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“Nationals October 2019

New exhibit at the Naval Academy Museum: Philo McGiffin: A Man of Wit and Dash

| April 01, 2019, 10:51 AM

The new exhibit “Philo McGiffin: A Man of Wit and Dash” is open now, and will be on display at the Naval Academy Museum through the end of the year as a tribute to the international reach and impact of U.S. Naval Academy graduates.

In May of 1882, Philo N. McGiffin graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy with a remarkable reputation for mischief. In the 1880’s, the Navy had more graduates than officer billets, so McGiffin was denied a commission and sent home. Still determined to pursue a career at sea, he offered his services to China’s Foreign Minister. His heroic actions aboard the Chinese ship Chen Yuenduring the Battle of Yalu River in 1894 cemented McGiffin’s near-mythic reputation as a man of wit, grit and courage who inspired Naval Academy midshipmen well into the 20th century. The exhibit chronicles McGiffin’s time at the Academy, his successive employment as a soldier of fortune serving in the Chinese Navy, and his founding of the Chinese Naval Academy in Weihaiwei.

“Philo McGiffin was such a colorful character. He was more than just his pranks here at the Academy, he had a real call to service and was able to apply what he learned here later in his life,” said Senior Curator Tracie Logan. “We’d noticed that current midshipmen don’t know as much about McGiffin as older graduates do, so we wanted to increase awareness of him as his story can resonate with midshipmen today.”

“Philo McGiffin’s story has something for all our visitors,” said Interim Museum Director Chris Rentfrow. “There’s midshipman antics, there’s an international angle, and an important battle in naval history.  We think that McGiffin, while perhaps a little more adventurous than a typical graduate, nonetheless offers a useful window into the life and times of someone who attended the U.S. Naval Academy in the 1870’s and 80’s.”

The exhibit is located on the second floor of the Naval Academy Museum, which is open 362 days a year (except for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day). It is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

For more information about the exhibit, please visit or their Facebook page at

For more information about the Naval Academy, please see or their Facebook page at

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