We weren’t robbers, we were thieves. There is a difference. A thief is a trickster a robber takes something for its value and to have it. A thief doesn’t want to have it. Robbers go armed. A thief doesn’t have to. Thieves are always laughing. You don’t want to joke around with a robber; robbing is serious business.
Stealing is an art. A thief has to be able to carry whatever he takes. He’s got to be able to hide it.
Like magic! Diamonds are magic. That is why women wear them on their hands, as a sign of the magic of womanhood. Even though we aren’t women, we are magicians. Or, as the Navajo say, a character of disorder. We are coyotes, the mischief-makers, tricksters. As one story goes, the Spirit Chief sent the mischief-makers to go to the land of the dream visions.
“You will be known as the Trick-people,” Spirit Chief said. “Do good for the benefit of your people.”
And that is just what we did!
A good thief makes a person believe, for the moment, that even a cannon can fly.
Trick-people confuse people and confusion is a funny thing. It makes it harder for people to do anything.
At every home football game, two fraternities, Tau Kappa Epsilon(TKE) and Phi Sigma Epsilon(Phi Sig’s), set up, each in their separate corner behind the end zone, their respective noise maker that they set off in celebration of a touchdown. The TKE’s had a bell that they rang and the Phi Sig’s had a cannon they fired. Everything was fine until…
The bell went missing. Nobody had any idea what happened to it until the TKE’s received a note from the Phi Sig’s stating they had taken it and if the TKE’s wanted it back, they would have to find it. They continued to mock the TKE’s publicly for weeks on end and to make matters worse, the TKE’s couldn’t make noise in the end zone on the rare occasion our football team scored a touchdown.
Well, the tricksters weren’t too happy with another group trying to meddle with their province of the unexplained, so they decided to assist the TKE’s in their quest to have their bell returned.
It began one autumn evening. Darkness had fallen on our calm city, LaCrosse, Wisconsin, a small college town and home of Heilman Brewery and Trane Company, located on the Mississippi River in Northwestern Wisconsin. A town of forty-five thousand people, or was it forty-eight thousand? It was a cool, dry Saturday evening in mid-October. The leaves had already turned colors a few weeks earlier and now had fallen, leaving the trees that lined the streets surrounding the campus, dark and barren, appearing like ghostly apparitions with stick arms reaching into the inky evening sky.
They were a group of six tricksters dressed in dark clothing and sneakers with carbon black from charcoal briquettes, smeared across their faces, gathered around a table in the dining room of their house. A group of tricksters, that enjoyed confusing different groups on campus. They were going over the plan one more time. Everyone knew what they were going to do. The tension in the room was high. They were hoping for a night with no moon. They needed the darkness of the night to pull off their magic. They had been planning it for weeks and tonight was the big night. They all agreed, drinking and stealing don’t mix. Tonight there would be no alcohol.
A friend of two tricksters from their high school was an officer in the organization, the Phi Sig’s, the organization they were going to confuse. Unknowingly, this officer provided them with inside information. Information such as, where they stored their cannon!
The Phi Sig’s, as usual, were having a party with a sorority and the music and noise would provide the tricksters with the cover they needed to get away with this heist.
The object of their mission, the Phi Sigma Epsilon cannon, was stored in a shed just outside the frat house and this is where the heist would take place. The distance wasn’t that great between the shed and the house, so they would have to be careful and use caution when approaching the target.
The house was located on a cobblestone side street just off State Street, about a block from a girls dormitory on the edge of campus. The cobblestones were of some concern to the tricksters as the wheels on the cannon were metal and would make a loud noise that would echo on the cobblestones while they rolled it away.
The tricksters had discussed this problem over the past few weeks and decided the best remedy would be to wrap towels around each wheel. So, that night, each person held a handful of towels.
It was eerily quiet that fall evening. The nearby campus seemed to be deserted. Students most likely downtown celebrating another weekend.
The night sounds seemed to be magnified as the tricksters walked out of the back door of the house. The tricksters proceeded quietly down Seventeenth Street to the frat house they were planning on stealing the cannon from. Some tricksters excitedly spoke in hushed whispers, the level of which continued to rise as their excitement grew. A “shhh” sound came from their leader, quieting the group down one more time.
