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2-Ton Cannon Is Fodder for Ongoing Rivalry Between Caltech and MIT

April 07, 2006|Arin Gencer | Times Staff Writer

In the ongoing battle of the nerds between Caltech and MIT, the latest volley has been fired from a 130-year-old cannon.

Actually, the latest volley is a cannon.

Massachusetts pranksters, posing as professional movers, stole the beloved Fleming Cannon -- traditionally fired at each year's commencement -- from the Pasadena campus last week.

On Thursday it popped up, pointed toward Pasadena and adorned with an oversized Massachusetts Institute of Technology school ring, at the Cambridge campus next to a plaque referring to Caltech as "its previous owners."

The plaque explained that the students created the phony "Howe & Ser Moving Company" and used fake work-order forms to get past Caltech campus security guards. After that, a real shipping company toted the 2-ton relic across the country.

The heist continues a long-running rivalry. Last year, Caltech students went to Cambridge to give prospective MIT students T-shirts that looked official. But on the back, they read: "Because not everyone can go to Caltech."

As for the cannon, it has traveled before. Twenty years ago, 11 Harvey Mudd College students spirited it off to Claremont.

Among those who spied the cannon Thursday was one of the Harvey Mudd tricksters. David Somers, now a psychology professor at Boston University, said a big smile came over his face as he stood before it. After cajoling from Somers, a few students confessed that they got the idea from his alma mater. "It's a great honor," he said, "to have MIT pulling a tribute prank."

And he wasn't the only one to recognize the cannon.

"I feel like I'm at Caltech again," said MIT senior Marissa Vogt, who saw the cannon "almost every day" last summer while living on campus and working at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. She added that the stunt might have been planned in time for campus preview weekend, when prospective freshmen and parents visit.

Although Harvey Mudd returned the cannon, MIT's plans are unclear.

However, Jill Perry, a Caltech spokeswoman, was clear enough: "We want it back."

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