Herndon Climb: Naval Academy Tradition Gets a Little Greasy


When you think you’ve seen it all (thanks, internet), the United States Naval Academy says, “Challenge Accepted.”

As a part of their end of the year celebration, plebes (freshman academy students) work together to climb the oiled down Herndon Monument on campus. Their goal is to reach the top of the monument, knock off the plebe Dixie cup hat so they can place a Midshipman’s hat on top, signifying being a "plebe no more." The tradition of climbing the monument is said to have begun when in 1973, Academy Superintendent Vice Adm. William P. Mack gave his shoulder boards to Midshipman Fourth Class Lawrence J. O’Donnell, who then proceeded to climb the Herndon Monument in one minute and fifty seconds.

The Herndon Monument is covered with over 200lbs of lard by upperclassmen, and at the sound of the bell, the freshman run towards the monument, ripping their clothes off as they proceed to climb up the greasy monument. Plebes tear off their shoes, shirts, and anything else that might hinder a new record for climbing the monument, as fellow classmates spray those on the monument with water.

The tradition is meant to instill values of dedication and teamwork amongst the classmates, a testament to the memory of the man for whom the monument was built, Commander William Lewis Herndon, who died saving the life of his men during a hurricane. Where the grease comes from, though, I have no idea.