When they arrived at their destination they stopped to listen for a sign of anyone that might be around. The only sound was that of the partygoers in the house behind the shed. It sounded like they were having a lot of fun.
The group split up. Two split in different directions from the rest of the group and went to their observation points behind large trees in the backyard while the other four proceeded to the wooden shed that had once been a garage.
The two wooden doors were closed and held together by a metal clasp, but no lock. The tricksters knew there wasn’t a lock. They had been by the shed at least a half a dozen times during the past few weeks. This was a well-planned caper. The doors were difficult to open and scraped on the ground as they pulled them apart. The noise from the doors made the tricksters stop for a moment to make sure nobody was alerted to their presence. After confirming all was clear, they walked inside and there before them was the ominous dark shadow of the reason of their escapade. The Cannon!
“Quiet, someone’s coming,” one of the tricksters at the observation post whispered.
It wasn’t long before they heard a couple of voices approaching in the dark. They were laughing about something that they thought was funny. They stopped a few feet away from the shed by some bushes. They unzipped and took a leak.
When they finished they turned around and walked back to the party without noticing a thing.
The tricksters were safe. They were lucky those two didn’t take the time to look into the shed and check on their prized possession.
The tricksters proceeded to wrap the towels around the steel wheels. As they rolled The Cannon forward, the wheels squeaked. The noise seemed louder than it actually was and this added to their anxiety.
The tricksters had to roll this heavy piece of artillery over a half a mile through campus to their destination.
It was heavy, over 1000 pounds. Two tricksters were on each wheel and one at the breech of the cannon and another in front. They had to slow it down and stop it from rolling when they approached an intersection in case a car might be coming. It would be difficult to explain if they hit an oncoming car with a thousand pound cannon.
The slope into the basement of the trickster’s house from the road was steep and they had to make sure the cannon wouldn’t get away from them and smash into something in the house causing structural damage.
When the cannon was safely secured in the basement, the trickster’s laughed. It would be held for ransom and an elaborate ransom note would be sent, consisting of cut out letters from a copy of Life Magazine to the Phi Sigs. It would read, “Return the TKE bell or you will never see your Cannon again.”
All around campus, people were asking, “Who took The Cannon? Where was The Cannon being held hostage?” Nobody knew.
The campus was abuzz with speculation. “I bet the TKE’s took it as revenge for the Phi Sig’s stealing their bell,” some students thought.
The TKE’s denied having anything to do with it.
“I think the Phi Sig’s have it and are just trying to get publicity and pin the blame on the TKE’s saying the TKE’s are retaliating against them for stealing their bell,” others said.
The Phi Sig’s were blaming the TKE’s while publicly mocking them, “Not very imaginative of the TKE’s. You’d think they would be able to come up with something a little more original than that. Why copy us? I guess they just wish they were as cool as the Phi Sig’s and this is their way of getting attention.”
Everyone was wrong. Nobody but one person outside the tricksters had a clue who took The Cannon and even that person had no clue where The Cannon was being kept and that person was the insider, the unknown co-conspirator.
After a couple of weeks of threats and pleadings, the Phi Sig’s realized the TKE’s really didn’t have their cannon and it was not going to be returned until the TKE’s got their bell back, so the Phi Sig’s gave in and returned the bell.
It wasn’t long after that and The Cannon mysteriously appeared, like magic – ON the roof of the library, next to the main hall on the university campus. Now, how would the Phi Sig’s recover their cannon from the roof of the library? They had no clue!
One of the tricksters approached a group of students as they stood around the building looking up at the cannon.
“Who put it up there?” One young man asked no one in particular. “How in the world are they going to get it down?”
“How do you suppose it got up there?” The young girl, obviously a freshman, standing next to him asked.
“I don’t know. It surely didn’t fly up there,” he replied.
“Are you sure?” The trickster asked.
“Well, no; but have you ever heard of a cannon flying?”
“Not before today,” the trickster replied.
For over forty-five years the secret has never been revealed and if you think this trickster is going to reveal the secret now, you are mistaken. Tricksters never reveal the magic of their illusion.