BEHIND THE BIG BANG
By Kelsey Beshears
The Monmouth College cannon that is shot off every homecoming game was a class gift given to the school by the Class of 1903. According to Jeff Rankin, Director of Communications for Monmouth College, there was a big rivalry between the class of 1903 and 1904. Some members of the Class of 1904 were apparently so discouraged and envious of the great gift given by the previous class, that several members stole the cannon and dumped it into Cedar Creek. Their first plan was to take it to Oquawka and dump it in the Mississippi River but it got stuck in the mud when they were trying to load it into the wagon.
In the senior yearbook, a “wanted” poster appeared, offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the capture of the thieves. This was not just an idle threat. The cannon was federal property, and the theft was considered a felony. During the summer of 1904 a grand jury was convened to look into the matter. Most of the alleged perpetrators, as well as some of the young women of the class, were questioned, but all kept silent and the state’s attorney eventually dropped the case. But according to Rankin “The senior class would never forget the outrage”
During the first summer it was in the creek, the cannon partially surfaced and came into plain site, but one of the students of the class of 1904 buried it with rocks. On their commencement day, members of the class of ‘04 went to the creek, dug up the cannon, dug a trench, and buried it 30 feet away from where it previously located.
The rivalry of the two classes was never-ending. On the 25th anniversary of the class of 1903, students of 1904 hoped to dig out the cannon and to present it to the class as a goodwill gesture, but the plan never took place.
“Garrett Thiessen, the legendary Monmouth chemistry professor, became obsessed with locating the cannon and led some unsuccessful search parties near the Cedar Creek Bridge, said Rankin. Finally, on October 9, 1952, Thiessen was able to enlist the aid of Illinois Power Company, which sent an employee along on the search with an electronic device used to locate gas pipes. At 5 p.m., after working 2-1/2 hours, Eugene Painter of the power company was downstream with the metal detector, away from where the college party was searching, and located the cannon barrel sticking 6 inches out of the creek bed under several inches of water. According to Rankin, they were able to drag the barrel to a small island and from there they attached a cable from a wrecker truck on the bank.”
The cannon was then displayed outside Thiessens office so it wouldn’t be stolen again. Rankin goes on to explain that “Finally, during commencement weekend of 1954, on the 50th anniversary of the graduation of the Class of 1904, a ceremony was held in which former student Wallace Barnes apologized for the theft and symbolically turned the cannon back to the surviving members of 1903. Today, some 148 years since its manufacture, 106 years since its theft and 56 years since being officially returned to the class that donated it, the cannon continues to be a fascinating piece of Monmouth College lore. Little did the Class of 1903 realize when they dreamed up the idea for their class gift that it would be the most memorable class gift in the college’s history.