The Douglas Cannon
Douglas cannon is a cannon owned by Wesleyan University of
Connecticut which was originally notable for being used in annual
"cannon scraps" (contests to attempt to fire or prevent the firing
of the cannon), but which in later years became known for being
repeatedly stolen. The cannon, made of brass, weighs 140 pounds and
is 29½ inches long and 5¼ inches in diameter. It was originally
mounted on a wooden carriage, but in 1931 it was mounted on a stone
During the middle of the nineteenth century at
Wesleyan, cannons were fired to celebrate the Fourth of July
holiday. In 1859, the school calendar was changed such that school
was not in session during the Fourth of July holiday.
to its acquisition by the college, the campus was occupied by
Captain Partridge's American Literary, Scientific and Military
Academy. As a result, several old cannon were partly buried in the
ground as posts. In order to celebrate George Washington's birthday,
one of these was dug up, cleaned, and fired in the early morning
hours by some freshman students.
The early morning cannon
fire was repeated in 1860, much to college president Cumming's
annoyance. By 1867, though, an annual tradition was established in
which members of the freshman class (first year students) would
attempt to fire a cannon on the morning of February 22, while
members of the sophomore class tried to prevent this from happening.
These contests were known as "cannon scraps".
1867 was also
the first year that the Douglas cannon was used in the scrap. The
Douglas battery was an
artillery regiment named for Middletown mayor
Benjamin Douglas. A new cannon
was borrowed, presumably by the freshman, for the scrap. In 1869, a
cannon fired with too much powder destroyed the library windows, and
from them until 1893, cannon scraps were held off-campus.
Some insight into the scraps of this era is given by an article in
an 1877 edition of the school newspaper, The College Argus.
Apparently, members of the freshman class would attempt to locate
one or more cannon and acquire some powder and ammunition.
Sophomores would attempt to prevent this by means ranging from
renting the cannon before the freshman could, to stealing the cannon
or powder or ammunition, sometimes via straightforward physical
violence. Freshmen were often followed by sophomores if it seemed
that they might be going in search of a cannon.
In the 1877
scrap, once acquired, one cannon was guarded by five freshmen armed
with shotguns and axes. At 10pm on the 21st of February, a group of
sophomores approached, and claiming to be freshmen, joined the group
and managed to take possession of the ammunition. They were trying
to persuade the actual freshmen to leave the cannon when new
arrivals recognized them as sophomores and they were chased off.
Meanwhile, another crew was transporting a second cannon into
position, and eventually both were fired.
In 1880, the
Douglas cannon was stolen by the sophomores and sunken in the
Connecticut River. Under threat of lawsuit by the cannon's owners,
the sophomores later hired a diver to retrieve the cannon. Around
1900, the Douglas Pump Works donated the cannon to the university.
Starting in 1893, the scraps were held on campus, and a set of
rules was imposed, basically making the scrap into a contest that
revolved around hiding the cannon and then sneaking it into position
on the morning of the 22nd. Once in position, the sophomores had
lost and had to allow the firing to take place.
cannon into position was a matter both of stealth and of force; the
sophomores would attempt to steal the cannon while the freshman hid
it, sometimes for months. If sighted on the way to firing position,
mobs of sophomores would swarm the cannon team and attempt to
physically overwhelm them. Elaborate preparations and tactics were
employed, including multiple decoy cannon and kidnappings.
1905, the sophomores erected a large barricade of snow and wire. The
freshman set off a false fire alarm, and used the confusion caused
by the arrival of the fire department to haul the cannon into the
firing area. In order to win, the freshmen had to keep the cannon in
the firing area for fifteen minutes; the sophomores rushed them and
a melee ensued, but the freshmen were able to hold their position.
Meanwhile, the fire department, annoyed at the false alarm and the
melee, drenched the students with their fire hoses.
a nearly unanimous vote ended the cannon scraps, though there was
one revival in 1923.
In 1931 during the college's centennial
celebration, the new home of the cannon was revealed. The carriage
had been removed (the wheels now serve as chandeliers in a
university building) and the cannon filled with lead and mounted to
a stone pedestal with a bronze plaque. It sat there for 26 years.
