|The Captain Drove Him Nuts
Item: John Paul Jones, one of the first American Naval heroes,
is buried in a beautiful sarcophagus in a crypt under the Naval Academy
Chapel. To show the services level of respect and honor to Captain
Jones, a Marine honor guard patrols the crypt at all times when it
is open to the public. Given the tedious and somewhat spooky nature
of the task, one of these Marines cracked up and was found leaning
against the sarcophagus, talking to John Paul Jones.
Sarcophagus of John Paul Jones
Philo McGiffen and the Cannonballs
Item: Philo N. McGiffen was a member of the Class of 1882
and was such a prankster that his actions are still the stuff of
legend at the Academy. He graduated near the bottom of his class
of ninety, of which only the first twelve were commissioned. McGiffen
became a soldier of fortune, rising to the rank of Commander in
the Chinese Navy, where he served as Superintendent of the Chinese
Naval College and later commanded the Chen Yuen, a seven-thousand-ton
battleship, in the first battle between modern warships. (The most
complete details of the
life of Philo Norton McGiffen can be found on the site of novelist
David Poyer 71).
The common mid version of the cannonball story has it that Philo
could not sleep one evening and decided to pass the time by collecting
all the cannon balls in the yard, hauling them up to the top floor
of the quarters (which probably would have been the New Quarters),
and rolling them down the stairs to the bottom floor. Since the
heavy iron balls were wreaking havoc, no one could stop him until
the Officer of the Watch shinnied up a drainpipe and apprehended
him from behind.
Status: True, with some qualifications. According to the
biography of McGiffen quoted on Poyers site, the cannonballs
were already in a pile on the top floor of the quarters. For this
prank he was sent to the Santee (an old hulk of a sailing
ship that served as the brig for Midshipmen being disciplined) where
he befriended an old man-o-warsman named Mike. When Philo returned
to the Regiment from the Santee, Mike gave him six charges
of powder, which he loaded into six of the Mexican War cannon scattered
about the Yard and fired a salute on July first, shattering windows
all over the Yard.
You Put it On...
Item: When a young lady puts on a male Midshipmans
cap, she owes him a kiss. Yes, even if she doesnt know about
Status: True, absolutely and completely. Really. Have we
ever lied to you?
The Ghost at West Point
Item: A widely-reported, widely-sighted ghost seen at the
United States Military Academy, West Point, New York, was a creation
of the Brigade Activities Committee. The Brigade Activities Committee
is a spirit activity of the Brigade of Midshipmen, and
historically has been a great outlet for the natural college-age
penchant for pranks. The group made a black-and-white film of a
mid dressed in bits-and-pieces of Civil-War-era Army uniform; then
through the use of strategically-placed tape recorders and an 8mm
projector, they created the illusion of ghostly soldier marching
the halls of a Cadet Barracks at West Point. (Other alleged BAC
pranks have included placing 2 tons of limburger cheese under all
the seats on the Army side of the field the day before the Army-Navy
game at the old JFK stadium in Philly, and dropping an entire planeload
of ping-pong-balls emblazoned with Go Navy Beat Army
on a dress parade at West Point.)
Status: True, but we would really like complete details
and press clippings...
The Ones in White...
Item: Midshipmen who have physical education wear whiteworks
(the traditional white middie blouse [sailors
jumper] and bell-bottoms) over their gym gear to classes for the
morning or afternoon that they have P.E. One day a tourist in the
yard stopped a Midshipman and asked him why most of the mids were
in blue uniforms but some of them were in white. He looked at her
and replied Lady, the ones in white are virgins!
Philo McGiffen and the Watch Squad
Item: The most exacting inspection at the Academy is the
inspection for the members of the oncoming Watch, traditionally
held each evening in the Rotunda of Bancroft Hall. Popular mid lore
has it that Philo McGiffen waited, hidden on the balcony above the
Watch Squad, until the very second before the Officer of the Watch
left his office to inspect the Squad, at which point Philo stood
up and dumped a bag of flour all over the Watch Squad.
