Only at Cornell: Cannons

King Chapel may be the only chapel in the world built with an armory. That’s right, two cannons were stored in the basement and the doorway is still visible from the Pedestrian Mall. 

Uniformed men stand beside two breech-loading steel cannons in the late 18th century, with a portion of King Chapel visible behind them.
From 1873 to 1898 Cornell had two breech-loading steel cannons used for military training. King Chapel is visible in the background.

How did we end up with cannons? In 1873 the college gave its male students compulsory military training in response to requests for physical education. The Department of the Army sent an officer from West Point to supervise the training, and he was sent two breech-loading steel cannons. They were left on the lawn next to Old Sem, then a women’s dormitory. At night, a favorite sport was to come out and fire the cannons and the best target was the Mount Vernon waterworks, near where the football field is now. Once the cannons were fired, the explosion broke windows on the west side of Old Sem and frightened its occupants. So in desperation, King Chapel was planned with an armory. 

Alas, the Army took the cannons back in 1898 when the Spanish American War broke out.