“Memoirs of a Main Street Boy” An Annapolis Reflection, Part 7

| May 18, 2017
Rams Head

U.S. Naval Academy Commissioning Week is upon us again, May 19-26, 2017. It’s something Annapolitans enjoy for the festivities, such as the Blue Angels flyover, and something locals dislike, the increase in traffic.

Tecumseh

Tecumseh with his war paint. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Naval Academy)

But as a youngster in Annapolis, “June week,” as it was called in my 1930’s to 1950’s youth, was an exciting time. It was one more chance for us to glory in the Academy’s traditions—most of which remain today.

One tradition, which I wrote about in my previous Eye on Annapolis column, was the midshipmen paying homage to the bust of Tecumseh, the “God of 2.0,” so called because 2.0 was the Academy’s passing grade in my youth.

We kids were partial to Tecumseh, too, because when mids prayed for good test grades or a win over Army, they threw pennies at their good luck charm, Tecumseh, as they marched by, and we kids gathered the pennies as if it was an Easter egg hunt.

Tecumseh is a large, bronze Indian’s upper torso, a replica of the original wooden figurehead of the USS Delaware from Civil War days. Before Navy’s games against Army, what fun it was to see Tecumseh covered in war paint, his face streaked with red, green, yellow and white with multi-colored arrows in his bronze quiver.

Tecumseh is one of several monuments that grace the greenway in front of Bancroft Hall, the midshipmen’s dormitory. The most fun these monuments produced occurred each spring as we watched plebes try to climb the Herndon obelisk, a 21-foot high column sometimes slathered with lard, literally a granite greased pig, and crown it with a “Dixie Cup” cap worn by plebes. It’s a hilarious scene watching dozens of plebes form a human pyramid to boost one member high enough to replace the Dixie Cup cap on top with a traditional midshipman’s hat, ceremoniously transforming plebes to upper classmen. Though Herndon has been climbed in minutes, it usually took a couple of hours, providing us onlookers many slips, falls and progress to laugh at or cheer. Tradition has it that whichever plebe replaces the cap is destined to become the class’s first admiral.

Of course, graduation itself produces some entertaining moments, including the Color Parade, the awe-inspiring, ear-blasting flyover by the Blue Angels and, finally, the actual graduation, featuring a president or another esteemed official and the famous hat-tossing by the graduates.

The midshipmen originated the tradition of throwing their caps in the air in 1912. Before then, Academy grads were required to serve two years in the fleet before being commissioned as naval officers. For fleet duty, they still needed their caps. The Class of 1912 was the first to be commissioned upon graduation. Since they would no longer need their midshipmen’s caps, the graduates could toss them away.

The audience is free to grab the discarded hats, but the main beneficiaries are children, who often find some paper money tucked inside.

“June Week” is now in May, but it’s still a fun time for many Annapolitans, despite the traffic.

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About the Author - Ralph Crosby

A native Annapolitan, Mr. Crosby is founder and chairman of Crosby Marketing, a national advertising/public relations firm headquartered in Annapolis.

Mr. Crosby’s book, “Memoirs of a Main Street Boy: Growing Up in America’s Ancient City,” is available at local bookstores (Annapolis Bookstore, Back Creek Books and Old Fox Books) or online at Amazon.com.

Ralph Crosby will teach a four-session, noncredit course at Anne Arundel Community College this fall. The course, “Exploring Annapolis in the Mid-20th Century,” is based on his book “Memoirs of a Main Street Boy.” The first class is October 2. The last, on October 11, features a walking tour of downtown Annapolis. Registration for the course is available at www.aacc.edu/historyheritage.

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