Status: Unverified (and probably unverifiable) but unlikely:
1) the legends place this action in the Rotunda, which did not exist
in Philos day and 2) there is no indication that there even
was a Watch Squad inspection in the late 1870s/early80s;
in fact, given the rather casual attitude toward uniforms prevalent
in those days, it was pretty unlikely.
I Got Chow Call!
Item: Plebes have a rotating responsibility to announce 10,
5, 4, 3, 2, and 1 minute before formation, in a strictly formatted
ritual known as chow call. This is a tough challenge
when you have a class the period before noon meal formation. One
young lad was hurrying back to do his duty when one of the tourii
(the Latin plural of tourist, of course) asked him if he would pose
with them for a picture. In a somewhat agitated state he looked
at her and said F*ck no, lady, I got chow call! Supposedly
she noted his name from his nametag and reported him to Main Office.
In This Corner--James Webb! And In This Corner...
Item: Oliver North '68 of Iran-Contra fame--future columnist,
radio personality and politician, and James Webb '68--future novelist
and Secretary of the Navy, fought each other for the Brigade Boxing
Status: True. Many feel Webb was the superior fighter but apparently
Emerson Smith (USNA Boxing Coach) put in a lot of extra time and
personal attention coaching North, who won the bout. There was a
film of the fight that was used for training for many years but it
was withdrawn from circulation when the men became public figures.
John Wayne as a Mid?
Item: John Wayne (Marion Michael Morrison) was offered an
appointment to the Naval Academy.
Status: True, but he declined it because he had already played
a season of varsity football on scholarship at the University of
Southern California. In high school, before accepting his football
scholarship to USC, he was a first alternate for an appointment,
but the primary appointee took the appointment. But what about pictures
of a 19-year-old Duke in a Midshipmans uniform, in Bancroft
Hall? John Waynes little-known (and uncredited) first movie
role resulted from his membership in the USC football team, which
was cast to fill in for the USNA team in the 1929 John Ford movie
Salute. By the way, these facts come from a 1976 USNA Log
interview with the Duke, so even if they might not agree with other
bios, we got it from the man himself.
Item: The two cannons on the outer perimeter of Tecumseh
Court will fire if a virgin ever walks between them.
Status: False, but charming nevertheless.
The Married Mid List
Item: It is against regulations and a separation offense
(i.e. they kick you out) for Midshipmen to be married. Common wisdom
says that the Officer of the Watch has a passdown list of Midshipmen
known to be married, with no action to be taken unless they get
in some other kind of trouble. The fact is that many Midshipmen
do get married while they are students at the Academy. Experience
has shown a very high probability that any mid who is a devout member
of any faith that stresses the sanctity of marriage, and is flagrantly
cohabiting with a member of the opposite sex, is married. This is
because in every mids mind, both personal honor and duty to
God take precedence over regulations (as they should), which would
be a good reason why such a list would be maintained with no action
Status: Unverified (and never will be here, even though we
could; that would ruin the game now, wouldnt it?). It would
seem to demonstrate that doing the right thing by one
set of standards may be a violation of Midshipmen Regulations at
the same time.
Book em, Danno!
Item: Jack Lord (of Hawaii 5-0 fame) went to the Academy.
Status: False. The character he played, Steve McGarrett,
was a Naval Academy graduate and had a diploma on the wall of his
office, which probably gave rise to this myth. We know McGarretts
a fictional grad, but does anyone know what class? By the way, Thomas
Magnum (of Magnum P.I.) is another fictional USNA alumni,
probably 68 or 69--again, does anyone know what class
he fictionally graduated with?
