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Caltech Goes Low Tech to Get Its Cannon Back

A copter raid? A taunt on scaffolding? Calling MIT police first? What were they thinking?

April 11, 2006|Paul Pringle | Times Staff Writer

"We work so hard in school that our fun is so precious to us," he said. That's why "we work hard at that too."

The students rendezvoused with Caltech alumni in the Boston area. "I'm a Flem for life," said Vicki Loewer, an MIT graduate student who had 10 or more of the Caltech brigade bivouacked in her apartment.

On Sunday night, sawdust covered the apartment's floor, from the dolly that would be used to support the cannon's tongue. By now, the students were sleep-deprived. They abandoned the notion to build scaffolding for the Fleming flag. "We only had 12 hours," Jordan said.

The clock worked against them in other ways. They were determined to raid McDermott Court around 4 a.m. and parade the cannon around a bit before loading it on the flatbed.

But they decided to quietly alert MIT's campus police about their intentions an hour beforehand. It may have been a tactical error. The police wanted to see "proof of ownership" for the cannon, and no one had a pink slip.

"Everyone is livid," Hunter said as the hour passed 4 a.m.

Worse, secrecy had been compromised, and a crowd of MITers began to descend on the cannon.

They fixed a couple of portable spotlights on their prize and fired up a barbecue to taunt Caltech "scouts" lurking in nearby buildings.

The now-exhausted Caltechers were left to conduct their mission in broad daylight.

As the amused MITers watched, they covered the wheels with strips of vinyl siding to protect their delicate bands, took a bolt cutter to a chain locking the spokes and jacked the tongue onto the dolly.

"I really like the rivalry," said MIT freshman Jon Spaulding. "I'm looking forward to the future and what new pranks come up."

Shoulder to iron and rope in hand, the Caltech students made inching progress to the flatbed parked nearby. The toy cannon was left in the real one's place, under a glass vase, next to the F plaque.

By the time the students reached the truck, the vinyl had peeled off the wheels. When it was done, the Caltech students gave a good-natured cheer to the locals: "MIT, rah rah rah ... "

But revenge would be coming, said Jordan, the Fleming president, and it would be much more elaborate than ropes and dollies.

"We'll top this by miles," he said.

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