- For decades, a 100-year-old cannon has been a part of undergraduate
traditions at Caltech and a regular stop on campus tours.
Then, last Tuesday, it disappeared. But Thursday morning, the
truth was finally revealed: The 1.7-ton cannon had been safely
transported 3,000 miles to the campus of rival school MIT.
The large gun had become the unwitting subject of a prank in
retaliation for one that Caltech students played on the East Coast
college a year ago.
"It validates what we did last year; it was worthy of a great
response," said Tom Mannion, Caltech's assistant vice president of
The cannon disappeared in the pre-dawn hours of March 28.
Earlier that morning, Caltech security had stopped a flat-bed truck
carrying the large gun on Wilson Street, which runs along the eastern
edge of campus. A group of about seven people in their twenties claimed
they were hired to move the cannon across campus.
"The people that stopped them were presented with some very
valid looking documentation," said Caltech's head of security, Gregg
Henderson. "The person who was the spokesperson or foreman of the job
was very convincing."
Security watched as the movers deposited the cannon and left. But when the officers returned, it was gone.
With no sign of the cannon by late the next day, Henderson filed a report with the Pasadena Police Department.
"Their initial reaction, to be quite honest, was that it was a prank. I mean, Caltech is known for pranks," Henderson said.
undergraduates have engaged in elaborate pranks in the past, including,
famously, changing the Hollywood sign to read "Caltech," but are
required by the school honor code to leave a note when they do.
In addition, the undergraduates consider certain items of importance to student traditions - including the cannon - off-limits.
at nearby Harvey Mudd, one of the Claremont Colleges, were also
suspect. They had stolen the cannon in a nearly identical manner - down to the fake construction crew with phony documents - almost 20 years ago to the day.
Nobody on the Harvey Mudd College campus had heard anything about a repeat attempt, though, Henderson said.
Then came a break in the case.
received a telephone call Tuesday of this week, anonymous, saying
everything's fine," he said. "Two days later, it's in Cambridge,
"It's finally definite retaliation for what we did last year," Mannion said.
Last April, Caltech students had carried out a number of pranks at MIT.
distributed folded, shrink-wrapped shirts to visiting prospective
students that said "MIT" on the front and "because not everybody can go
to Caltech" on the back, and also used a low-powered laser to spell out
CALTECH across the top of a prominent campus building.
For now though, MIT students have the last laugh.
cannon, which usually sits in front of the Fleming undergraduate house
on campus and is fired with blanks several times a year to mark
important dates, now sits in the middle of the MIT campus.
Students, staff and alumni are already planning for its
return, and how to stage a clever retaliation prank of their own,
Just knowing where it is is enough relief for now, Henderson said.
"It's all in good spirit, but it did cause me some sleepless nights."
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