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04/06/2006 07:00:00

Caltech Pranked by MIT Today

PASADENA, Calif.- MIT pulled one over on Caltech today.

The two prestigious science and technology schools, which have been trading pranks for years now, are joined together once again through a practical joke. Last April Caltech had the last laugh, but today MIT has hit the jackpot by stealing the Fleming Cannon, transporting it cross country, and placing it on their campus in Cambridge, with a huge MIT class ring decorating it.

They had the perfect cover too, because this March marked the 20th anniversary of "The Cannon Heist," in which 11 Harvey Mudd students walked onto the Caltech campus and removed the antique cannon that decorated the front of the Fleming student house (for the complete story: The cannon was returned shortly thereafter with much fanfare and chest beating on the part of the "Mudders."

So, it seemed logical that when it disappeared again March 28, someone would come forward from Harvey Mudd to claim success in pranking Caltech again.

No such luck. In fact, the head of security at Caltech started to think the timing was mere coincidence and what we really had here was grand theft.

Until he got the call.

"An anonymous caller assured me that the cannon was safe and that we would know what happened very soon," said Gregg Henderson, chief of Caltech security.

The 130-year-old, 1.7-ton cannon, believed to have been used in either the Franco-Prussian War or Spanish American War, or to be simply of that era (its birthdate seems a little uncertain), has been a decoration on the Caltech campus since 1972 when Caltech students "borrowed" it from Southwestern Academy in San Marino and failed to return it. Some have said the academy didn't want it anymore anyway and that the head of the school was in on the theft from the beginning.

It had been temporarily located in front of the Admissions Office while Fleming was undergoing renovation.

The cannon appeared on the MIT campus this morning with a sign claiming that it was from Caltech.

The prank comes almost one year to the date of the multiple pranks that Caltech students inflicted on MIT (for details go to At that time Caltech students flew to Cambridge to liven up the weekend in which potential students were visiting MIT. They handed out 400 t-shirts wrapped in plastic that said MIT on the front. It was a while before someone actually opened one and noticed that "...because not everyone can go to Caltech" was printed on the back. They also placed an inflatable palm tree on the "Tomb of the Unknown Tool," and also changed a school sign to read "That Other Institute of Technology," which MIT counterpranked by changing the sign to "The Only Institute of Technology." In addition, the Caltech students set loose a small blimp and balloons that said "Caltech" in the Small Dome, as well as putting a banner and more palm trees outside the Small Dome. They then aimed a green laser light show that spelled out Caltech on the façade of the Green building.

The Caltech campus is taking the prank with much good humor.

"I think we can safely say we have generously loaned our cannon to MIT so that our alums in the area will feel at home," said Tom Mannion, assistant vice president of campus life at Caltech. "After last year, I know it began to look quite a bit like Caltech with all the signs and palm trees, so now with the cannon there, it will really feel like a little piece of Pasadena is right there in Cambridge,"

The cannon is traditionally fired at the end of commencement and Ditch Day, as well as other important events, so while Caltech will give MIT credit for pulling off a great prank, the campus respectfully requests that the cannon be returned at some point in the near future.

Once the cannon is returned by MIT, Caltech is prepared to continue the pranking tradition. "After the t-shirt prank last year, we ordered extra shirts and sold them in the Caltech bookstore, so we have raised more than enough money to keep this going," said Mannion


Contact: Jill Perry (626) 395-3226

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Written by Jill Perry