A cannon boomed, and it began.
Feet, knees, elbows, hands were planted, strained, linked, stretched to build a steady base Monday afternoon. Then, there’s the climbing, screaming, laughing, falling.
The Herndon Monument climb, which got underway around 1:30 p.m, was history more than two hours later.
Midshipman Peter Rossi did the honors of replacing the Dixie cup atop the greased monument. The time: 2 hours, 9 minutes and 35 seconds. Better than last year.
“It’s a cool feeling, but it’s all working together,” said Rossi of Phoenix, AZ. “I didn’t do it. I was just in that spot.” His roommate, the midshipman who in December scaled the Chapel, held him up.
The plebes made it interesting early on, almost capping the monument three times in the first ten minutes. Chants of “Si se puede” — “Yes, you can!” in Spanish — went up as a female plebe scaled the whole thing before tumbling to her demise, unable to knock the weighed down Dixie cup after half a dozen tries.
The monument itself was slightly less greasy than usual. Upperclassmen ran out of shortening early on and had to make a Graul’s run for more. Then, the shortening partially melted in the sun.
At 2:08 p.m., a convincing false alarm sent the plebes celebrating early. Chris Cortorreal, a foot brace holding his ankle steady, managed to throw a midshipman’s cap atop Herndon — without dethroning the Dixie cup. Cortorreal had sprained his ankle, but the Bronx native thought they might need a skinny guy anyway.
The watching mids scoffed at the cheering plebes.
“They should’ve read the Reef Points, which say they have to replace the cover,” said Midshipman Victoria Laveck.
Earlier, Alicia Switzer, who graduated in 1994, told The Capital she remembers the slick being much thicker during her climb. The upperclassmen used something like 200 pounds of lard, she said.
“It was like frosting on a cake,” she said.
Plebes from the Naval Academy Class of 2021 must scale the monument to replace a “Dixie cup” hat with a midshipman’s cover to end the grueling ordeal. No throwing in hopes of getting lucky. No shoes to help grip.
The plebes first try to get as much vegetable shortening — and butter, this year — off the obelisk as possible.
Greasing started after the annual climb started looking a little too easy in 1949. The fastest climb on record, a 1 minute and 30 second sprint by the class of 1972, happened on an ungreased monument. The quick 2 minute, 2 second climb of 2010 wasn’t grease-impeded either.
Then, the plebes get architectural, forming a human pyramid in hopes one lucky classmate will ascend the human sculpture and cover Herndon.
The tradition started as a show of strength in 1940, and the Academy started recording times in 1959. That year, the climb took 12 minutes. The monument is named for William Lewis Herndon, a 19th century commander who went down with the hurricane-battered SS Central America headed back from the gold hills of California.
Herndon was disciplined and courageous — qualities the plebes try to exhibit in their ascent.
The clock ticked past 3:40 p.m. and the pile of plebes still seethed. The sun beat down, turning shoulders red. Still, they gritted, fought, rose. Rossi broke loose, scrambling onto his roommate Levi’s shoulders.
His knees strained, hands gripped, gripped again, then reached — ever so carefully — to toss the cover. No dice. He slapped a drenched t-shirt over the point, a nest for the cover.
One toss. Two tosses. Many tosses.
And then, victory.
The crowd cheered, and his classmates fell back, smiling and exhausted.
Fastest time: 1969 — 1 minute, 30 seconds*
Slowest time: 1998 — 4:05:17**
2018 — 2:09:35
2017 — 2:21:21
2016 — 1:12:30
2015 — 1:38:36
2014 — 2:19:35
2013 — 1:32:43
2012 — 2:10:13
2011 — 2:41:32
2010 — 0:02:02*
2009 — 1:43:38
2008 — 2:35:59
2007 — 1:32:42
2006 — 1:14:15
2005 — 1:16:13
2004 — 2:19:24
2003 — 1:19:00
2002 — 2:07:41
2001 — 2:15:52
2000 — 1:19:44
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*Monument not greased **Dixie cup taped and glued