ANNAPOLIS, Md. - The United States Naval Academy's freshman class officially became midshipmen Monday, but first they had a monumental challenge in front of them-- in the form of an actual monument. The annual Herndon Monument Climb marks the end of year one, and it takes teamwork to make it happen.
Every year, at the end of their freshman year, plebes (as freshmen are known) climb the Herndon Monument to build a human pyramid to remove the "dixie cup" hat at the top, replacing it with an underclassman's hat-- as fast as they can. After they complete it, the freshmen are no longer plebes. Instead, they are known as fourth-class midshipmen.
The monument, which stands 21 feet tall, is also covered with about 50 pounds of vegetable shortening-- making the climb that much more challenging. And for the Class of 2020, that challenge lasted exactly 2 hours, 21 minutes, and 21 seconds.
The fastest any class has ever done it was in 1972, when it only took a minute and 30 seconds. Of course, the monument was not greased that year. In 1998, it took plebes over four hours-- but the dixie cup hat was glued and taped in place, presenting a greater challenge.
History of the event (from the U.S. Naval Academy website)
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.