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US Naval Academy plebes try to climb greased 21-foot monument in annual tradition

U.S. Naval Academy plebes, or freshman, try to climb a greased monument, an annual tradition. (Live Stream)
May 21, 2018
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U.S. Naval Academy plebes, or freshman, are embarking on the annual tradition of trying to climb a 21-foot-tall obelisk at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

The tradition, known as the Herndon Monument Climb, demonstrates teamwork and perseverance, as the plebes try and build a human pyramid to remove the “dixie cup” hat at the top of the monument and replace it with an upperclassman’s hat.

The obelisk is greased with about 50 pounds of lard and butter. This year, 29th Company won the title of “Iron Company” at Sea Trials and led the plebes as they rushed the monument.

Upon successful completion, the freshman will be called “fourth class midshipmen,” and not plebes.

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The quickest time, with no grease, was by the Class of 1972, in 1:30. The longest time was the class of 1998, which took four hours, five minutes and 17 seconds.

According to the U.S. 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.

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.

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