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Naval Academy plebes scale greased 21-foot Herndon Monument in annual freshman year tradition

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First-year students at the U.S. Naval Academy are taking part in the annual Herndon Monument Climb on Wednesday, a ritual that marks the end of their plebe year and some say foreshadows career success.

Members of the Class of 2027 will work together to scale the 21-foot obelisk covered in vegetable shortening to replace a white plebe "Dixie cup" hat with an upperclassman’s hat, according to the Naval Academy. There are about 1,300 plebes in the class, according to academy spokesperson Elizabeth B. Wrightson. After the climb is complete, they’re called fourth class midshipmen, not plebes.

It's said that the person who gets the hat to the top of the monument will be the first admiral in the class.


Naval midshipmen endeavor to climb the Herndon Monument to replace a white plebe "Dixie cup" hat with an upperclassman’s hat at the U.S. Naval Academy on May 22, 2021, in Annapolis, Maryland. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)

The climb began in 1940 and the placement of an officer’s cap atop the obelisk to show they had conquered the plebe year came seven years later, according to a history of the event by James Cheevers, the former senior curator at the U.S. Naval Academy Museum. Upperclassmen first smeared grease on the monument to increase the difficulty of the climb in 1949. They first put the Dixie cup hat atop the monument before the climb in 1962.


Records of how long it took each class to scale the monument aren’t complete, but the shortest time is believed to be 1 minute and 30 seconds in