Concise Encyclopedia of Tufts HistorySauer, Anne
The Cannon, 1956
|The cannon, a fixture of the Medford campus, is located between Ballou Hall and Goddard Chapel. It is a replica of an original twenty-four pound cannon taken from the deck of the USS Constitution "Old Ironsides."Since 1977, it has been used by student groups and individual students who paint messages on the cannon under the cover of night.|
The cannon was a gift from the city of Medford and the Medford Historical Society, which had received the cannon a number of years before but did not have room to properly display it. It was given to the city by the National Park Service as a thank-you for funds raised by community schoolchildren to restore Old Ironsides.
In 1956, Tufts accepted the gift of the cannon from Medford and mounted it on a foundation between Ballou Hall and Goddard Chapel. It remained there until the mid 1960s, when it was removed for repairs and not replaced due to anti-military feeling on campus. It remained in storage until 1977, when a group of alumni led a movement to have the cannon returned to its original spot.
During the Fall semester of 1977, the cannon was painted as a protest, perhaps of the visit and conferral of an honorary degree on Imelda Marcos of the Philippines, in October 1977.It was quickly repainted by a student who objected to the defacing of the historic monument. Thus, the tradition of painting the cannon began and became an almost nightly activity. In 1985 and again in 1996, the cannon was sandblasted to remove the many layers of paint applied over the years.
For many years it was believed that the cannon was one of the original cannons from Old Ironsides. However, when Buildings and Grounds workers were removing the cannon from the front doors of Ballou Hall on the morning of Commencement in 1987, where student pranksters had placed it the night before, the cannon fell and a piece broke off, revealing that it was a replica.
Painting the cannon is a competitive activity. Students must guard their handiwork or run the risk of having their message painted over by a rival group. Over the years the cannon has sported political messages, rallying cries for athletic teams, and birthday greetings.
Source: TW, November 17, 1956; TC, July 1977; TD, December 5, 1986; OBS, October 2, 1987
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