Herndon Monument Climbing Tradition Marks End of Plebs’ First Year at the Naval Academy

U.S. Naval Academy freshmen participated Wednesday in the annual Herndon Monument Climb, a ritual that marks the end of their senior year and, some say, foreshadows career success.

Members of the Class of 2027 will work together to climb the 20-foot obelisk covered in vegetable shortening to replace the plebs’ white “Dixie cup” hat with an upperclassman’s hat, according to the Naval Academy. There are about 1,300 plebs in the class, according to academy spokeswoman Elizabeth B. Wrightson. Once the ascension is complete, they are called fourth-class midshipmen, not plebs.

It is said that whoever wears the hat atop the monument will be the first admiral of the class.

Herndon Monument Climbing Tradition Marks End of Plebs’ First Year at the Naval Academy

The climb began in 1940 and the placing of an officer’s cap atop the obelisk to show they had conquered the plebs that year took place seven years later, according to a history of the event written by James Cheevers, former senior curator of the United States Naval Academy Museum. Upperclassmen first greased the monument to increase the difficulty of the climb in 1949. They first placed the Dixie Cup hat atop the monument before the climb in 1962.

Records of the time it took each class to climb the monument are not complete, but the shortest time is reported to be 1 minute and 30 seconds in 1969, the year the monument was not greased. The longest was more than four hours in 1995, a year when upperclassmen glued the Dixie Cup.

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