Under the Radar

The Long, Greasy Climb to the Top

(Photo courtesy US Navy Facebook page)

Ah, spring…when everything is in bloom, the sun shines warmly upon our skin and a thousand or so of United States Naval Academy plebes try to climb a greased-up pole. 

The plebes, dressed in swimsuits and being hosed down by the upperclassmen, attempt to scale a greased-up Herndon Monument and replace the “dixie cup” hat perched on top with a midshipman’s hat to signify the end of their plebe year and hopefully, all the yelling and marching and basically feeling like crap every day.

Now, the Naval Academy is a serious place and while shimmying up a shortening covered stone obelisk would seem like a hilarious and fun adventure, the plebes take their job seriously. Their job is to work together as a team to get someone to the top and that can take hours. Rumor also has it that the person to get to the top and replace the dixie cup with the midshipman’s cover will be the first flag officer from the class. To our knowledge that has yet to happen. 

So in honor of the annual climb, here are some fun facts about the background and history according to the U.S. Naval Academy:

How high is the monument?  Twenty-one feet.

How do they grease it up?  The monument is covered in about 50 pounds of vegetable shortening applied by the upperclassmen.

When was the first recorded time and how long did it take?  The Class of 1962 was the first to climb the monument and it took a quick twelve minutes.

What was the fastest time and who achieved it?  The Class of 1972 holds the honor of fastest climb with an impressive one minute and thirty seconds, BUT they did not use any grease, so there you go. According to Wikipedia, the fastest greased time was by Midshipman 4th Class Michael J Maynard. He scaled the monument in twenty minutes in 1972. 

What class took the longest?  It took the Class of 1998 four hours, five minutes and seventeen seconds to replace the dixie cup. However, the hat was actually glued and taped to the monument so we can understand why it took so long.  

Who is this Herndon guy and would he care that plebes are scaling a monument erected in his honor?  According to the Naval Academy, “The Herndon Monument is named for Commander William Lewis Herndon, 1813-1857, who possessed the qualities of discipline, teamwork and courage. In command of the SS Central America and home-bound with gold-seekers from California, the ship encountered a three-day hurricane off the coast of North Carolina. Herndon went down with his ship after a gallant effort to save it, its sailors and passengers. A monument was erected on the Yard in his honor shortly after his death.”  

Awww, that’s sweet.  Special shout out to the plebes for being good people. The Naval Academy website tells us that, “On the day of the Herndon Climb plebes are required to remove their shoes prior to the starting the climb. Over the past 10 years, thousands of these athletic shoes have been donated by the plebe classes to various charities through the Midshipman Action Group.”

So there you have it; fun facts about yet another weird but wonderful Naval Academy tradition. Who wants to make a bet on this year’s time?

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