The God of 2.0
Item: Midshipmen will make offerings of pennies to Tecumseh,
the large bronze reproduction of the figurehead of the USS Delaware
that sits in front of Bancroft Hall, to bring them luck on their final
examinations. Chinese majors were known to have burned incense
in front of Tecumseh. (The figurehead was actually supposed to portray
village sachem of the Lenni Lenape (Delaware) people who signed a famous
treaty with William Penn, but Midshipmen remaned him for the better-known
Tecumseh. There actually was a
but it had no figurehead as it was a single-turret monitor; it's now at
the bottom of Mobile Bay, just off Fort Morgan. Thanks to Ryan Vest, who
corrected our original mis-identification of Tecumseh as the figurehead
of the USS Tecumseh.)
Philo McGiffen and a Famous Naval Saying
Item: OK, one last Philo legend: a famous naval saying
learned by generation of mids, and credited to a pre-Academy Midshipman
named Jarvis, has Midshipman Jarvis saying If the mast goes,
we go with it; our post is here!. Philo N. McGiffen is said
to have paraphrased it thusly: If the mast goes, f*ck it.
Well get a new one in Norfolk.
Status: Unverified, but if you've read anything about him,
it sure sounds like something he would have said!
Planes on the Steps (and the terraces, and...)
Item: Midshipmen held midnight raids in which they cut loose
the heavy bolts and cables restraining the A-4 Skyhawk attack aircraft
across from the Field House, then moved the plane to 1) the front
steps of Bancroft Hall; 2) the Fifth Wing Terrace of Bancroft Hall;
and 3) the Nimitz Library/Rickover Hall Terrace.
Status: All true. Strangely enough, the plane was always
craned off and trucked back to its proper location with the
expense charged to the Midshipmen Activities funds, even though
the Mids had already proved they were pretty good at moving it around.
Hang Em High, Captain MacKenzie
Item: The only officer in the U.S. Navy ever hung for mutiny
was a Midshipman.
Status: True--but he was not a Naval Academy Midshipman.
Midshipman Philip Spencer and two bluejackets were hung for mutiny
in 1842 at the yardarm of the brig Somers. Spencer was the son of
the Secretary of War and a founder of the Chi Psi fraternity. There
were questions as to whether a mutiny even actually occurred or
if this was just paranoia on the part of the captain, Commander
Alexander Slidell MacKenzie, who over the course of the 6-month
training cruise is purported to have ordered 2,265 lashings. This
incident inspired Herman Melville to write Billy Budd, and
is commonly held to be the major factor that precipitated the establishment
of the Naval Academy.
Admiral and the Blowtorch
Item: Rickover Hall was named for Hyman G. Rickover 22
because he was the only Admiral in the Navy who could wield a blowtorch
to weld his initials in the metal plate in the cornerstone.
The Cap on the Chapel Dome
Item: Any Plebe class who can place a dixie cup (a sailor
hat with a blue ring at the top; the prevalent plebe-summer headgear)
on top of the spire at the top of the Chapel dome will be secured
from the Plebe system.
Status: Indeterminate. The fact is that this was accomplished
by the class of 77 using a weather balloon with a a collar
for positioning of the cap and superglue to secure it. When the
class was not secured, a question was raised at the next Commandants
Call, where the Dants response was that he had never heard
of this particular tradition. He then turned to the Deputy Brigade
Commander and asked him if HE had ever heard of the tradition. The
Deputy responded that he had not. Several of his classmates turned
him in for an honor offense, as he had been a member of--some said
the chair of--a committee his Plebe year to get a cap on the dome.
Nothing ever came of the honor offense. Or the cap on the dome,
for that matter. Rumour has it that the class of 2000 also
succeeded and earned a little carry-on (but were not secured).
What's up with that, 2000; is it true?
Hey, Wheres Our Figurehead?
Item: As a class project, a class used a
construction crane to steal Tecumseh, the large bronze
reproduction of the figurehead of the USS Delaware that sits
in front of Bancroft Hall, and hid him in the Severn River for a
Man, These Books are Heavy!
