Fleming cannon heist from Caltech, perpetrated by MIT students

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Fleming Cannon is a 1.7-ton, 19th century era artillery piece that is permanently displayed outside Fleming House, one of Caltech’s more notorious living groups. It is considered “unprankable” in Caltech’s prank culture because it is generally considered to be fragile and irreplaceable. It is used on ceremonial occasions, firing blanks to mark the beginning and end of terms. Needless to say it is looked upon as a symbol of the campus and of Fleming house in particular.

In the early morning hours of March 28, 2006, a group of men dressed in uniform jackets for the Howe & Ser Moving Company (how-et-ser, howitzer, get it?), bearing a fake work order and a large flatbed truck, took the cannon off of Caltech campus grounds. When confronted by campus police, they claimed to be on site to temporarily remove the cannon in order to pour a concrete pad underneath. The campus police bought the line and even put up traffic cones to give the MIT students a safe corridor to remove the cannon.

The Great '06 Cannon Hack

On April 6, 2006, Caltech’s Fleming cannon appeared in front of MIT’s Green Builing with a giant brass rat perched midway up its barrel.

Caltech students the next morning noticed the cannon was gone and a search immediately ensued. Their prime suspects were their nearby Claremont, CA neighbors Harvey Mudd, which had stolen the cannon as a prank 20 years prior. However, the mystery was solved when the cannon appeared, over 3,000 miles away, in the courtyard in front of building 54 and just outside MIT’s East Campus dormitory, 10 days later. It was locked in place with a chain, had a plaque installed on a concrete plinth in front of it, and sported a 16-pound machined aluminum brass rat (MIT’s class ring) on the barrel.

Caltech students, incensed by the MIT students’ audacity, came back to reclaim their cannon within two weeks but were, alas, foiled. Unable to pull off the same feat of audacious social engineering and falling afoul of FAA rules when they initially planned to remove the cannon by cargo helicopter, they arrived in the dead of night but were stopped by MIT campus police. The residents of East Campus dressed up in swimwear and gleefully threw an impromptu barbeque until the Caltech students were able to prove their ownership of the cannon sufficiently to the MIT campus police and left. Allegedly, friendly offers of barbeque to the Caltech retrieval team were declined.

On Monday, April 10 the Fleming Cannon was “rescued” from MIT by a group of Caltech students: “On Monday morning, a group of 23 Caltech students and seven Caltech alumni arrived at the MIT campus to take back the cannon. The rescuers left a miniature replica under glass in the place where the Caltech cannon had rested at MIT.”

The hack involved over 30 people, cost about $7,000, had elements of planning and reconnaissance going back a year, and involved transporting a 1.7 ton antique artillery piece across a continent. At MIT, a school already known for several creative and inventive hacks every year

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