A New Tradition Emerges

Photo of President McConaughy and Julio Guiffriba ’08 “spiking” the cannon during its unveiling at Wesleyan’s centennial celebration, 1931.

After the 1916 end of the cannon scraps and a one-year revival in 1923, the Douglas Cannon was stored quietly around campus until Wesleyan’s centennial celebration of 1931. During a “Campus Walk-Around” after the Centennial Dinner, the Douglas Cannon’s permanent resting place was formally unveiled. Stripped of its wooden wheels and frame and filled inside with 100 pounds of lead to render it inoperable, the cannon was mounted securely on a block of Portland brownstone between South College and Memorial Chapel. A plaque attached to the pedestal reads:





October, 1931.

Fittingly, the local National Guard Regiment was on hand to fire three ceremonial volleys and play Taps. The wooden wheels from the cannon’s mount were made into chandeliers that today hang in the University Club dining room in Downey House.

The cannon remained on its pedestal for 26 years until it was stolen by students the night of March 12, 1957. It was hidden in Middletown and traveled to New York and Iowa for the summer before being dramatically returned the following year by two hooded figures during the June Alumni Luncheon at Reunion. The cannon was remounted on its base later that summer, and was undisturbed for over a year until November 20, 1959. Early that morning, it was removed with a hacksaw and disappeared for several years, nearly causing an international incident in the process.

Photo of Ray N. Randall ’04 at his 35th Reunion, pointing to where the cannon was spiked when he was a frosh, 1939.

Photo of the Douglas Cannon on its mount with plaque intact, ca. 1930s.

Wesleyan Argus Douglas Cannon Extra, June 7, 1958.

Several students from the class of 1961 who had the cannon in their possession (Robert Backus, Edward McClellan, Robert Patricelli, Hugh Dyer, and Larry Krucoff) posed as representatives of the Wesleyan College Body Senate and offered the Douglas Cannon as a “symbol of peace, brotherhood, and friendship” to the students of the Soviet Union. They delivered the cannon in March 1961 to the USSR’s delegation to the United Nations in New York and presented it personally to the head of the delegation, Nikolai Bourov.

When word of these events came back to Wesleyan, Dean of Students Mark Barlow ’46 had to explain to the Soviet delegation that the cannon’s gift was a college prank and the students were not acting on behalf of the Wesleyan student body. He drove to New York in April and brought the cannon back to Wesleyan. The cannon remained in Barlow’s possession and was remounted in October 1963. During the time he had responsibility for the cannon, the strongest rumor around campus said that it was stored in the basement of Barlow’s house, causing many students to attempt entry to steal it back. “There were so many students coming in that we had to leave flashlights around so that they wouldn’t use matches and start a fire,” Barlow said in the Argus once the full story of the cannon’s travels was made public.

Letter from Nikolai Bourov, First Secretary of the Soviet Delegation to the UN, thanking the College Body Senate for their gift of the Douglas Cannon to the students of the USSR, March 16, 1961.

Photos of the presentation of the Douglas Cannon to the Soviet Delegation to the UN in New York, March 1961. L-R: Hugh Dyer ’61, Nikolai Bourov, First Secretary of the Delegation, Larry Krucoff ’61.

Letter from Dean of Students Mark Barlow to Nikolai Bourov explaining the students’ prank and attempting to retrieve the cannon, April 25, 1961.

Miniature cannon (and box) which appeared as a joke on Dean Barlow’s desk after his successful trip to New York to retrieve the Douglas Cannon. The Dean of the Faculty, John Spaeth, was responsible. Gift of Professor Richard Miller.
The cannon was stolen from its mount in May 1965, made a brief appearance on campus in 1966, and in 1967 appeared in New York at the office of the managing editor of Life. It was successfully returned to campus for President Victor Butterfield’s last presiding Commencement that year. The Argus received two letters from “Douglas Cannon” during this time saying it was well and in the hands of a very capable group of handlers, the Cannon Retrievers United South of Heaven (CRUSH). An additional letter from Douglas Cannon, claiming homesickness and asking to go home, was attached to the package delivered to Life.

After remounting in 1967, the cannon remained at Wesleyan until the night of October 14, 1969, when it was removed and driven directly to Washington, D.C. It was presented at the White House gates as a gift to Richard Nixon as a protest against the war in Vietnam. Intervention by Connecticut’s members of Congress (which included Emilio Daddario ’39) prevented the cannon from being saved with other Presidential gifts. During the 1970s and 1980s the cannon appeared on campus several times, only to be quickly stolen again. Its arrival was usually marked by hooded or masked figures returning it at a public event, causing some speculation that the Wesleyan administration had more than a minor role in the cannon’s travels and whereabouts. The cannon also regularly sent postcards and letters to the Argus and the president to keep the campus abreast of its whereabouts.

Photo of the Douglas Cannon in the arms of a disguised member of CRUSH (Cannon Retrievers United South of Heaven), Wesleyan Argus, September 28, 1965.

Letter from Douglas Cannon to the Argus updating the staff on his recent visit to campus, April 1966.

“Much-Traveled Douglas Cannon Announces Return to Wesleyan,” Wesleyan Argus, June 4, 1967.

Copy of letter from Douglas Cannon to the Managing Editor of Life, which was attached to the cannon at its delivery to the Life offices in New York, Wesleyan Argus, June 4, 1967.