Cannon Club has achieved mythical status since it closed 33 years ago.
No other bygone club has seen its reputation grow rather than fade with time. Arbor Inn? Key & Seal? Gateway Club? All draw blank stares. Even Campus Club, which folded in August 2005, barely registers in the minds of underclassmen.
But not Cannon. Student lore heralds the club as a hard-partying group. When the club's funds ran dry, it is said, the University threw the members a few thousand dollars for meals, then waited, vulturelike, for the inevitable end.
"The exploits of the once great Cannon Club are in many ways the local equivalent of such great classical epics as the Iliad and the Odyssey," Will Scharf '08 wrote in the description for the Facebook group "Committee for the Preservation of the Traditions of Cannon Club."
The members, the story goes, blew their final dollars on beer and a mountain of Oreo cookies, which they munched on the front lawn as the 77-year-old club drew its last breath.
While Cannon member Steve Guty '74 said he does not recall an Oreo mountain — "everybody knows beer goes with chocolate chip cookies, not Oreos," he said — there "certainly was an Oreo-themed party, where beer played a very minor role in the scheme of mood-altering substances."
Like all myths, the saga of Cannon — which may reopen by September 2008 — is somewhat embellished and romanticized.
While the club was indeed fun-loving and its finances faltering, a subset of violent Cannon members sealed the club's fate with their role in a number of ugly campus incidents, including some fueled by racism and misogyny.
In the beginning...
Three members of the Class of 1896 founded Cannon Club in January 1895, according to the official club history. It was the sixth eating club, preceded by Ivy, Cottage, Tiger Inn, Cap & Gown and Colonial.
The club members took meals in a series of temporary quarters before their expansive clubhouse on Prospect Avenue opened in 1911. Cannon undergraduates and trustees celebrated the occasion with a dinner featuring "some very rare and fine wine," club historian William Richardson, a member of the Class of 1905, wrote in 1934.
"This dignified opening of the new club house was followed by what has come to be known as Princeton's first upperclass houseparty," Richardson recalled.
Unlike the lavish, three-day affair into which Houseparties evolved, the first houseparty was decidedly informal. Richardson wrote that "beer was dispensed under a large tree at a neighboring club house" to skirt the University proctor's ban on liquor in the club.
By the late 1960s, Cannon was known for throwing wild parties and downing prodigious amounts of beer. Sports Illustrated named Cannon one of the top three "Jock Houses" in the country.
In 1968, Cannon set a Houseparties record by consuming 52 kegs in one weekend, a feat facilitated by the legendary dual taprooms in the club's basement, according to Daily Princetonian archives.
"Much, if not most, of that beer was not ingested, but tossed or used to create waves for surfing the long linoleum Banzai Pipeline in between the green and red bars," MacKinnon Simpson '65 clarified in a 1999 letter to the Princeton Alumni Weekly.
Simpson added that he "shot some film of that weekend, and if anyone from that era is running for high office, I have negatives for sale!"
When Cannon members convened in 1995 for the defunct club's centennial, aging alumni jumped into a "flesh pile," did "alligators" on the dance floor and recounted stories of driving motorcycles down the club's grand staircase.
One alumnus "proudly displayed a piece of hardened beer from the Cannon tap room floor," Amy Briggs '96 told the 'Prince' at the time.
If Cannon reopens, it will feature a third taproom, Warren Crane '62, the club's graduate board chair, told the 'Prince' in 2000.
But the history of Cannon is not all fun and games.
Rock Suite incident
The Rockefeller Suite in Walker Hall was known for its raucous parties in the late 1960s. All suite members were white and most, if not all, were Cannon members.
On a Thursday night in October 1968, Rock Suite members harassed Reginald Peniston '69, a black student who lived in 1937 Hall, when he phoned in a noise complaint against the suite and accompanied proctors to break up the party.
As Peniston left Walker Hall, one Rock Suite member allegedly tried to urinate on him from a suite window while others shouted "n—ger" and "black bastard," according to 'Prince' archives. The next day, Peniston and other black students entered the Rock Suite and destroyed some of the residents' property. Though they admitted to this vandalism, they refused to pay damages.
In an interview with the 'Prince' after the incident, University security director Walter Dodwell voiced the widespread campus belief that "when you join Cannon, you become an animal."
On May 12, 1969, the 'Prince' broke two stories that seemed to confirm the boorish stereotype of Cannon members.
In the first incident, Cannon members armed with chains, knives and brass knuckles gathered in the courtyard and first floor of Brown Hall to support a white non-student in a dispute with a black student.
The Association of Black Collegians (ABC), a student group, demanded the dissolution of Cannon on the grounds that "five to ten individuals — with one exception, students believed to be members of Cannon Club and/or the Rock Suite —intimidated and attempted to provoke to violence several black students and their dates."
In the same week, three Cannon members manhandled a faculty member's pregnant wife who was walking by the club. The students allegedly made obscene and threatening remarks, and one junior "lifted her off the ground and carried her for several steps," a Philadelphia paper reported. Before releasing the woman, the members threw beer on her.
ABC again called for the dissolution of Cannon, noting that "the club has historically been the source of much cruelty, hooliganism and destruction" and citing other alleged incidents in which Cannon members harassed another faculty wife and "raided" Quadrangle Club during Houseparties.
Cannon member Scott Early '71 wrote in a letter to the editor of the 'Prince' that his club was being made a "scapegoat" and "sacrificial lamb."
Punishing "the entire membership of Cannon for the seperate [sic] actions of 10 per cent of its members is somewhat analogous to the persecution of the Jews because of the crucifixion of Christ," Early said.
In September 1969, the 'Prince' ran as its lead photo the battered face of Andrew Kesler '71, who "suffered two black eyes, two chipped teeth, a cut under his left eye and body bruises" in an assault in the club by two Cannon members.
After initially denying the story, Cannon admitted the following day that all details were accurate.
Kesler was not officially invited into the club that night, and allegedly spat on and insulted the girlfriend of a member. Regardless, the assault marked another strike against Cannon's reputation.
Waning student interest in the club was reflected in the Bicker sessions of 1970, when "traditionally popular Cannon Club took only 11 members," the 'Prince' reported.
By November 1971, the club had dwindled from around 95 to 50 members and became the fifth eating club to drop Bicker. Non-selective membership did little to boost the club's prospects. After few students joined, the club decided to return to Bicker, which also didn't help membership figures.
In October 1972, the club's graduate board announced its decision to close at the end of the academic year.
"We had to look at the cold, hard facts," graduate board president J. Rodney Edwards '50 told the 'Prince.' "But all we could see was that anything that might keep the club open was highly unlikely."