My father, Donald Elmore Dietz III, graduated from Princeton University in the Class of 1968. Originally a member of the Quadrangle Club, he found himself living with a bunch of boys from Cannon Club and switched over for his senior year. These boys are the men I now know as my father’s Princeton friends—Uncle Tony, Things, Gore, and Stone—whose pride in Cannon, “The Gun” as they affectionately refer to it, rivals their pride in the University itself. From the stories my mother tells, it seems that at the Cannon Club reunions that took place at my family’s beach house during summers I can no longer remember, these men kept the traditions and reputation of Cannon Club alive well into their forties.
My own history with Cannon Club is the evolution of my comprehension of what exactly Cannon is, or was—a history that, until now, has been unsatisfying. At my father’s 25th Reunion (I was six years old at the time), I remember yelling and cheering for Cannon, although the impetus to yell and cheer was little more than my parents’ instruction to do so, which probably would have induced me to cheer for just about anything. The souvenir of those early days of my Cannon awareness is a photograph of me and my siblings wearing our emblematic green Cannon shirts, perched atop the Cannon Club cannon. Those were the days before it was painted orange and black.
When I arrived on campus in the fall of 2005, my knowledge of the history of Cannon was still remarkably small. But as I became acquainted with the eating club system, Cannon’s mythical status became a source of pride for me. Upon hearing that my father was a member of Cannon, peoples’ responses are almost always the same: an exclamation (“Your dad was in Cannon!?”), followed by a question about either his ability to consume large quantities of alcohol or his tendency towards racism (neither of which my father possesses, to my knowledge). While my heart sank at the knowledge of Cannon‘s history of racism, it swelled at the tales of the legendary hi-jinks that went on in the fabled double tap-room. I longed for proof that the Cannon officers, upon learning that the University’s financial aid to the club would be insufficient to keep them in business, really did decide to spend that money on a mountain of Oreos, which they sat upon, eating cookies and drinking beer, until the mountain and the club were no more. I wished for confirmation that, yes, Cannon really held an annual naval battle on a sea of beer in the basement. All I got was an article in the Daily Princetonian documenting the final few years before the club finally shut down—not because of an Oreo mountain but because of a series of racist and sexist incidents.
So as I wind up my final week on campus, I am writing this article to face the dreams and demons that have haunted me as a son of Cannon. More than anything in these past four years I have yearned to wander the halls of the now- barren Cannon Club and revive the specters of my father’s past. And so I embarked on an investigation that included an interview with my father, a trip to the Mudd Manuscript Library, where I uncovered myriad photographs and blueprints, an excursion to the club itself, where I peeked through windows and did my best to break inside (I was unsuccessful), and a series of sketches based on the information obtained through the aforementioned means. What follows is an imagined (I repeat, imagined) reconstruction of the Cannon Club as it might have been when my father was a member.
Based on the blueprints I saw at Mudd, I sketched the floor plans of the basement, the first floor, and the second floor. I then did my best to corroborate my sketches by peering through the windows of the actual club. The results are on display here. I estimate that the first floor plans are the most accurate, as my dad’s memory of the first floor was the strongest, and it was also the easiest to view. I was able to positively identify some of the functions of the room—the dining room, the living room, and a few more. I guessed the function of some other rooms based on my father’s account. And rooms whose function I simply couldn’t conjecture I marked with a “?” I also made a series of sketches to illustrate what I felt were the most interesting features of the Cannon Club as told to me by my father.
Caption for the “Bellyslide” sketch:
The Cannon Club was famous for being the only eating club to feature two tap-rooms. Members often poured beer on the floor of the taprooms or on the stairs for the purpose of performing bellyslides.
Caption for “Servant” sketch:
Even as late as 1968, Cannon Club was waited on by a servant staff, most of whom were African-American. At this time, cannabis, or “dope,” was only starting to become a common drug on college campuses. As a result, members of the Cannon Club who wanted to smoke had to try their luck by absconding to the servants’ quarters, or “’groid room,” where they might be invited to join in.
Caption for “Barracks” sketch:
Since the quantities of alcohol consumed on a given weekend night was enormous, Cannon Club offered an extra room for those members who were unable to make it back to their own dorms. The room consisted of a series of bunk beds, which is where it gets its nickname, “The Barracks.” Since women were not yet admitted as students in 1968, the girls at Cannon parties were often in from out of town, some driving from as far away as Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York. “Where did they sleep?” one might wonder, and, more important, “Where did they uhh…” Well, I guess we can only hope they didn’t do that in the Barracks.