The sophomores had found it,” said Alizadeh. “They were surrounding it in the bed of this red pick up. There were men and women in black hoods and those masks robbers wear, standing guard.”
Samantha Pop ’11 had also heard the rumors and rushed with her team of juniors to join the flock of curious students at the bottom of Foss. Both members of the Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA), Alizadeh and Pop encountered each other within the crowd and, noting a once in a lifetime chance, hatched a plan to seize the prized cannon for grade glory.
“People were milling around, taking pictures with the cannon, touching it, with these four adults in ski masks,” recounted Pop. “So, I looked at Arya, and you’re a Wesleyan student, when you’re in the presence of the Douglas Cannon, you have to try and steal it!”
Cutting an imposing figure, former high school wrestler Alizadeh leapt into the back of the pick-up truck, followed by Pop, and, hoping to follow in the long tradition of cannon theft, attempted to throw the masked guards off the famed cannon.
Plucked from the Douglas Armory in Middletown in the mid-1800s, the cannon had originally been part of the annual “cannon scraps” between freshmen and sophomores, a race to either set off or silence the cannon. After the yearly battles were banned in 1916, the cannon was mounted on College Row in 1931, where it remained for nearly thirty years. Yet its engraved epitaph, “The Douglas Cannon / Born in Obscurity / Reared in Strife / Tempered by Travel / Never Discouraged / Home at Last,” would prove woefully ironic and comically true. Disappearing on an early spring morning in 1959, the cannon was passed through University dorms, discovered in classrooms, and dropped out of windows before finding its way into the United Nations, where it was presented to the secretary of the Russian delegation, Nikoli Burov, as a gift of friendship between the University and the Soviets in 1961.
“Evidently the Russians had been completely taken in by the hoax,” Dean of Students Mark Barlow, tasked with retrieving the cannon, told The Argus in 1963.
Home at last for all of two years, the cannon disappeared again in 1965, turning up on the desk of then Life Magazine managing editor George P. Hunt in 1966, and at the gates of the White House as a gift to then President Richard Nixon in protest of the Vietnam War. The cannon disappeared and reappeared various times throughout the ’70s before surfacing again in 1981 at the University’s sesquicentennial (150 year) celebration. In the midst of cutting the celebratory cake, Nancy Campbell, wife of President Colin Campbell, heard a resounding clink, as the cannon baked inside the cake met her knife.
The cannon, which was thought to be in University administration hands for much of the nineties, returned to students in 1998 by four masked men, two of whom were rumored to be President Douglas Bennet and Vice President Peter Patton. Both, however, denied involvement. Once again in student hands, the cannon was documented playing slots in Las Vegas, cruising the streets of Kansas City, and parading through the former MoConaughy Dining Hall, with an entourage of Eclectic members. Many students saw the cannon’s first appearance on campus since President Roth’s inauguration as a momentous occurrence.
Pop and Alizadeh grappled with the hooded cannon-guards for several minutes before the truck began to drive off, with Alizadeh still planted in the back of the car.
“We wrestled for a good two minutes,” said Alizadeh, “These were big guys! They began to speed off and I was stuck in the cab.”
“He jumped out,” said Pop, with a chuckle, “My roommate and I jumped in our car and started having this speed-limit car chase. They had a white piece of paper over the license plate number—they were pretty in to it.”
The cars pulled out onto Vine Street, where Pop lost the truck for a moment, before finding the red pick-up laying low in the driveway of the Middletown Fire Department. Darting up Long Lane, Pop and her roommate continued their pursuit of the shadowy cannon-keepers.
“We chased them all over Middletown, down to Wadsworth,” Pop said, “We eventually turned into a Cul-de-Sac and we tried to block them in. They proceeded to swerve around me and another car came behind us, so we weren’t able to turn around fast enough. That’s where we lost them.”
Pop, a member of the Cardinal Council, a group of students who work with the University Relations Office to promote school spirit among students and alumni, has a theory as to the identity of the masked men and women.
“I’m pretty sure it was them at the Relations Office,” Pop said. “I saw one of the peopled I worked with there discreetly walk outside of the office while we were on the scavenger hunt, so I thought something was up. I was pretty sure he knew where it was, and if it was part of the scavenger hunt, someone had to of known about it.”
Despite Pop’s hypothesis, speculation is still rampant as to the cannon’s possessors. Posters on the ACB have conjectured that the cannon is located in the “top floor of Eclectic” and are “100% sure” that the brothers of Psi U are in fact in possession.
Others, still, are unsure of the authenticity and validity of the cannon that was found. Pictures of the cannon from that night, although shaky, show a slim, straight, golden cannon on a set of wooden stands; this stands in sharp contrast to old pictures in which the cannon is smoother and cold grey. Although the lighting is disorienting and the cannons depicted are similar, they are different enough to add further layers to the Douglas Cannon mystery.
The incident last Saturday night raised a host of questions: does the University really still have the cannon? Are those maniac drivers in ski masks from a week ago now sitting behind desks at the University Relations building? Are there two cannons? Which is the real one?