It is said that every Tufts student should paint the cannon at least once before they graduate. Many of the people I have met say they did this as first-years during pre-orientation, when their respective groups camped out on a warm summer’s night to put their mark on the cannon. Others will say they have painted it with clubs to advertise events, celebrate holidays, or show solidarity. And then there are those like me, who make it all the way the last semester of their senior year without ever having painting the cannon. So I decided to do something about it.
As a resident of the German House at Tufts, I get to help organize events that share the German language and culture with the wider Tufts community. My housemates and I decided to turn cannon painting into one of these events – a chance for people to share their interest in German with the Tufts community by painting the colors of the German flag (black, red, and gold) on the cannon. Plus, as a language and culture house, we were able to use our budget to purchase the spray paint!
One of the first challenges we encountered when planning our big night was that even though everyone at Tufts talks about painting the cannon, no one talks about the logistics of it! The only two well-known rules are that 1) you have to paint it at night and 2) you have to guard your design until sunrise, or else another group has the right to paint over it. Which leaves many questions unanswered: how much paint does it take to cover the cannon? How do we guard it all night? How long do we really have to guard it? What if it rains? What if another group gets there first? Will we be covered in spray paint by the end of the night?
Now that I have painted the cannon, I could answer all of these questions, but I think that the mystery is part of what makes the experience so memorable! What I will say is that we did have enough paint, we amassed an army of 20 or so people to help guard it in (small, social-distanced) shifts throughout the night, and we postponed by a week because, lo and behold, it rained on the night we had originally chosen. One of the things I enjoyed the most was how the vibe changed from shift to shift: when we first went out there, there was an excited buzz of anticipation as we prepared to paint the cannon; during the second shift, new help arrived, and after warming up in Tisch for a few minutes, I came back to find the volunteers jamming out to German music and setting up a German TV show to pass the time. Once the third shift rolled around, we were thoroughly frozen to the core, but the new guard arrived with their camp chairs (a smart move!) and more energy than I would have expected for that hour of the night. After showing them our masterpiece, the second-shift volunteers and I bid the new crew goodnight and went to bed hoping that our design would live to see the light of day.
And it did! I awoke to a photo of our cannon at sunrise from someone in the final shift, and what a beautiful sight it was! It was especially neat to see what other people had added to the design throughout the night, and a friend and I went back to the cannon later in the day to see how it looked in broad daylight. Our design did get painted over the following night, but for one day, the cannon was ours. There is something special about coming together with a group of like-minded people to do something that feels both clandestine and bold, something that you do in the dark of night so that all the world (well, all the campus) will see.