Item: When Nimitz Library was built, it was placed on landfill
consisting of crushed seashells. Later they had to go back and reinforce
under the footings, because the engineers forgot to calculate the
weight of the books into the weight of the library when designing
Status: Unverified but probably true. Todd Kile, a former
member of 88 writes to us: Though I never finished my
tour of duty at the Academy, I claim a 4.0 QPR in all of my reconaissance
classes. In fact, during one foray sometime in 86, three midshipmen
made their way UNDER Nimitz Library. I know - I was one of them.
To our surprise, underneath the library basement floor there is
a void. In that void - about 3 or 4 feet high - there are a series
of mechanical screw jacks that hold the basement floor up by pressing
on the soft, landfilled earth below. I speculate that there is a
facilities manager on the yard that not only knows all about this,
but is also responsible for maintaining the upward pressure exerted
by the jacks via regular adjustment. After all, these screw jacks
still had their steel turning handles in place!
But Did He Kiss the Whole Brigade on Both Cheeks?
Item: The Brigade of Midshipman was honored with both
of France's highest awards: the Légion d'Honneur and the Croix de
Guerre with Palms.
Status: True. The President of the French Republic, Vincent
Auriol, pinned the cross of the Legion of Honor and the Croix de
Guerre with Palms on the flag of the Brigade of Midshipmen on
March 30, 1951, in recognition of the Naval Academy's historic
contributions, especially the contributions of its graduates to
the victory in World War II. However, the streamers associated
with these awards are not carried on the Brigade flag (but they
should be...). Thanks to Joseph McMillan's Sea
Flags for this tidbit.
All the Leaves Are Brown...
Item: The song, California Dreamin, is actually
about the Naval Academy and was written by a Plebe.
Unverified but probably false. Probably
true! California Dreamin was written by John Phillips
of the Mamas and the Papas who spent Plebe Summer at the Academy,
and sure enough, the online
Alumni Register lists Mr. John Edmund A Phillips as an alumnus
of the class of 58. California Dreamin was a
popular marching song (yes, we know its sort of hard to see
it as a march but it does work) at the Academy in the early 70s.
If you look at the lyrics, they make good sense as an expression
of a Plebes despair. A classmate wrote in to the Alumni Association
when Papa John died: He left us at the end of
Plebe Summer, but in that short time had gained renown as the
guy over in the 4th wing who plays the guitar. We are
reasonably certain he is the only USNA Alumnus in the
Rock 'n Roll
Hall of Fame. (Thanks to Timothy Elizabeth Woodbury of the USNA
Alumni Association for correcting this item!)
in the Bay
Item: In the early 70s, on several occasions mids in
their Porsche 911s, fueled by alcohol (the mids, not the cars)
came wizzing in Gate One, screamed past the Field House, and sailed
off the seawall into the Chesapeake. The picture of the Porsche-on-the-Rocks
at left is from the '71 Lucky Bag, courtesy of Pete Baker '71, who
assures us that no alchohol was involved, only icy roads. We know
there are still some photos out there of Porsches actually being
fished out of the Bay...
Status: True, but again we would like details: personal accounts,
photos, press clippings, etc.
Theres a Girl in the Shower...
Item: The seaward ends of the Seventh and Eighth Wings of
Bancroft Hall have little-used ladders (stairwells) that open directly
into publicly accessible doors, making it pretty simple to sneak
girls up to the rooms. On several occasions before USNA was coed,
the Plebe or Youngster Mate of the Watch entered rooms at the end
of the backshaft while distributing the Brigade Bulletin
to find young ladies in the shower.
Status: True, but details of specific incidents would be
real nice to have.
Music for the Heart of Oak
Item: Tecumseh, the previously mentioned large bronze reproduction
of the figurehead of the USS Delaware that sits in front of Bancroft
Hall, has his own march.
Status: True; Who's Who in Navy Blue March, by the
esteemed composer John Phillip Sousa, was written at the request
of Midn W.A. Ingram, President of the USNA class of 20, and
at his request was dedicated to Tecumseh.