Highlights in the Douglass Cannon’s Legacy


The last time the Douglass Cannon was seen was in this email in 2018 from Dean Mike

It’s come to my attention that we are not talking enough about what I believe is one of Wesleyan’s greatest hidden treasures: the Douglass Cannon. 

Though on occasion I meet a person who shares my love for this silly cannon, I find that most people live in complete oblivion of its existence. Like many other Wesleyan traditions and lore, I think the pandemic has wiped away a good chunk of cannon awareness. However, I am more than aware. The Douglass Cannon has become my latest utter hyper-fixation and favorite pastime. There are days where I cannot work, think, or talk about anything but this cannon, and how absolutely crazy I think its history is. Like a storm, it has taken over my life and riddled me with obsession. My friends don’t even want to get meals with me for fear that I will continue to rant about this cannon’s legacy.

It has completely plagued my mind, and like any good sickness I feel compelled to pass it on to you. Allow me to walk you through a brief history of the Douglass Cannon, in all its glory, and then share some of my favorite highlights of its legacy. 

The Douglass Cannon, which is a 140lb, 29.5 inch, brass cannon, was dug up on Wesleyan campus (as the land was previously owned by a military academy) by a group of freshmen students and fired in the early morning to celebrate George Washington’s birthday. Thus, a tradition was born. 

Originally, starting in the 1860s, the cannon was used for “scraps”, which was a yearly tradition done on February 22nd of each year: the cannon scraps objective for the freshmen class of a given year was to steal the cannon and fire it. A relatively simple task, but the catch is that the sophomore class’ mission was to do everything in their power to stop the freshmen from succeeding. Juniors and seniors could be bribed to help the competing classes. This tradition went on for over 50 years, getting progressively more extreme and often violent. 

Students in 1907 in a fight over our sweet Dougy… how precious

Later, however, the cannon became adopted for a different tradition, and this is where its history gets particularly unbelievable. Starting in 1957, students began stealing the cannon from the university and sending it to locations and people all over the world. Between this and the earlier scraps, allow me to share just some of the highlights from the past 150+ years. 

  • In 1869, a cannon packed with too much powder shattered the windows of the then library, which is the 92 theater today
  • In 1880 the canon was stolen and SUNK IN THE CONNECTICUT RIVER by sophomores, and after being threatened with lawsuit hired a diver to retrieve the cannon
  • After the 1905 scrap set off a fire alarm, the fire department drenched students with a fire hose out of annoyance for being called for a false alarm
  • Once the cannon started being stolen and taken to other places, its first destinations were Iowa and New York 
  • In 1961 the cannon was stolen and gifted to Nikolai Bourov, head of the Soviet Union’s delegation to the UN, and it wasn’t until one of the students involved unexpectedly DIED that Wesleyan administration found out where the cannon had been taken. Nuts.
  • Students who believed that the cannon was being stored in Dean Barlow’s house in 1962 broke in over 20 times to his basement to the point where Dean Barlow began leaving out flashlights for the students to use just so that they wouldn’t use matches and start a fire.
  • My personal favorite: 1989, a Wesleyan alum and former CIA official created a theft proof base and the cannon was already stolen NOT 29 DAYS LATER. 
  • Other notable places the cannon has allegedly been to: Montreal, London, Paris, the White House, the Venezuelan customs department (?!?), Las Vegas, St Louis, and Appalachia. 

The cannon has not been seen to my knowledge since Dean mike sent out an all school email with the picture at the top of this post. His email definitely suggests that the cannon’s activity may be more involved with the administration than we think.  

If you want to learn even more, I’d really recommend that you check out the university archives on it or read the wikipedia page. It will be the best 10 min read of your life.

I think more people should be talking about the presence of this awesome cannon. I also feel strongly that I need to see this cannon with my own two eyes before I die or else I won’t have completed my full life’s purpose. I hope after reading this article the cannon has instilled a new hope in you too. 


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