In March, 1957, the modern tradition of stealing the cannon
began. It was removed the night of March 12, hidden in Middletown,
taken to New York and Iowa, and returned by masked figures in June
1958 during a reunion luncheon. It was remounted to its base over
A bit over a year later, in November 1959, it was
stolen again. In March 1961, students in possession of the cannon
presented it to Nikolai Bourov, head of the Soviet Union's
delegation to the United Nations, claiming that they represented the
student senate and that it was a gift to the students of the USSR,
in order to symbolize "peace, brotherhood, and friendship". In
April, the Dean of students, Mark Barlow, drove to New York,
explained the situation to the diplomats, and recovered the cannon.
Students believing the cannon to be hidden in Barlow's basement
broke in so many times during the next 20-odd months that Barlow
later told the school paper "we had to leave flashlights around so
that they wouldn't use matches and start a fire,". In 1963, the
cannon was remounted.
In May 1965, the cannon was stolen again,
appearing in 1966 on campus and in 1967 at the office of the
managing editor of Life Magazine in New York, and was returned to
the university in time for that year's graduation. During its
absence, letters supposedly authored by the cannon were received by
In 1969, the cannon was again stolen from its
pedestal and brought to the White House in Washington, DC. It was
presented at the gates as a present to president Richard M. Nixon
protesting the Vietnam War. Members of Connecticut's congressional
delegation managed to arrange for the cannon's return to Wesleyan.
Remounted in December 1970, it was soon stolen again.
pattern of repeated thefts and brief appearances on campus, as well
as the receipt of letters and postcards from the cannon, continued
from the 1970s until the present time (2007). The letters from the
cannon would sometimes include photographs of the cannon in remote
locations, including Montreal, London, and Paris. It's unclear that
the cannon was actually taken to those places, though the shipping
case bearing the cannon in 1994 did have Venezuelan customs seals on
it. There's suspicion of university complicity in these later
appearances and disappearances of the cannon; certainly the November
2007 appearance indicates that the cannon is under university
The appearances often coincide with significant
campus events, such as the 1973 reunion of the class of 1918, the
final class to have won the classic cannon scraps. A member of the
class wrote an open letter to the cannon in the Argus asking that it
return for the reunion, and upon appearing it was seranaded by the
alumni. It was stolen again in 1974, from the physics workshop where
new mounts were being fitted.
It was mounted on the pedestal
during the Spring of 1975, and stolen again from its mountings. The
mountings were partially sawn through over a period of several
nights using a bare hack-saw blade. It was briefly taken to Mystical
Seven house (by the burglar) for safe-keeping.
during the half-time parade of the college's homecoming football
game soon after, but then went unseen for some time. In 1981, during
the college's 150th anniversary celebrations, it was hidden in a
large cake cut open by the college president's wife. It was stolen
again in 1982, by burglars who broke a window and a lock in order to
It was returned during 1988's graduation
exercises by people in masks. In 1989, it was reportedly mounted to
a theft-proof base presented by an alum who was a retired CIA
official, and stolen again 29 days later.
It appeared at
1994's reunion, and was displayed under guard in 1995 for the
inauguration of a new university president. In 1998, an art class
created an obelisk with a cannon on top and a letter asking for the
cannon's return attached. Soon after, four masked men delivered the
cannon to a member of the art class. The student claimed that
despite the masks, she recognized three of the men, claiming they
were the president and vice-president of the university and the
acting dean of student affairs.
The art class took possession
of the cannon, transporting it with the aid of a baby carriage. It
was taken to a mall for a photograph with Santa Claus. Deciding to
return the cannon to the student body as a whole, the cannon, inside
a shipping crate placed in turn inside a plaster package wrapped
with a ribbon tied in a bow, appeared on campus, and was immediately
absconded with by students. In 2000, photos were received depicting
the cannon in St Louis, Kansas, and at Las Vegas slot machines. It
appeared on campus again during 2001.
The cannon reappeared
briefly on campus on the eve of the commencement of the class of
2003. In the early hours of the morning, the cannon courageously
liberated itself from the Eclectic Society and disappeared soon
Four years later in 2007, the cannon made yet another
triumphant return to campus. At midnight, hours before President
Douglas Bennet's final commencement, the cannon stormed the
President's House. A joyous ceremony followed with tears and the
spontaneous chanting of the Fight Song
Later, in 2007, it was on
display, under guard, for half an hour during an inauguration
reception for the current President Michael Roth.
It has since
disappeared and its whereabouts remain unknown.
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