Spirit of Tradition: The Greeks - Traditions of Fraternities and Sororities

An online exhibition from 1998 highlighting traditions that have shaped student life at Syracuse University.

The ATO Cannon

Fired for every Orange touchdown and every winning game, the ATO Cannon was a symbol of Syracuse's football excellence.

Greek Life 09-0987

The cannon was a gift from an alumnus in 1922. It was supposedly from the Civil War, but the exact origin is unknown. Four brothers from Alpha Tau Omega [ATO] fraternity, called cannoneers, would wheel the gun to each home game and blast it after every Syracuse scoring drive.

The cannon was the main target for pranks in the weeks prior to games. Cornell and Colgate loved to try to steal the cannon and on two occasions they each made commendable efforts.

In 1948, Colgate participated in perhaps the most notable attempt to steal the cannon, even if not the most successful. On a rainy day at Archbold Stadium, during a game between the two schools, four Colgate men snuck to the Syracuse sideline and tried to run the cannon across the stadium to the Colgate side. The ATO brothers, along with the Orange cheerleaders, the Alpha Chi Rho bell crew, and some angry fans, chased the Colgate thieves down in the middle of the field and a brawl ensued. The game had to be halted until the mess was sorted out.

ATO was not always able to prevent the cannon from being stolen, however. In 1951, a week before the Orangemen season opener against Temple, the gun turned up missing. Overhearing a conversation about the whereabouts of the gun, a brother of Tau Epsilon Phi [TEP] of Cornell phoned the Syracuse TEP brothers and told them where to find the cannon. The TEP brothers found the gun in a public garage about 12 miles from Ithaca behind piles of scrap metal. After eluding Cornell students in a car chase, the gun was returned to ATO in time for the pep rally and the opening game.

Rival schools could not keep the brothers from firing the gun for 38 years, but the gun was silenced on three occasions.

The first was in 1926, at Vermont. The Orangemen piled touchdown upon touchdown, so the cannon was piling blast upon blast. As the cannon became hotter and hotter, the cannoneer rammed another charge into the barrel when it suddenly fired. The ramrod tore through the cannoneer's shirt and landed on the far side of the field.

This prompted University officials to ban the use of the cannon for 11 years. In 1938 the ban was lifted, and the cannon was used until World War II. Due to a powder shortage, the cannon was again sidelined until the war was nearly over. But another shortage appeared and the ATO brothers found themselves with no nylon cloth to wrap the charges. Syracuse coeds came to the rescue and donated their ruined hose to ATO.

The gun continued to fire touchdown after touchdown, game after game until 1960. A year removed from Syracuse's first and only National Championship, arch-rival Penn State came to Archbold Stadium. After SU's first score of the first quarter, the cannoneers fired a shot. Seconds later another explosion rocked the field. A spark from the first blast fell into a suitcase behind the cannon full of the gunpowder used for the firing. The suitcase exploded flinging seven students into the air. They were all taken to the hospital, but none received any major injuries.

After this incident an indefinite suspension was placed on the cannon. University officials ruled that shooting the cannon had become too dangerous. The suspension was never lifted and the cannon no longer followed a Syracuse touchdown.

Cupid Run

Greek Life 10-0072 In the 1970s and 1980s an annual cupid run was held in which a Delta Tau Delta fraternity brother, dressed in cupid apparel, ran around the campus kissing as many girls as he could in an alotted time. The more girls kissed, the more money was raised for charity.